Editorial — Campaign of the Month – October – COS

There were those who were sceptical when the Swedish clothing giant H&M launched their COS brand. But, they should have reminded themselves that even H&M’s thrifty and hugely popular offerings are formulated with the best fashion credentials and that even the snobbiest of fashionistas readily acknowledges H&M’s ability to be entirely on the crest of the fashion wave despite the very affordable price.

COS AW11 womenswear campaign. Photo: Willy Vanderperre

COS AW11 womenswear campaign. Photo: Willy Vanderperre

So, it’s hardly unexpected that over the last decade or so, COS has gone from strength to strength with stores springing up like wildflowers. Known for its directional look that pares fashion down to stark blocks of (usually muted) colour, fabrics that feel good to wear and uncluttered silhouettes that often bring that special something through clever cutting and an architectural sensibility, one could say that H&M’s upmarket relative is quintessentially Scandinavian. If H&M is a story of a Swedish company conquering the international fashion market by responding to its needs in an international context, there is a certain way in which COS is a story about bringing things back to an unapologetically Swedish sensibility. The stark and stylish simplicity that characterises the brand’s persona and designs is something that has been repeatedly attributed to Swedish – and more generally Scandinavian- aesthetics in everything from product design to architecture. If H&M was about attaining a very general and global success, then COS feels rather like the successful Swedish company bringing things back to the best qualities that Swedish design sensibilities have to offer the world. And, from our responses to the brand, clearly we are now hungry for it.

There is often something about COS, which is effectively a ‘lifestyle brand’ since it offers interior furnishing and furniture in addition to its men’s and womenswear, that feels connected with the past. It’s not that the styling is retro or nostalgic, but equally, it never really seems accurate to call it ‘timeless’. Certainly, there is a certain classicism about the collections, but there is also something about the muted or rich colours, their texture and the silhouettes that connects with the modernist sensibility that burst out of Scandinavia in the 1950’s and 1960’s. When encountering COS’s own image of itself – such as in the current AW11 campaigns- there is a vague communal memory of Sweden and Scandinavia in the heyday of its modernist rebirth after World War II. There is something that connects it with the Swedish showing the world that one could be entirely fashionable and stylish without froufrou fuss and unnecessary clutter. One need only think of the image of actresses like Ingrid Bergman in the 1950’s or certain of Hitchcock’s films in which the simple seduction of a sleek Scandinavian modernity form the mise-en-scène to make the connection with the highly contemporary allure of the brand.

And, it is exactly the accentuation of these qualities in the COS AW11 womenswear campaign that makes it so attractive and appealing. Shot by Willy Vanderperre, it’s a beautiful exercise in matt restraint. Whether it’s intentional or pure serendipity, Vanderperre’s direct and unmediated images of model Valerija Kelava wearing items from the collection end up being a visual essay on the aesthetics of northern Europe. There is perhaps a certain irony that showcasing a Swedish collection makes Willy Vanderperre’s images seem more Flemish or connected with his Antwerp background than his highly versatile work for top fashion titles around the world.

Some say that there are certain truths within clichés or that stereotypes don’t exist without some basis. What Willy Vanderperre’s campaign for COS shows, rather, is that good design and good photography profiling it can manage to simultaneously exist as an entity in its own right and as an elaboration of identifiable regional sensibilities. If anyone is ever confused by what modernist architects were trying to achieve with their notion of an ‘international style’, then one need look no further than the COS AW11 womenswear campaign to understand the concept.

COS AW11 womenswear campaign. Photo: Willy Vanderperre

COS AW11 womenswear campaign. Photo: Willy Vanderperre