With a focus on design, architecture, and collaboration, fashion brand COS’ distinctive aesthetic has brought with it a global following, with collections made up of timeless, classic styles in natural shapes and materials. Zara Overton spoke with Head of Womenswear Design, Nicole Bischofer to find out more about the brand, and how its signature design aesthetic transcends right through to store design.
As part of the wider H&M Group, COS launched in 2007 bringing elevated basics with a minimalist approach to high street fashion. For those that don’t know much about the brand, can you tell us about the story behind COS?
COS is a brand for women and men who look for modern, functional and considered design, created using both traditional methods and new techniques. We take wardrobe staples, reinvent them and create them in new innovative finishes, always considering how they will be worn and how they feel – this is important in everything we deliver.
What does the name COS stand for?
COS is an abbreviation of Collection of Style.
When did your interest in fashion start?
At a very young age really – I didn’t even know what ‘fashion’ meant at this stage but the initial interest in this world came through drawing and playing with clothes. Then, during my teenage years in Sweden, I became very interested in bespoke tailoring and began incorporating traditional menswear elements into womenswear design.
Design and architecture have a huge influence on the brand, and this extends right to the store fit-outs. Can you tell us about the Newmarket store design?
The locations and stores are just as important as the garments. We aim to create a modern welcoming space, a sanctuary with lounge areas and natural colourways. The Newmarket store is very special for us as the clothes frame the beautiful spiraling staircase that links two floors together. Local materials such as volcanic basalt bluestone can be seen throughout and floor to ceiling windows allow light to flood the space.We were very excited to open our first store in New Zealand and hope our new and returning customers enjoy shopping in our Newmarket store.
Who is the COS customer?
I don’t like to prescribe a specific customer, though I think the COS customer is someone who looks for quality and shares our interest and appreciation in art and design. I think that our longstanding customers know that they can come to COS and feel a sense of familiarity whilst always finding something new.
When designing a new collection, where do you look to for inspiration?
We draw a lot of inspiration from architecture, which can often be seen throughout our collections, either from the colour palette or the way pieces are draped and crafted into clean lines and structures. We also look to art and design, both the visual output and the working methods and creative approaches used.
What is your process when designing a collection?
After working with the design teams and deciding on our final inspirations, we begin to create the garments. I like to be able to see the design and shape of a garment immediately, so prefer to work directly on the form. This also allows us to play with our inspirations and develop these directly into our products.
Engagement with the design and art sphere is an important part of the COS brand, including collaborations with artists and designers, including Nendo and Numen. What part do these projects and activations play in forming the design aesthetic and vision? Do you have a favourite?
We feel an aesthetic kinship to all the artists we commission. They are creatives that have enhanced the way we work in some way and share a set of values with COS, inspiring everything from colourways to textures and form. Our collaborations have been inspiring in such diverse ways, so it is hard to choose any favourites, but I loved the way we were able to reuse the COS x Studio Swine New Spring installation, presenting it in not only Milan but Miami and Shanghai – each time evolving slightly and taking on the natural environment it was showcased in.
What are your top 5 wardrobe essentials?
A good quality knitted jumper, T-shirts both woven and in jersey, voluminous cotton trousers and a parka coat are my key essentials. I can live in these pieces on rotation by mixing different textures and shapes together to create a new look.
Favourite International designers?
There are so many inspiring and engaging people, collectives and studios that it’s hard to choose. I’m interested in innovation, anyone successfully working sustainably and am always looking for new, up and coming artists and designers.
What has been your best fashion investment?
A pair of leather boots that I have had for many, many seasons – I look for quality and durability in investment pieces.
And your worst?
I wear variations of similar outfits every day, sometimes buying duplicates of garments that I really like. This may be considered unnecessary at first, as one item will sit unworn for a while, but I always come back to them.
As part of the sustainability and conscious consumerism conversation, we’re increasingly being encouraged to buy less, and buy better. Would you say that the COS ethos aligns with this?
At COS, we have always put longevity first, favouring timeless, enduring style over passing trends. Each and every piece should have a long lifespan and we hope that you will be wearing the same staple pieces in 10 years’ time.
With a focus on innovation around social initiatives and sustainability, COS has a goal to reach 100% recycled, repurposed or more sustainably sourced materials by 2030. In terms of the design process, how has this changed the way you work?
Sustainable fabrics and material innovation are a key focus for us and although there isn’t one solution to the issues facing our industry and our planet, we are actively working to improve the ways in which we produce our garments, from simple immediate changes to more complex ongoing projects.New techniques and technologies have shifted our way of thinking and designing, constantly modernising our collections, whilst staying true to our clean, timeless aesthetic.
It’s 10am on a Sunday morning. Where will we find you and what are you doing?
Having a coffee and playing with my son in our garden. The sunlight and morning breeze is so refreshing and gives me energy for the day ahead.
What are you reading at the moment?
I actually don’t have a new book at the moment, but I usually read a lot of Murakami when I have the time to.
What are some trends that we can expect to see coming through in store this year?
At COS, we use our art and design inspirations to create each collection rather than following trends. The collection in the Newmarket store is inspired by nature; the elements of water and air. Lightweight fabrics and inflated volumes are complemented by more fluid forms that imitate the flow of water. The colour palette ranges from rich neutrals drawn from the landscape to pure white, an array of ocean blues and soft pinks.
What advice would you give to aspiring young designers?
To learn the craft of pattern cutting and to truly understand garment construction – understanding the process and tradition will help you to grow as designers.