Despite the fact that at any given time, there’s a fashion week happening somewhere in the world, you’re unlikely to catch COS on those catwalks. The Swedish clothing brand, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, has spent the better part of the past decade erecting architectural installations and sponsoring art fairs rather than putting on runway shows. In contrast to fashion weeks, which tend to be “all about fashion,” according to COS Creative Director Karin Gustafsson, an event like Salone del Mobile is much more dynamic. “It’s furniture design, it’s art, it’s almost fashion,” she says. “It’s every discipline getting together.”
The interdisciplinary approach to business is becoming more and more essential, according to Gustafsson, who joined COS 10 years ago directly from the Royal College of art’s womenswear program. (Even there, she’s noticed, her alma mater’s programs have evolved with a greater emphasis on crossover.) Under Gustaffson’s direction, COS has built its brand on its symbiotic relationship between fashion and other creative industries.
“Season upon season, in terms of shapes, silhouettes, cuts and fabrics, we’ve always been inspired by the art and design world,” she says, “and we often collaborate with galleries, fairs, artists and designers internationally as a way to support these institutions.” The brand’s history of collaborators includes set designer and illustrator Gary Card, who designed COS’ very first Salone pop-up shop in Milan five years ago; Snarkitecture, which took the peaches and pinks of the Autumn/Winter 2015 collection to erect a rose-colored pop-up shop in Downtown L.A.; Frieze Art Fair, with whom they’ve made a few short films and supported the Frame sector of the fair; and the Serpentine Pavilion’s Park Nights, the gallery’s annual summer performance series, which COS has been a part of for the last five years.
During the most recent installment of Salone del Mobile, COS made a literal splash with Studio Swine. Given total carte blanche to develop an installation inside a hollowed-out former cinema, the young London-based designers presented New Spring, a vaguely Baroque, 20-foot-tall aluminum tree that churned perfumed, mist-filled, pop-resistant bubbles from its branches.
For Swine, it was an opportunity to raise the studio’s profile. “We hadn’t shown in Salone since we were students, and it’s the biggest design stage of all.” says Swine co-founder Alexander Groves. For COS, the partnership was simply a natural fit.
“I was doing some Internet research and came across this film on the Sea Chair,” Gustafsson recalls, describing a furniture collection of recycled plastics trawled from the ocean floor that eventually made its way onto Gustaffson’s mood board for the 2016 Autumn/Winter collection. “It was Swine’s way of being very dark and having a sort of splashes of color, which came from all the different materials they had found in the sea.”
Despite these many sources of inspiration, COS’ perennial ethos is an adherence to timelessness and modernity. “We believe things should last beyond many seasons,” says Gustafsson, explaining why the white shirt has been constant through each collection (and the centerpiece of Nendo’s 2015 Salone del Mobile installation with the brand as well). When it comes to inspiration, “We never take a literal approach,” she adds. “Often it’s just an atmosphere, or a thought process, or a color combination. It’s what makes you think, really,” which is why it helps to keep an open mind.