When A-celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Dua Lipa, Beyoncé and Cardi B wear fashion that is created in a backyard in Berlin-Neukölln, you have to look at it, of course. Ottolinger Berlin GmbH has recently found its new headquarters in rooms that were previously used by a modern Christian daycare center, in the Schillerkiez near Tempelhofer Feld. The walls still smell of fresh white, the archive with the collections of the past six years is stacked in boxes, cuts are made next to them, prototypes are sewn. Previously, Cosima Gadient, 34, and Christa Bösch, 35, worked on a third of the space in a small shop in Moabit. This had been bursting at the seams for a long time, so the move was overdue.
Ottolinger, the label of the two, has become successful with a very unique mixture of digitality, organics and asymmetry. Their sunglasses, handbags and pumps look like they are fluid graphic renderings from a science fiction software and flooded directly from the 3D printer. Her tops, on the other hand, look as if they had been knitted or laced by hand and as if the wearer herself could decide on the final shape: i.e. how she wraps the part around the body, knots, drapes it or lets it dangle in strands. “Because most of the bodies are not completely symmetrical, we underline the beauty of the irregularity with the asymmetrical lines in our dresses,” says Cosima Gadient as she walks through the studio. A striking trademark of their label are, for example, the slanted trouser stables. They look as if the waistband was much too wide and as if the wearer had to pull the left half far over the middle to button – so that the pants do not slip.
The Ottolinger sales hits are currently the skin-tight mesh, i.e. mesh parts. When Kim Kardashian writes on Instagram under palm trees: “I woke up in paradise” and wears a net top by Ottolinger with orange-yellow color gradient, it hails 3.7 million hearts of her followers. And when pop singer Dua Lipa shows her new Ottolinger strap dress to her 70 million Instagram fans, the label’s webshop is empty a few hours later. When you talk to her about Dua Lipa, Christa Bösch answers briefly, dryly, matter-of-factly: “She has to wear something.” In any case, there is hardly anything to notice about the digital hustle and bustle around the label in the studio at ten o’clock in the morning.
The name comes from the neighbors
The two designers are the first on site this morning, and their employees are gradually coming in. They rely on a small, international team. Her pattern maker comes from Korea, the production manager is Greek. They have their collections produced in factories in Poland, Turkey, Greece and Italy. On one wall hangs the production plan, on another a mood board on which marathon drinking vests can be seen as runners strap them around their chests. Next to it hangs a photo of a Yohji Yamamoto dress from 2015. It is intrikat knotted from strips of fabric, without a sewing machine, without a zipper. Technology fascination here, fascination for handmade products there, and everywhere always a bit of Medusa myth.
Gadient and Bösch come from Switzerland. They met at the Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst in Basel, where both studied fashion design. Gadient did an internship in Paris with the German fashion designer Bernhard Willhelm, Bösch went to Antwerp as an intern to Walter Van Beirendonck. In order to start their own label together, they moved to Berlin in 2015. Coincidence brought them the unusual name “Ottolinger”: it was written on the bell sign of the neighbors, who lived next to their first, tiny studio and with whom they shared a mailbox. Since then, the name has been wandering the world. “They know we’ve kept their last name,” Gadient says.
There are countless young labels that want to make it from Berlin into the big world of fashion. You never hear from most of them again. The fact that the Ottolinger collections are now hanging in London at Selfridges and are sold by some of the most important global fashion webshops such as Ssense and LN-CC is due to the fact that Gadient and Bösch not only founded their own label in 2015. But at the same time also started with consulting, with the work and commission design for others. Your first customer was the Rapphe Kanye West, who at the end of 2015 prepared his big entry into fashion under the name Yeezy with his own design studio in Calabasas, California – and was supported by Bösch and Gadient.
Learned from Kanye West: Stay True to Yourself
“Being thrown in there was relatively absurd for us at first, but it quickly became normal,” Gadient recalls. Without hanging it big on the bell or being called by Yeezy, they contributed designs to West’s luxury sportswear for a few seasons. Initially, they often flew to California for this purpose, later they sent their designs from Berlin. What did they learn from the experience with Kanye West? “To remain true to ourselves,” says Bösch. “That laid the foundation for our network,” adds Gadient, who also has no desire for celebrity gossip.
The independent, but comparatively small fashion label could not be more professional today: Their network consists of the sales agency Tomorrow in London, which takes care of sales and distribution and does the same for other hip labels, such as Martine Rose. In addition, there is the Parisian PR agency Ritual Projects, which also works for the celebrated Berlin label GmbH. Her network also includes Kim Kardashian, soon to be Kanye West’s ex-wife. Bösch and Gadient have been working with her since Yeezy times. As design consultants, for example, they are currently contributing designs to Kardashian’s underwear brand Skims.
Bösch and Gadient also work as ghost designers, i.e. the fashion equivalent of ghostwriting in literature, if the book has a different name than in the e-mail that sent the manuscript. For example, for some Chinese brands, whose names they are not allowed to mention, so the contract wants. Such part-time jobs contribute to the fact that their work pays off even without the economic power of a fashion conglomerate like LVMH or Kering behind them.
They played with Gaultier’s stripe patterns
Recently, however, they were officially allowed to celebrate one of their collaborations – with Jean Paul Gaultier. After six years of exclusively designing haute couture, the French designer began ready-to-wear again in May. For this he asked Ottolinger for remixes. “We love the playful sexiness in Gaultier’s work and wanted to continue it,” says Bösch. In other words, the iconic sailor stripe pattern that Gaultier has repeatedly used on tops and also on the bottle of his “Le Male” fragrance blurred them in different directions. “We wanted to see how differently the stripes can be placed around the body,” says Gadient. The patterns, printed on skin-tight mesh tops, leggings and hose dresses, look as if they were animated by 3-D underwater software.
The dresses were worn in the accompanying campaign by Bella Hadid. The top model is also a private fan of the label and also makes this known on social media. “If it weren’t for social media, I don’t know if we’d all be here now,” Gadient says. By this she does not only mean the sales-promoting effect that it has when a model like Hadid, who works for Dior, Givenchy and Fendi, for example, draws the attention of his online followers to Berlin-Neukölln. But it also means how they work: Because it is much more important today to be connected via the internet than to show presence in a physical place, they can benefit from the comparatively still affordable Berlin rents without being left behind by Paris, Milan or London. “The flow of information is extremely fast today, so it no longer matters where you sit,” says Gadient. “We could also sit in the Swiss mountains.”