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COS and Effect: Karin Gustaffson Taps Into an Art Savvy Customer

Focused on functional, modern clothing, COS—or “Collection of Style”—is rooted in the art and design worlds. The Serpentine Gallery is one of COS’s long-standing partners, and last year the brand collaborated with the Guggenheim Museum around the Agnes Martin retrospective, creating a special capsule collection with twelve pieces. The garments were carefully constructed, inspired by Martin’s grid patterns and minimalist creations. They’ve also participated in Salone del Mobile for six years running, creating installations with Sou Fujimoto, nendo, and, most recently, Studio Swine. This year, COS is partnering with the Royal College of Art professor Usha Doshi, to celebrate her new book Creating with Shapes. While the brand has worked with Doshi in the past on design techniques, it is the first time that the brand is creating a collection inspired by professor.

Last year, COS named Karin Gustafsson its new creative director. She had been working with COS since its inception in 2006, so was far from a stranger to the brand. In its first year, she was an assistant designer, and just one year later, was promoted to a designer in the classic section of womenswear. Then, in 2011, she became the head of womenswear design.

COS Karin Gustaffson.
Courtesy of COS.

We spoke with Gustaffson over the phone to learn more about the fashion brand’s role in the art world, its new collection, and its 10th anniversary, celebrated at the end of last year.

WHITEWALL: For quite some time, COS been tied to the art market. Can you tell us a little bit about why the brand has such a strong involvement in the art and design worlds?

COS Collection celebrating the Guggenheim Museum’s retrospective of Agnes Martin’s work.
Courtesy of COS.

KG: That started because we generally have a lot of interest in that field, and we always look toward that world for inspiration when we start off every collection. It’s really natural, and after a couple of years, we’ve realized that this is something we share with our customer. We see that we have a customer that likes to visit art shows and is culturally aware and into art and design, so it’s an opportunity to share with our customer what we get inspired by.

WW: Are there any artists or art fairs that the brand is particularly inspired by right now?

Creating with Shapes by Usha Doshi.
Courtesy of COS.

KG: In London we have the new Design Museum, which I really like. Its interior design is by John Pawson, and they have a great permanent collection of design objects. I really like the space itself and it’s nice to have it right there. Also, I think the Agnes Martin exhibition in New York, although it’s not at the Guggenheim anymore, has really stayed with me. It was so great in that space. I’m still thinking of it. It was amazingly creative, and I think her work in that museum was done so well.

WW: Over the summer, COS also presented “Park Nights” at the Serpentine Pavilion. It hosted a special selection of live performances by multidisciplinary artists like Arthur Jafa, Eleanor Antin, and Tamara Henderson. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Creating with Shapes by Usha Doshi.
Courtesy of COS.

KG: We’ve had the opportunity to work with the Serpentine now for five years. It’s so natural, because as an organization they’re very democratic. The exhibitions are free of charge and open to the public. We really like the Pavilion, and they commissioned different architects, for the past, I think, 16 years, and it’s given the public an opportunity to see architecture, or work by an architect that wouldn’t otherwise be represented in England. The architecture is more like a feature work, but we really have that feeling that something great is happening. It’s made architecture very accessible in a democratic way with a new variation of architecture. And we are, as you said, sponsoring as their partner, which is something that takes place a couple of Fridays throughout the summer, and it’s outside the Pavilion—a space where performers from multiple disciplines perform. This year we will have eight performances, and it’s a variation between art, music, and reading performances.

WW: COS creates functional, timeless, and still very modern collections each year. We know that a source of inspiration has been travel. Where have you recently traveled that has inspired you?

COS Fall/Winter 2017.
Courtesy of COS.

KG: I recently went to Tokyo, which I really enjoyed. It was a short visit, but I think that trip was inspiring because I could see something very large and dynamic happening but still feel something very calm. I was really impressed with everyone and how everything is very clean, and the dynamics of the city. There are always green spots integrated into the city, which I really like. Then I went to this design museum, which is sponsored by Issey Miyake, and they had an exhibition on athletes and sports performance. It was talking about the power of the body and physical strength.

WW: Can you talk a little about your Fall/Winter collection? Was it inspired by any specific designer, architecture, or works, or anything in particular?

COS Fall/Winter 2017.
Courtesy of COS.

KG: For this collection we had two main directions. One was inspired by experimental art and design with a young and inventive mood—it features garments with laser cutouts, bonding of fabrics, and transformable features. Direction was inspired by the work of Robert Morris and the art pieces and aesthetic of New York based artist Tauba Auerbach.

Our other direction is more industrial and architectural—geometric shapes and tailoring features. This area was inspired by the work of furniture designers Muller van Severen and designer and architect Jean Prouve.

COS Capsule collection with Usha Doshi.
Courtesy of COS.

WW: Can you tell us a bit about the new women’s capsule collection, “Creating with Shapes,” in celebration of the design book with that title by Royal College of Art’s teacher Usha Doshi?

KG: Usha has been a friend and collaborator of COS from the beginning, and we have used Usha’s technique in select designs previously. I first met Usha when she was my teacher at the Royal College of Art. She has since consulted with us and assists the team in realizing our designs through the use of clever pattern cutting. She really has been a wonderful mentor for not only me but the entire team. Pattern cutting is a crucial part of the COS design process. We believe that that the perfect cut of a garment is an essential finishing touch.

COS Capsule collection with Usha Doshi.
Courtesy of COS.

The limited-edition collection has been designed and created solely to celebrate the techniques as outlined in Creating with Shapes. The method allows us to create beautiful pleats and folds, which add depth and interesting elements to garments.

We wanted to commemorate the release of Usha’s book Creating with Shapes with a collection that not only utilizes the methodology laid out within the book, but celebrates it and shares it with our customers.




Inviting the audience to feel, touch, and experience art in its most dynamic state is “When Forms Come Alive” at Hayward Gallery.


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