"It's difficult to pin down precisely when it launched," Matt Dainty confesses as he begins to talk me through the evolution of his shared concept-led menswear label, Cottweiler. "We had been designing and producing garments on a personal order basis for our mates and people that lived and worked around the area for quite a while before we were stocked anywhere," adds Ben Cottrell, the other half of its design duo. "We've only been wholesaling for two seasons and autumn/winter 13 is our first full collection going in to store. So for some people the label seems new, for others it's quite familiar," adds Dainty. Sentences might be fall from the label's mouths in Dainty's appropriated capital twang or Cottrell's West Country hum, it does not matter because they are always heard as one. From their small but perfectly formed studio squeezed into a railway arch in East London, the pair work tirelessly on growing the label in their own way and on their own terms. After first being introduced to the label on the rails of Primitive last year, my appetite to truly discover Cottweiler was whet. Serving up a feast of autumn/winter 13, spring/summer 14 and archive collections, the pair did not disappoint during my drive through visit to their studio.
"Cottweiler is driven by our friendship and what inspires us both. We've had quite different upbringings but there's so much common ground between us. We're both drawn to subculture, particularly British subculture and the label started as a creative process, an outlet from our day jobs in design and tailoring, Ben was on Savile Row for a number of years and Cottweiler enabled us to explore our love of sports and casual wear in a high end way. It was an organic process. It's stayed true to it. Looking back now over our first designs, there's been definitive continuation and evolution. We've not strayed too far from the original concept because it's been an organic process."
Meeting whilst studying Fashion and Textiles at Bristol University the pair were soon drawn to each another, swapping research inspirations and ultimately united by a shared desire to start a label with longevity that would challenge people to think about what they are wearing. Focused on simplicity, function, fit and fabrication, the resulting label deftly balances luxury fabrication and sportswear. Each Cottweiler collection is a smorgasbord of subculture, an intriguing mix iconographic references from youth movement, religious symbols, fetishism and the occult. In addition to producing seasonal collections, limited edition ranges and an ever growing made-to-measure client base, Cottweiler collaborates with cutting edge artists on projects across several mediums including film, photography and illustration.
"We practically spend twenty four hours a day together, we are always talking about next season, have a clear direction of what we want to do next. We are always looking ahead, sending each other images," begins Cottrell as he explains the effervescence of their design dynamic. "We do everything together, from bouncing around ideas at mood board stage to patterns and managing production right through to casting, commissioning look books and making the sample range here in the studio." adds Dainty.
Aside from production which happens in a little factory a button's throw away from the studio, everything happens in their East London enclave. The pair are enveloped by Cotteiler. From mood boards drenched in bubbling subcultures to rails of garments, new and old, the collective heartbeat of the label races on. The last four seasons of research and campaign imagery stand together in unity. Their ideas mingle, merge and push one other forward. Their an aesthetic authenticity. Their curation of amateur photography and youtube screenshots sit seamlessly alongside subsequent look books. From prison codes to scuba diving, joyriders and tunnel dwellers to ravers, look into Cottweiler's kaleidoscope of inspiration below and on their tumblr.
Snapshots of four seasons of Cottweiler's inspirations.
Away from the glare of London Collections: Men's spotlight and out of reach of the BFC's support (for now atleast), Cottweiler has forged its own path. First building up an enthused client base for personal and made-to-measure orders and then slowly but steadily adding a like-minded stockist list. "We've always enjoyed the personal order side because it's fun to offer something that's not on a rail and is made to their specific measurements," adds an excited Cottrell as he thumbs through an archive rail and imagines future fittings. "At the beginning it was the only way we could work because we didn't have stockists, there was no other option back then," confesses Dainty. "Now, it's great because alongside the key stockists that we have, a list that includes GR8 in Tokyo, Fragile in Osaka and Substance in California, there's a regular customer base who come in often. There's one guy who has the same cut of joggers in multiple fabrications, adding one or two each season. As the collections grow it can get a little crazy but it's fun. There's an investment, customers have to pick up the phone and come in to see us, the space could be perceived as intimidating in a number of ways so it takes a lot to come and place an order but it means they are truly passionate. For us, it's great to meet people and talk to them about product, how it's made and the thought and processes behind it."
"It's been gradual," echoes Cottrell. "We've not rushed ourselves to produce full collections and we've always stayed true to our original concept. Steadily the collections are growing and the technology of the fabric and finishing is being developed season on season. We are always looking to finish garments as cleanly as possible, minimal detailing. We look for supplier who can offer us something new. One day we'll have our own bonding and laser cutting machines," he declares triumphantly. "Fabric is so important to us," adds Dainty picking up the conversational baton. "We're both excited by performance fabrics and fabrics that still perform yet have the appearance of classic cloths. We've managed to build five core suppliers, some are in the UK and others in Germany, Switzerland and France, who will work with us in small quantities. The beauty of what we do is that we're drawn to a palette of black, blue and navy and most stock fabrics are in the hues we like so it makes our position easier, we tend to get everything that we want from these suppliers."
This appears to be the perfect moment to meet Cottweiler. Having lurked in the shadows of sportswear, developing and evolving collections as and when they've been ready to do so, the boys are about to step out as a fully defined, working label. Meeting the pair as they finish off production for their first full collection and close orders with their largest pool of stockists to date, they are ready to push on to the next level. Our excited eyes linger over the rail of autumn/winter 13.
"With a colour palette of black, white and carbon, Autumn/Winter 13 took inspiration from joyriders in Golf GTis and kids that live in tunnels under the streets of Eastern Europe," explains Dainty as he thumbs through the bonded tape sweatshirts, polo shirts that mix tech pique and mesh, tench coats in techno wool and hooded bibs in nylon and lycra before introducing me to the Aline and Jacqueline Tappia Reynaud shot look book.
Taking inspiration from Central European forest raves, Cottweiler travelled to the Czech Republic for spring/summer 13 to work with artist and photographer Luis Artemio De Los Santos. Consisting of transparent shell suits, stretch satin sauna suits and the label's signature oversized jersey pieces, the hidden wildness of Prague proved the perfect setting.
"We had previously worked in studios trying to recreate an atmosphere for look books but this season we went to Prague with a photographer that we both hugely admire, Luis. We shot the collection on street cast parkour kids who were all part of a group that he'd be documenting for a number of years. We did an online casting and spent two days out there. it was the best shoot we've done because it was an amazing atmosphere, we went out into the forests, had a couple bottles of wine and just saw them naturally. Rather than recreate something, we shot something that was as real as a fashion shoot could possibly be. The photographer has been a massive inspiration ad influence, he just has a unique talent, he transcends this trend of net art because it's quite classic and possesses an unsaid quality. We hope to be working with him a lot more. over the next couple of years. It's great to meet someone, like our filmmaker Nick, who gets it. His skill is editing but he's an artist, the films evoke a feeling rather than show off garments," explains Dainty. "You don't have to explain or force the concept with these guys," adds Cottrell succinctly.
"We've tried to develop the identity of Cottweiler without putting our names all over it. We are pretty anti-branding to be honest," admits Cottrell laughing. "That's how we dress as well, we are into sportswear but we'e not into swooshes and three stripes everywhere," adds Dainty. There is a subtlety to Cottweiler, their designs don't need a brash logo to be seen, they already stand out with their sportswear in luxury fabrics. They are just waiting to be discovered.