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Pernilla Wohlfahrt & Rebekka Bay

Autumn 10’s minimalism trend is in perfect sync with premium retailer Cos. Is it simply down to luck? Not according to the two women overseeing its collection.

On a cold, wet Thursday morning in November, shoppers are prowling outside Cos’s London Regent Street store waiting for it to open. Once it does, the atmosphere inside is like that of a Saturday afternoon, as female shoppers rifle through the rails of the autumn 10 collection’s well-cut, understated designs. Among those satisfied shoppers, Drapers discovers, is UK Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, who picks up a handful of pieces for herself.

Whether it’s the girl next door or the ultimate fashion editor, Cos hits the spot, as autumn 10’s biggest trend - minimalism - is in perfect harmony with the menswear and womenswear multiple’s signature handwriting.

Brand director Pernilla Wohlfahrt says: “Sales [this season] have been fantastic. It might be because of the [minimalism] trend.”

“Or maybe the trends are finally matching the aesthetic of Cos? Maybe we were early?” offers Cos creative director Rebekka Bay. Despite dressing head to toe in Cos and being of similar ages, the two women look completely different, showing just how wide Cos’s appeal is. And while they won’t put the success into context - Cos is H&M’s premium sister chain and the Swedish fast-fashion giant doesn’t break down financials - Wohlfahrt says this season has seen “strong, comparable store figures across all markets.”

As a former trend forecasting consultant, Bay may have been “early” on minimalism but she is all too aware of the importance of being commercial. “It’s important for every brand to translate trends, so we filter trends through to

our aesthetic,” she explains. “For example, fake fur has been popular this season, but we don’t use [fake fur], so we translate that through softness instead.”

Translating trends

But autumn 10 has been relatively easy to translate for a retailer that would have had crisp white shirts in its offer whatever the season. So is there a trend she fears? “Like ethnic boho?” Bay suggests, laughing. “Yes, it would worry me, but it depends how you apply it.”

It doesn’t seem to worry Wohlfahrt, who pictures “washed, cotton tunics” as a way of translating the trend. “We did the floral trend well last year, where we put all different prints together.”

At least it’s not a problem they’ll have to face next spring, with minimalism and tailoring set to continue, but with the 1970s trend arguably the most commercial of spring 11’s multitude of stories, would that one be more difficult to get right? “I like big turns in fashion,” says Bay. “It’s good to have a change after autumn 10 and we can turn [the 1970s trend] on its head. So, we’re going super-casual. Spring 11 is about developing a new chic. Dresses will be cut quite architecturally and we’ll be following the 1970s trend in a way. We’ll be working with sportswear influences and I love how there’s a chicness to casual dressing [in that decade].”

All this chicness and luxurious fabrics won’t come cheaply, and won’t be helped by the ongoing rises in cotton prices and manufacturing. Cos’s sourcing is split 60/40 between Europe and Asia, and this ratio is unlikely to change anytime soon. “We need a lot of European production for our footwear and tailoring and with rising freight costs and the impact on the environment, we’re encouraged to stay in Europe [as much as possible]. But we struggle to find good factories there; you have to be very clever because we have to keep prices low,” says Wohlfahrt, alluding to Cos’s promise when it launched in 2007 that consumers could get high quality, design-led clothing at affordable prices. “It’s a daily struggle. I’ll say to Rebekka, ‘you can have that [fabric]’, but she says, ‘no, I want that [more expensive] one’.”

But the duo refuse to compromise the Cos ethos. “We go to fabric fairs and start researching [for the next season], and we find a super-soft, backed satin, but it’s outside our price range. So we look for alternatives [with the same effect]. Or we try different routes [to get to the desired fabric]. But the different route can take a long time. To get glued seams [on next season’s stiff cotton coat] took four years,” says Bay.

Not that taking four years is seen as a success. “It does prove that these elements are timeless, but in fashion it’s a race to have a first. When I first started [designing for Cos], I used to keep ideas back for the next season but then Pernilla told me to act on them [immediately].”

All eyes online

One area where Wohlfahrt has had to be patient is a transactional website for Cos. But she won’t have to wait much longer, as the business is gearing up for its launch next year (as revealed by Drapers, November 19), following H&M, which launched its own UK site in September. Wohlfahrt wanted to set up a transactional site sooner but it was “logistically difficult,” she says.

However, not having a transactional website didn’t stop Cos from embracing the power of the internet and, in particular, social networking. The retailer asked renowned fashion blogger Susie Lau of Style Bubble to dress the Regent Street store’s window, but this was another idea that Bay and Wohlfahrt had been “sitting on for a long time”. They were attracted to Lau because she was one of the first in the fashion industry to openly question - and criticise - Cos’s launch. “Do we really need another brand like this?” she had asked on her blog. Subsequent posts showed Lau warming to the retailer, before announcing: “I’m a Cos addict.”

“We wanted to work with bloggers because there’s something nice and dynamic about collaborating with people outside the brand. And why not give bloggers a physical space [to express themselves]?” asks Bay. “The collection is for the customer to own, not for us to tell them what to wear.”

As for collaborating with designers - as sister chain H&M does - Wohlfahrt says there is nothing planned. In fact, her focus is on opening more shops for Cos, which now has 34 stores globally, having just opened a store in Brighton last month. As well as the UK, Cos has stores in Europe, in countries including Germany, France and Spain. “We’ll have opened 12 stores [in 2010] by the end of this year and we’re hoping to increase that [rate] for next year.”

The UK will continue to be an important growth market for Cos, and is often the focus of any special launches -

the entire Cos concept was launched with a party in London’s Royal Academy rather than in Sweden. Yet, Cos’s Scandinavian roots are equally important, but in a more subtle way. “Danish furniture designers, for example, never cease to be a source of inspiration,” says Bay.

“I like the idea of working with everyday objects. Designers like Arne Jacobsen and Finn Juhl design things to be mass produced but with craftsmanship.” A concept Bay has clearly borrowed for Cos.

CV

Pernilla Wohlfahrt

2007 Brand director, Cos

2005 Head of buying, Cos

1993 Buyer and section head, H&M

1992 Agent, Prêt-à-Porter

Rebekka Bay

2007 Creative director, Cos

2006 Design director, womenswear, Cos

2001 Freelance trend forecaster

1999 Head of trend observatory, Fitch

1997 Trend forecaster, Kjaer Global Influences

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