In conversation with COTTWEILER

Cottweiler is a London-based menswear label founded and helmed by Ben Cottrell and Matthew Dainty.

Cottweiler’s aesthetic derives from the new-age cults and the designers upbringing, mixed with fine Italian fabrics, all in order to create immaculate sportswear. The designer duo often collaborates with brands such as Reebok, Mulberry, Nike, The Natural History Museum, Swarovski, etc. They have also won the 2016/17 Menswear International Woolmark Prize, they’ve produced films and installations which have been exhibited at The Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, the Haus Der Kunst in Munich and Alison Jacques Gallery, London, and they have made custom-designed pieces for FKA Twigs’s first solo UK tour.


Let’s start at the end – can you ever imagine your brand going on without you? 

Our brand identity is very much a product of our friendship, so it would be hard to imagine it without us.

Do you think that nowadays you have to be an independent designer to make the clothes you really want?

We think that independence is a way to spread our message, it’s not really just about the clothes, it is about speaking to people on a wider scale

How did you manage to maintain your freedom in this social media-infused environment?

We don’t take that much notice of what is happening on social media. Part of the reason we started the brand was so we could express ourselves without any restraints. If we see something on social media that is common, we want to do the opposite. It is vital for us to be new and not re-hashed from imagery that has been seen by so many people.

Social media has become essential for any brand, but you two are not too keen on keeping up with that. Do you think not being that active on social channels is what gave your brand such a strong foundation?

We never wanted to bombard people with constant information and imagery. We feel like a subtle approach to marketing and branding adds more value over a longer period of time. Longevity is something that is quite rare within the fashion industry, and we were very conscious from the beginning that we wanted to be around for a long time. It was never our strategy to sell huge quantities straight away but to build a loyal customer who wants to explore and discover more about us.

Let’s now talk about your obsession with different communities/groups! How and where does research process begin, and how far do you go? Did you ever participate in any of the activities?

We always experience things first hand. We feel it is more authentic to be inspired by something and then to participate in that, whatever it may be. Part of the reason was because in the early days of social media (when we started to form COTTWEILER), it was a really useful tool to create and express our imaginations, but as things become more saturated we felt like there was no way of controlling the fact that so many other people are all looking at the same images. When we started to realize that, we began to create our own research in order to remain original.

To be able to reference your own work rather than something from the past has been a concept we have been exploring for a long time.

We are in Germany, so lets briefly talk about older German men who are really into water-sealed outdoor wear and were the main inspiration for Cottweiler’s Fall/Winter 2016. You once said that some see them as fetishism, some perceive the behavior/wear as completely normal – all depending on who is watching. What did you two see? Adoration, sense of community, etc.?

Probably all of those things. We both have different takes on these subjects but have a mutual appreciation for them. The adoration for a material object which can be interpreted as fetishism is something that has always interested us.

Is sportswear your fetish?

Things we come across in everyday life is our fetish. To change the context and make it a fantasy born from reality

After finishing a collection, do you ever feel a sense of accomplishment?

We always feel a sense of accomplishment, especially when we look around us and see so many other people devoted to what we do. It takes some time to decompress, but we are also very critical of ourselves. That’s what drives us. We are always asking each other how can we improve.

Trends are something you try to avoid, but I feel like everyone says that. Right now what you are doing is on trend; did that ever make you question your practice or something becoming a trend is an achievement, as when it happens you are (kind of) already over it? Let say you are just an initiator of trends, not the consumer!?

We aren’t sure if what we are doing is really ‘on trend.’ Over the years we have been told this, and then the trend has passed, and we are still doing what we do. We think that what we do is relevant to peoples lifestyles which is very different to a trend or fad.

Having said that, we are very aware of our evolution. To mature and be confident in what we do is more powerful than pandering to a movement in fashion. We are more interested in social movements, and that is the thing that influences our evolution.

Are teenage years foundation for everything that happened afterwards and what your brand is all about?

It’s definitely a huge part. Our shared experiences, although we have such different backgrounds. Finding that common interest between us is what built our identity. We always look to the future when we are presenting the collection, even if they are partly inspired by past experiences. To show something that speaks of the future but has elements of nostalgia that people can relate to.

Autumn Winter 18 emerges from subterranean lakes of the Krizna Jama (Jama means cave in Slovene). I am from Slovenia, so this hits home, literally! What I find really interesting, is the fact that Krizna Jama is fairly unknown among Slovene people, everyone goes after Postonjska Jama, but here now come two English men giving this cave five minutes of fame! That said, tell me more about the background of the collection and how did the cave inspiration got translated into the garments? 

We have been yearning for some kind of escape. This felt like the perfect place to be lost in nature. Postonjka Jama is visited by thousands of people every year and has been affected by human contact. Krizna Jama is almost completely untouched by tourists. Again, to be able to discover a place that hasn’t been researched is fascinating to us, and it really was one of the most amazing and special places we have been. We have always been interested in our relationship with nature, but this time we decided to study deeper into natural history. We get great satisfaction from discovering something that not many people have had the chance to see. The concept for the collection and the show was to make this group of boys become their environment, so the fabrics played a huge part. We used a lot more natural fabrics to contrast with our core synthetics. The clash between man and nature is very visible. Our main challenge was how can we make nature, a place that has existed for thousands of years, modern.We used a lot of details from caving equipment, but we wanted it to look like the surroundings had enveloped the clothing and accessories. We imaged what it would be like to be a future community living inside these caves.

What do you thrive off?

The people around us and our environment.

Do you wear your own designs?

Every day. It’s vital to test the product if you are designing and making for other people to wear. We started COTTWEILER by designing and making clothes for each other, and we continue to do that although on a much wider scale.

How would you like to be remembered?

For being original and authentic.


Interview: Katja Horvat

Photos: Courtesy of Cottweiler and Ritual Projects