Karin Gustafsson, the Creative Director of COS (Collection of Style), grew up in the Swedish city of Linkoping with her parents and that is where the base and beginning of her future in fashion started. Karin was inspired by her mother to create her own clothes and to experiment with patterns.
For a long time, at the start of her career, Karin did not think she could be a fashion designer; she doesn’t draw, she drapes; she wanted to do design, to be involved in the makings of it. She made clothes from an early age and wanted to pursue fashion design, hence after completing her education in tailoring and dressmaking, she moved to London because of the fashion and art schools. It was eye opening, because it was both creative and academic. “From the beginning it taught you how important the thought process is in your work”, she says. “That’s what employers were looking for, to understand how a person looked at a piece of inspiration and then turned it into a garment.” At 26, Karin started working on her Masters at The Royal College of Art and at her final show, she was approached by COS. After graduation she was hired for the COS project, they couldn’t say much because it was a secret project but they said enough to make it sound interesting and she came on board.
This collection will be available this season at COS Grand Avenues and COS Marina Mall
When did your love for fashion start, and how did it develop?
I was interested in design and clothing from a very young age, this wasn’t necessarily fashion but I knew that I wanted to create and I liked the idea of creating by making. My first job was very much finding my way and creating design rules for how to make the garments. Achieving a quality product not only means using expensive fabric, it has to be made in the right way. So we spent a lot of time finding finishes. Quite quickly, I had the opportunity to become a designer.
What is your signature technique and how did you develop it?
As a designer I have always enjoyed working in 3D, so I work by folding, pleating, draping and cutting shapes. We are really into fabrics; they can often start off the design process. I feel that it’s important to test the fabric straight on the dress stand or on a person straight away to see the way it performs at an early stage, because the right cloth in the right style can be amazing.
Heading up the ladder so quickly, how does being a creative director differ from your previous roles?
I didn’t imagine working for a big brand and I always thought maybe it would not be creative or it would be very restrictive but it hasn’t felt like that ever. We have always designed in a very considered way and are able to be creative at the same time as thinking about what the customer wants. Since I’ve had the new role of creative director, I work more on the overall vision, not only focusing on seasonal directions, but also working with all departments and directors; visual teams and the online stylists, together with the head of design for each collection.
What inspires your designs?
Since the launch of COS 10 years ago, our aesthetic and ethos has remained consistent; to offer a high quality collection at comparably affordable prices, incorporating timeless, modern, tactile and functional design. We adhere to our core design principles instead of following the traditional concept of trends and we always look to the world of art, design and architecture for our inspiration. We feel art in general is well ahead of fashion, it inspires most designers.
How do you feel when you see your designs finalized and on the stands at COS stores?
We feel very proud and humbled when our designs are displayed in the COS stores, as we do when we see customers wearing our designs in the street. There is something very exciting about seeing how each person will incorporate the pieces into their wardrobe.
What are your future plans for COS designs?
I always say to the design team that we should be at the forefront of making, design and finishes; this is something that we should be researching every day. The collections are created with this concept of having a timeless aesthetic and so we continue to design with this in mind, adding new elements each season, which are dependent on the inspirations we find and stories we create. And of course, we will always cater to the customer; this is the bottom line.
Tell us about the AW17 seasonal collection, what are the inspirations behind it?
For each new season we focus on two key inspirations and for the AW17 collection this remains the same. We have a focus on what we call New Tech, which is inspired by experimental art and design. Working with innovative and technical materials and trims we utilised the technique of folding, draping with a colour palette of neutrals; light to dark green, greys, steel blue, optic white and cream. Our second focus is on Lines and Forms; here we have bold tailoring in blown up proportions, using fabrics that lend themselves to architectural silhouettes, with an industrial colour palette of neutrals ranging from clean and vibrant to pale and washed out.
What are your favourite pieces from the collection for both ladies and men?
Key pieces from the AW17 collection for women include the dark green pleated dress and the pale blue tailored suit. In the same colour palette, the menswear pieces also use the dark green colourway in the shape of an oversized utility shirt jacket. The dark chestnut tailored suit also stands out as key for the season.
What are the essential pieces of this collection for ladies, and why?
I think you should always build your wardrobe from good basic essentials. If you have that kind of base for your personal wardrobe, you can wear those pieces in many different ways and then add on a few seasonal highlights. In terms of dressing, you should always dress within your own comfort zone and never force anything that you don’t feel comfortable with. For us, being effortless is more important than making statements.
Karin Gustafsson was speaking to Rawan Qabazard