You’d be forgiven for having no clue fashion label COS is related to high street mega-giant H&M: aside from having the same parents and an wallet-friendly price point, the pair has literally nothing else in common.
Think of it this way: if COS is a new hipster boutique hotel designed fitted with sparse blonde wood, white walls and subtle lighting, then H&M is Versace Hotel on the Gold Coast booked with a Groupon discount.
Launched in London’s Regent Street in 2007, COS – an anacronym for Collection of Style – was a unique proposition for anyone wanting simple, sculpted-silhouette clothes that were both edgy and elegant. Rather than traditional advertising, runway shows or celebrity endorsements, the Swedish-owned brand chose to subtly market its existence by sponsoring furniture shows and financially supporting fine artists.
It’s a slow-burn, alternative strategy that certainly worked. Now, 10 years and 211 stores across 34 countries later, COS is as much a jugganaut as its gaudy big sister, preferring to keep to its low-key Scandi sensibilities than sing any success from the rooftops.
Australians have been quick to jump on the Scandi design bandwagon in general – from the interiors of bars and independent hotels to minimalist fashion and normcore accessories – so its little surprise COS has enjoyed significant success since launching here in 2014.
This week, the country’s fifth store was opened in the Perth suburb of Claremont. In November, another will follow in the art-focused Melbourne of Armadale, taking the total in that city alone three. (The other two are in Sydney.)
Whether used as a source of fashion-forward workwear, a palette-cleanser for anyone wanting to shake off a fast fashion aftertaste or simply invest in timeless classics, COS is drawing a wave of both male and female Australian convertees to its cosy niche.
GRAZIA spoke to COS’s powerhouse creative director Karin Gusafsson about the rise and rise of fashion’s most impressive quiet achiever.
What in your opinion sets COS and its fashion offering completely apart from other similarly positioned labels? Since the launch of COS ten years ago, our aesthetic has remained consistent by incorporating timeless, modern, tactile and functional design. We tend not to follow fashion trends but instead look to the world of art, design and architecture for inspiration and create garments that have a timeless and modern quality that will last beyond the season. We try to keep garments functional, never over-complicating things with zips and buckles that don’t have a use on the garment.
WHAT TRAITS OR TASTES DO YOU CONSIDER your TYPICAL satisfied CUSTOMER TO HAVE? We often get asked about who we see as our typical customer and our thoughts have remained the same since we began: we think of them as a group, sharing in our mind-set and our interests in art and design. They share a sense of style, confidence and personality and are appreciative of quality and value in each element of their lives.
What do you think customers love most about COS and its clothing? We feel the COS price point alongside the quality of the designs and materials is quite unique. We also design pieces to be functional, to fit into our customer’s everyday lives – hopefully offering something for every occasion. Our customers seem to appreciate the consistency, considered nature and longevity of minimal design. I have a black wool dress from COS’s second collection which I still wear now.
THERE IS A STRONG TREND TOWARD MAXIMALISM AND OTT DETAILS IN DESIGNER FASHION AT PRESENT. WHAT ROLE DO YOU SEE COS IN HAVING BY OFFERING A HIGH-QUALITY ALTERNATIVE? It is often said that we fit somewhere between high street and luxury design. We strive for the aesthetic of each piece to be timeless and we think our customers look to buy this style of item that they can wear for more than one season.
There’s also a growing legion of fans globally for Scandinavian design (in fashion and interiors). How much is COS influenced by its Swedish roots? We did not set out to create COS as a minimalist brand but since the beginning, we have considered every aspect of the garment to ensure that each design element has a purpose. The minimal look has naturally become a strong part of our aesthetic. For me, Scandinavian design is inherently timeless and as an international brand with a Scandinavian heritage, we have always strived to create collections that are understated rather than showy, functional instead of overly styled and timeless as opposed to seasonal.
“It is an exciting time for Scandinavian style across fashion, art and design.”
WHAT CAN AUSTRALIAN CUSTOMERS EXPECT FROM THE RANGES DROPPING DURING OUR SPRING AND SUMMER 2017 SEASONS? For each new season we focus on two key inspirations and for the SS17 collection this remains the same. Australian customers will find pieces which feel both romantic and functional, in light airy fabrics as well as pieces designed drawing inspiration from sportswear and applying it in a formalwear context. We also have a number of carefully selected colour palettes. This season, the key colours are pale terracotta, sage green and steel blue.
What in your opinion are the core pieces every woman should own in your current range? A key piece in the SS17 collection is the multifunctional strapless jumpsuit in a sand colourway. We created this piece in a colour inspired by nature to create a feel of romantic utility. Other key pieces include a navy voluminous bomber jacket and wide-leg trousers in steel blue [shown below], which draw inspiration from sportswear, applied to a formalwear context. I am also a great advocate of the white shirt and this season we have one in crisp cotton with open sides, also taking inspiration from sportswear.
WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL FAVOURITE PIECE AVAILABLE AT THE MOMENT IN AUSTRALIA? I would say, the cotton square-fit jacket and tailored shorts in pale terracotta [shown below]. The silhouette is folded, paper sharp, ergonomic and sporty with volume. This look can fit into a busy lifestyle, worn both in the day and evening.
What current piece do you think would most surprise people was COS? This collection feels very consistent with our aesthetic but… I’m not sure if there are any surprises. Of course there are new inspirations and stories [and] we hope that our customers are excited by the use of the new fabrics and finishes. This season we have introduced a transparent micro check and a metallic coating used on both shirts and skirts.
COS HEAVILY SUPPORTS ARTISTS WITH THINGS LIKE SHOW SPONSORSHIPS. HOW MUCH DOES FINE ART INFLUENCE YOUR OWN FASHION DESIGN? I have always found inspiration from different places, rather than focusing on trends. We are constantly inspired by the art and design world whether through our seasonal collections, in-store designs or collaborating with artists and designers. We are researching throughout the year and bringing our ideas together before creating the new collections. We take inspiration from so many different artists and work with those who share our many common values – a focus on timelessness over trend, functionality with beauty, and the exploration of materials – meaning working together is a very natural fit.
YOUR BRAND IS OWNED BY SWEDISH PARENT COMPANY H&M. ARE THERE ANY PLANS FOR THE TYPES OF DESIGNER PARTNERSHIPS THAT H&M DOES SO BEAUTIFULLY FOR COS TOO? We do not have plans for designer collaborations at this time. Rather we are focusing on our current and future partnerships with artists. We see these partnerships as a better opportunity to provide an insight into the people that inspire us, to share our world and to reach a new audience.
COS is celebrating the opening of its first store in Western Australia this week. Are you familiar with Perth and if so, how do you think the local customers there who’ve not seen COS before will perceive it? We are very excited to be opening [there]. We actually produce one collection which is available in all of our markets and really feel our West Australian customers are very internationally and culturally aware – appreciating good design and a timeless aesthetic.
Visit the new COS Perth boutique at 28-36 Bay View Terrace in Claremont. (08 9286 2924)