What is it that makes something look right, right now? The fashion eye is fickle. A look that feels fresh can, a few seasons later, seem anachronistic. It’s not simply a matter of a capitalist machine churning out new seasons and new consumables all the time. There’s something about fashion, about the play of getting dressed, that calls for new variations. Diana Vreeland understood that “the eye has to travel.” We want to look upon—to embody—the moment. As we temporal beings well know, “the moment” is fleeting. In the fashion universe however, we are subject to the eternal return.
Susanne Ostwald and Ingvar Helgason are making clothes perfect for the now. The German (Susanne) and the Icelander (Ingvar) have been working together under the egalitarian label Ostwald Helgason since 2006. The life cycle of their designs is long—their early collections are still covetable today—but it wasn’t until recently, at their presentation at Milk MADE at NYFW AW ‘12 last February, that a larger fashion audience took notice and started to evaluate the designer’s illuminating history.
Ostwald Helgason clothes are heavy with referent but aren’t weighed down by it. This may be because the clothes don’t reflect much on the history of fashion. Susanne Ostwald and Ingvar Helgason show a reverence, rather, for the history of form, for texture, color and structure. When they do cull from specific sources, it is more conceptual than directional—the AW ‘12 Ostwald Helgason girl voyaged to Arctic lands in nautical stripes and map prints with “Robert F. Scott and Roald Amundsen for company and a compass in her pocket,” say the designers. They like to imagine adventures for the wearer of their clothes. Vreeland’s “the eye has to travel” could be their motto.
Ostwald Helgason have made coats of cork and fuzzy sweaters as expressionistic as a Rothko color field. An awareness of history, especially art history (Anish Kapoor and Eva Hesse helped inspire one collection), is evident in their designs. But it’s their contemporary tailoring—slim cut trousers and flippy skirts, sweatshirts and tailored oxfords, backpacks and platforms—that makes for an elusive quality now.
Designers Susanne Ostwald and Ingvar Helgason are currently busy in London preparing for their next collection, but they found some time last week to chat inspiration and design.
Tell me a little about you mutual backgrounds and how you came together.
Susanne, from Germany, studied MA Fashion Design at the art college Burg Giebichenstein in Halle, whilst Ingvar, from Iceland, studied Fashion Design in Copenhagen followed by time spent at St Martins in London. We met whilst interning at Marjan Pejoksi and it all started there really.
I feel like there is something aesthetically special about designer duos. I’m thinking about Preen, Proenza Schouler, you two. How do you think the collaborative effort comes across in your designs?
We are both inspired by very different things, Susanne by fine art and Ingvar by new technology, so we combine our inspirations to create something natural yet somewhat hi-tech.
I love your materials. At what stage do you source your fabrics?
Fabrics are obviously very important to us, as are colour and print; we often start with an idea for a specific fabric or material we’d like to use and build upon that. For example developing our own hand-woven fabric for AW ‘12 or working with a heavily-textured knit…
You showed in New York at Milk for this last fashion week. What are your plans for the SS ‘13 runway?
We’re again doing a presentation in New York at Milk MADE and are really looking forward to it! We had a great team last season and everyone at Milk is just amazing so we can’t wait to work with them all again!
What stage are you at in designing your SS ‘13 collection?
It’s hard to say. Things change and move so quickly in the design process that ideas are developing until right at the last minute.
You’ve cited interesting sources of inspiration in the past, like Rudyard Kipling and Blade Runner, a race to the South Pole in the 19th century (with prints based on old maps, sweaters that could have been rained on), and post-Minimalism in art. What sources are you looking at this season around?
We’ve been looking at the works of Brice Marden and the surreal sculptures of Claes Oldenburg; we always like to create an adventure for the Ostwald Helgason girl so let’s see where we can send her this season.