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    How Ottolinger Is Reinventing Luxury by Tearing It Apart

    Founders Christa Bösch and Cosima Gadient look back on their unusual path to the forefront of avant-garde fashion.

    Writer: Felix Petty Photographer: Hendrik Schneider Published: June 20, 2023 Updated: May 20, 2024

    Meeting as students at fashion school in Basel, Switzerland, Christa Bösch and Cosima Gadient have built one of the most exciting, experimental labels in recent years. Ottolinger’s aesthetic was fully formed from the start: avant-garde deconstruction, ripping and shredding and burning, but always in service of the garment—not merely deconstruction for its own sake—subverting the primness of luxury fashion. Since launching their label in 2015 and relocating from Basel to Berlin, Ottolinger has staged shows in London, Paris and New York, collaborating with a growing list of brands and artists, including Camper, Cheyenne Julien and PUMA.

    Below, Bösch and Gadient recount the origins of Ottolinger, what it means to have a raw design language and how collaborations can lead to creative breakthroughs.

    A signature ceramic-effect pair of heels by Ottolinger.   

    GREATEST: You met while you were students in Basel and started working together after you graduated. Did collaborating come natural to both of you?

    Christa Bösch: We always liked each other’s work when we were studying. We became friends and talked a lot about what we wanted to do after graduating. We spoke about what we liked in fashion and what we thought was missing from the industry. After we graduated, we ended up working for other brands and other people.

    Cosima Gadient: We're both super proactive people. After a while we were just like, “Fuck it. Let’s start our own thing.” We had so many ideas. We didn’t know what we were getting into.

    CB: I was living in Antwerp and interning. I interviewed for a job and they said that if I got this job, I would be allowed to use the copy machine next to the head designer. And they said that this was a very big deal. I was like, “This feels wrong.” Cosima called me 10 minutes after that and said, “Let's start a brand.”

    Beyond this rebellion against the ego and power structures of the fashion industry, what were you interested in creating together?

    CB: It began by wanting to simply create something cool for strong women.

    CG: Also, we wanted to do something really hands-on: to take a garment, take it apart and create a new shape with this really raw aesthetic.

    CB: We grew up in Switzerland—definitely not surrounded by the fashion environment—so we started a brand together, but we didn't know what that meant.

    CG: We only really worked it out when we started, when we went to Paris. We’re quick learners and were like, “Ok, we’re adapting to this. We really like this. We want to progress in this.”

    Cosima Gadient and Christa Bösch, the Swiss duo behind Ottolinger.   

    That naivete can be a strength as well, right? A kind of creative force.

    CB: If you know what you are getting into, you wouldn’t dare start. It’s so expensive and we made so many mistakes. We didn’t know what we were doing.

    Mistakes can be useful. A mistake reveals a different future. It leads you in a different direction. If you just know exactly what you are doing all the time, you would never end up anywhere interesting.

    CG: Exactly.

    CB: You have to make the mistake yourself to really learn from it. 

    What was it like studying in Basel? It’s not known as a fashion capital, but I find the “outsiderness” of it as a city quite interesting.

    CB: It was very good. I grew up in the mountains and then I studied law and my family was in farming. A very different life. Basel gave me freedom to adapt, to find out more about fashion and art, and it gave me time to develop and learn. I think anywhere else I would’ve been too ashamed about not knowing everything, or too shy.

    CG: It was a non-pressure, non-toxic environment to learn in. It was very peaceful, so we had this freedom to do whatever we wanted, to work on our own projects and explore all these horizons.

    CB: The school was right on the river, so you could swim during your lunch break. It was very idyllic.

    CG: It was like a retreat. Basel isn’t a big place, and it doesn’t have a fashion scene, but it does have very strong art-world connections. I think that influenced us. We’re always collaborating with artists, and that world is something we’re very close to. During Art Basel it becomes a very international city.

    Did coming from Basel influence your decision to move to Berlin instead of Paris or London? Was this a creative or practical move?

    CG: I think it was more of a practical decision.

    CB: A financial decision.

    CG: We considered London and it would’ve killed us financially in a year.

    CB: It would’ve been impossible. Berlin doesn’t have the same pressure, but it does have a feeling to it, a creativity which is not too far away. We had many friends here already too.

    Ottolinger is known for its otherworldly accessories such as this pair of sunglasses, photographed here by Chris Lensz.   

    Basel gave me freedom to adapt, to find out more about fashion and art, and it gave me time to develop and learn.

    Christa Bösch

    How does the actual work between you happen? Is it very collaborative? Very individual? Do you work easily together? Do you fall out? 

    CG: We do everything together.

    CB: Of course we fight sometimes. If we didn’t, that would just mean one person isn’t saying what she wants. Communication is always the key. It’s like being in a relationship. You have to work on it.

    CG: Communication and respect.

    CB: Yeah, I think a lot is respect.

    CG: But we do separate things because it’s just easier and we can both do what we are better at. It makes you stronger and it’s good to have a second point of view. A great thing about working with someone is that it’s really nice that someone has your back when times are tough.

    CB: You are never alone. If you don't know what you should do or what is better, you can always ask the other person for some honest feedback. 

    How was the process of building a business? Going from a creative idea and an idea of working together into the actual thing of making money, running a label and working with the industry side of fashion?

    CG: The reality is really harsh and it comes really quick. I mean, if you don’t sell, then you’re not succeeding.

    CB: We have no business training. I was never very money-focused growing up, so we’re learning. I’m trying to train my business brain.

    Ottolinger's MANIFESTO 2023 installation created in collaboration with Dutch artist Anne de Vries.   

    A great thing about working with someone is that it’s really nice that someone has your back when times are tough.

    Cosima Gadient

    Quite early on you were critically successful and people were aware of the brand. But going from being a critically interesting brand to an actual business is quite a jump.

    CB: I think we’re still learning.

    What is the 10-year plan? Not just as a business but also creatively.

    CG: There’s a tension between being known for your aesthetic and really selling it. You have to sell the idea but you also have to sell the garments. You have to make decisions about making more commercial pieces, about making things in certain ways. You have to make decisions about how big you actually want to grow, and how big you want to be, and how and why you might expand. We ask ourselves these questions all the time.

    CB: I think creatively what we really want is to keep pushing boundaries and surprising people, to keep people active and thinking and also have a positive input on society and the creative world. Of course, it’s ok to make basic denim pants—we all like them—but that's not the goal.

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