Ottolinger’s Designers Draw Inspiration From the Swiss Countryside and Truckers

In their Style Notes interview, Christa Bösch and Cosima Gadient discuss growing up in small European villages, and how that aesthetic influenced their fall 2021 collection.

Cosima Gadient and Christa Bösch posing for a photo
Photo by Mathilde Agius.

For Christa Bösch and Cosima Gadient, the Swiss-born duo behind Berlin-based cult label Ottolinger, a year on pause has meant more time in the studio than they’ve spent since their university days.

Bösch and Gadient, who met at the Basel School of Design were drawn to one another by a shared fascination with the surreal and the science-fictional. It wasn’t long before they made their futuristic-meets-post-apocalyptic vision of femininity a reality. In the five years since its inception, Ottolinger has made a name for its designs—endorsed by the likes of Dua Lipa and Nicki Minaj—which deftly blend the whimsical with the corrosive.

This year, instead of spending their summer months on the hunt for new textures and silhouettes, the pair dug deeper into the motifs that have always captivated them. The result is a collection drawing inspiration from the same alien moonscapes of collections past, but which substitutes the ethereal for something fleshier. Regal extraterrestrial looks, in the form of opalescent leggings and high-necked silk gowns soaked through with a sort of inky tar, mingle with earthly survivalist getups—elaborate architectural ensembles of mesh and salvaged knits united by thick, snaking piping.

As usual, the brand teamed up with a visual artist to bring a new vision to their line of mesh separates. “Cheyenne Julien is the first artist we’ve ever worked with who wasn’t already a close friend. We were fascinated by how sensitive and intuitive she is in her work,” says Gadient of the Bronx-based artist whose paintings are infused into the new collection. “We liked how she takes on bigger issues—like environmental racism and processes of self-discovery—and translates them into something visual that’s more understandable,” adds Bosch.

W caught up with Bosch and Gadient for a Style Notes interview in their studio on the eve of the brand’s fall 2021 presentation Tuesday. Here, the pair reflects on their own gear—functional, freaky, and otherwise.

Photo by Mark Peckmezian.

What is your go-to outfit for a day off?

Christa Bösch: Every day, I try to add something to my look that breaks the code somehow. An elegant dress with chunky knit socks, for example.

Cosima Gadient: I have to be comfy. Honestly, I don’t do that much with my outfits on the days when I'm “on,” let alone the days I’m off. I usually get up really early and am in the studio until after it’s dark, so nobody ever sees me.

Describe your style in three words.

Cosima Gadient: Intriguing, smart, and fun. Maybe I’m describing Christa more than myself. [Laughs]

Christa Bösch: Clever—to some people, at least—comfortable, and sometimes romantic.

What was the last thing you purchased?

Christa Bösch: I actually bought this cell phone case that looks about a hundred years old. It’s supposed to be compostable. I’m not sure it was a great purchase.

Cosima Gadient: I got curtains, because I’m decorating my new home. But they’re really nice linen and now I want to make a dress out of them.

What were you wearing yesterday, and why did you decide to wear it?

Cosima Gadient: It was one of our first days off in a long time, since we’ve been preparing for the presentation of this season. So I did the Berlin look—wore my PJs all day, and then when I went out to get a coffee, I added boots and a big coat over the PJs. I didn’t change once in 48 hours.

Christa Bösch: I wore my boyfriend’s cashmere sweater yesterday, because it’s so big and comfortable. I’m still wearing it now.

Photo by Mark Peckmezian.

What was your style like as a teenager?

Cosima Gadient: I didn’t have one. My jeans were ridiculously low-rise. The zipper was, like, 2 centimeters high—why does a zipper like that even exist? Also, I parted my hair just above my ear, like a combover.

Christa Bösch: I was more of a skater girl. I thought I looked incredibly good, but when I see the photos now, I’m shocked. Luckily, we’ve added a few new pieces to our wardrobes since then.

What were the other kids wearing when you were growing up?

Christa Bösch: I’m from the countryside—I grew up in a village of 400 farmers, and there was absolutely no style. A lot of people wore Swiss clothes, traditional edelweiss shirts. We didn’t really have proper stores, so the idea of “fashion” was not really relevant. But I do remember that everyone always made fun of what I was wearing.

Cosima Gadient: The main look that I remember from those days was that boys would sit in their trucks wearing these really worn-out caps low over their eyes. They’d just sit there, drinking and listening to hardcore techno. I may not have liked it, but I have to admit it was a vibe.

What's the best fashion advice you've ever received?

Christa Bösch: That clothes can be used to test people. On first dates, I calculate my look to figure out if the person really likes me. If he’s super serious, I wear a lot of frills like a crazy secretary, and if he’s some psycho living in a squat, I show up in a full business suit.

What’s the most prized possession in your closet?

Christa Bösch: I have a rule that I don’t throw anything out until it’s falling apart. My grandmother gave me a necklace as a kid that she wore when she was young. It’s a little pink plastic die on a chain that I still wear now.

Cosima Gadient: I have a skirt from when I danced flamenco as a kid—I can't fit in it at all anymore. It’s ruffly, it’s orange, it’s shiny, it’s covered in polka dots and it’s ridiculously cute. I bring it with me every time I move houses, I don’t know why.

What was the most recent big item you purchased?

Christa Bösch: These Miu Miu boots I’d been stalking on eBay forever. It took me two years to pull the trigger, because they’re a bit ridiculous. I finally got them before Christmas last year, which was appropriate because they’re very elfish. They’re flat with a pointed toe and very tall, like a ballet flat covered in buckles—kind of a medieval theme. Putting them on is a mission.

Cosima Gadient: I got these Celine rubber boots from a few years ago that I also found on eBay. They’re flat as well and also really tough to put on. [Laughs] So, we both bought flat boots because we’re practical, but they’re so crazy that we can't get them on or off without each other's help.

What is always in your bag?

Christa Bösch: A mask.

Cosima Gadient: What happens inside my bags is insane. If you look inside a bag that I’ve been using for the past week, it looks like I’m not doing well. It’s the accumulation of receipts, hair ties, books, and strange sticky substances all tangled up in headphones. I can pull everything out in one piece.

Photo by Mark Peckmezian.

Who’s your ultimate style icon?

Cosima Gadient: Sigourney Weaver in Alien.

Christa Bösch: For me, Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter. She’s a character from a classic German story who runs away from home and goes to live in the woods. She talks to the mushrooms.

Which friend or fellow designer’s style do you most admire?

Christa Bösch: Ursina Gysi. She’s the stylist who worked on the fall 2021 collection, campaign, and presentation. She’s always amazingly dressed.

Cosima Gadient: She walks into a room and you’re like “Fuck, that’s a good outfit.”

Biggest fashion regret?

Cosima Gadient: A few years back I bought these chunky Celine gladiator sandals from like 8 years ago, and you cannot walk one block in them without having open sores all over your feet. Every time it happens, I put them away for a while, and then when I’ve forgotten about the injuries I try them again. It’s happened so many times that last summer Christa finally said, “Cosima, you have to let them go.”

Christa Bösch: My hair. When I was a teenager, I wore my hair short, full of gel, and put tons of clips in my bangs. It was also short in the back, like a hedgehog. It’s hard to describe, but it was big in the Swiss countryside.