Dark Horses: Ohne Titel
Alexa Adams and Flora Gill are living what many design students would consider to be the ultimate dream: they’re best friends who, in less than a decade after graduating, have worked together under as innovators for Karl Lagerfeld and, in three short years, have established their own label, Ohne Titel, as one of American womenswear’s most subtle but salient new forces. They intelligently presaged the body-con, tech fabric, and asymmetrical tailoring trends seasons—even years—ahead of time. Already recipients of the 2009 Ecco Domani Award for Womenswear and CFDA runners-up, the design duo have become New York’s directional dark horses. Unconcerned with what Adams calls “the fashion entertainment complex,” Ohne Titel (fittingly, German for “untitled”) have managed to keep a remote public profile–a policy which reflects their general desire to put creative integrity first, media branding second. But a broader, quietly expansive evolution is on the horizon: Ohne Titel will introduce handbags on the runway for the first time this season, and have collaborated with Six Scents on a fragrance (“it’s quite unisex, as you might expect,” quips Adams).
As an exclusive Spring 2011 preview for Interview, we recently visited the Adams and Gill in their Chelsea studio as they put the final preparations in order for their runway show, which presents today at noon.
Colleen Nika: Walking into the studio, I admit I was pleasantly surprised to see such a high concentration of color.
Flora Gill: Yeah, the new season is very bold, very color blocked!
Alexa Adams: We were inspired by Japanese package design and art, particularly the work of woodblock artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi. We wanted to play with graphical, linear qualities–but to create that striping effect through texturing stitching and striated fabrics. The color palette is also really bold–lots of primaries; blacks, whites, navies, indigo, and orange red.
Are you experimenting with any unconventional fabrics this season?
Gill: For knits, we’re using this really amazing rubber coated yarn in combination with a viscose variety; we’re also using neoprene in parts of the collection. A lot of our techniques and textiles end up being tactile. Research involves a lot of hands-on experimentation and problem solving.
Nika: What’s an example of that process?
Gill: Well, a lot of it is witnessing something and applying it in a new context. You might like a basket and find a way to incorporate an element of its design into a dress—it’s an equation where you add more of one thing and take out another.
Nika: The shoes are quite special this season.
Adams: They are also based on Japanese imagery, so they an almost have geta feel. But we used a lot of black neoprene and glazed leather in the design. Cesare Paciotti will be collaborating with us again this season; they also worked with us on our first handbag collection, which launches with this show.
Nika: Alexa worked for Helmut Lang and you both famously worked for Karl. Which designer left a greater visible or conceptual impact on what Ohne Titel does?
Adams: I think both experiences shaped us in different ways. We loved about working with Karl is that he’s really open—he lets you try new ideas. He’s NOT stuck in certain time period; he’s fearless as long as it’s modern. But for us, it will always come back to strategies we can take from that era and apply to our own creative process as a duo.
Nika: What is that collaborative process like? Do you bounce ideas off each other or is it more formalized?
Gill: I think it’s a conversation; sometimes we’ll be on the same page automatically. Other times, one of us will bring the other an idea we’re developing. That back and forth is very inspirational.
Adams: Our first unofficial, very tiny Ohne Titel collection actually took place our senior year at Parsons’—so we’ve been doing this together awhile! We knew a seed had been planted.
Nika: What separates you from many other American designers, in my opinion, is your insistence upon modernity every season. There’s no sense of nostalgia, and that seems rare.
Adams: We’re mainly trying to eliminate categories. I hate the idea of seasons and day vs. night. It’s just a dated way of looking at dressing. That’s how people want to dress–they want an adaptable wardrobe, especially now.
Gill: People want a strong sense of who they are to shine through what they’re wearing. Individuality comes first. I want the wearer’s presence to be really strong.
Adams: I think many people design a garment, and expect the woman to morph who she is to become that garment–she becomes that style. We create clothes for the woman herself.
Nika Do you have a cast of characters you use to inspire you?
Adams: Yes–or ourselves! We’re constantly inspired by women we work with; they have to be powerful and creative and someone we admire on many levels. That speaks to us so much more directly than the idea of status or celebrity. Right now, we’re inspired by our friend and jewelry collaborator for the season, Tauba Auerbach. She’s been a model for our campaigns before, as has Cecilia Dean. They represent us better than a random model or actress can. There’s a weird entertainment complex fashion has developed that we try to avoid.
Nika: When you do use conventional models, what qualities do you seek?
Gill: Confidence, strength.
Adams: We’re not really into the idea of a very young, anonymous model. We want her to bring her story into the clothing. We avoid a uniform lineup; we like variety.
Nika: How do you find the overseas reaction to Ohne Titel?
Adams: Europe discovered us first–somehow the aesthetic spoke to them directly. I don’t think of our aesthetic as especially American, it’s more international. Whether you’re in New York or Paris, it works.
Nika: Would you ever relocate?
Adams: Maybe. If the situation calls for it, we might consider it. But right now I kind of love New York!
Ohne Titel presents their Spring 2011 collection at noon at Exit Art.