contributing editor: tight knit

Tight Knit
In an industry beset by recession, fast fame, and lots of tweets, Ohne Titel’s Flora Gill and Alexa Adams keep it together.
by Alison Baenen
photographs by Jeffrey Cohen

When it comes to devising monikers for their labels, most designers rely on their own names to start a brand. Everyone from Coco to Miuccia has used her autograph to shape a label – even the Mulleavy sisters snagged their mom’s maiden name to create Rodarte – which puts Ohne TItel’s Alexa Adams and Flora Gill squarely in the label-naming minority.

Inspired by German artist Anselm Kiefer’s habit of leaving his paintings and sculptures untitled, Adams and Gill settled on Ohne Titel – German for “without title” – as the name of the first capsule collection they created together as students at Parsons. The name stuck, and the now four-year-old non-label label is negotiating design in an increasingly personality-fueled industry.

The partners, who worked together at Karl Lagerfeld before launching their own line, have no hankering for Project Runway style recognition. All the same, Gill acknowledges that a little oiling of the spin machine never hurts. “I realize that what we say about the collection is almost as important as the collection itself,” she says, admitting that explaining how something was designed is much easier than articulating why. “Design is such a personal thing. It’s hard to verbalize why I chose to do something a certain way.”
Still, with growing numbers of fashion houses blogging, tweeting, and live streaming, Adams and Gill are content with their more sub rosa role. “I think the cult of celebrity is kind of opposite to what we’re interested in doing,” Adams says. “It should be about the clothes and how you personally relate to them.”

If this seems like a refreshingly old-school response to fast-fashion trends, Ohne Titel’s designs are the perfect counterpart. The pair is best known for reworking traditional handicrafts in modern, techy ways, often in the form of stretchy, sculptural knits. The intersection between old and new seems to be where Adams and Gill are most comfortable, which explains how Spring’s Egyptian wall-painting inspired collection, with it’s lean, athletic silhouette and bold color-blocking, looks so thoroughly modern.

Being cerebrally minded has its benefits. Adams, an ancient archeology buff, contends that her outside interests come back into the collection “in a very circuitous way” (or, in the case of the wall-paintings, not so circuitous). For Gill, a preferred pastime of cooking is less domestic bliss and more performance art. Inspired by F.T. Marinetti’s Futurist Cookbook, Gill hosts semi-annual theatrical dinners at her Park Slope apartment. The most recent meal dealt with the idea of space. Dressed as a galaxy, Gill served satellite shaped hors d’oeuvres and mixed drinks with spherical ice cubes meant to represent Mars’ polar ice caps. Adams, who has dressed in as much black as possible since I knew her in high school, stayed true to type. “I was boring,” she says of her costume, laughing.
“I was a black hole.”

The friends agree that the best costume of the evening was the preposition constellation. Outfitted in white, the guest covered himself in stickers tagged with various prepositions – about, despite, over, around, etc – that, in Gill’s mind, “exhibited the entropy of an expanding universe” as they eventually dropped and scattered throughout her apartment and, ultimately, the city.

The idea of mutability, of a garment that adapts and transforms with its wearer, fits nicely into Gill and Adams’ design philosophy. “Part of having an unnamed fashion label was that my love of fashion didn’t have to do with labels, or money, or status,” Adams says. “It was about creating a personal identity through clothing.” No logos needed.