CHARLI COHEN IS HERE TO SHAKE UP THE FASHION INDUSTRY
In the over-saturated market of streetwear, where everyone is either a Demna or hype bae, it feels so refreshing to see the work of London-based designer Charli Cohen. Inspired by streetwear and the technicality of performance wear, Charli Cohen amps up minimal pieces with innovative silhouettes, unexpected details and luxurious finishes; think Commes De Garçons meets London youth culture.
But to reduce Charli Cohen to just a brand is missing the point. Not only does the designer make sure that her label is made ethically, she also makes sure her branding, models and ads are all inclusive. She serves a reminder that the fashion system is not as serious as many would make you think. By being an advocate for mental health, and by fighting the norms of what fashion in the fashion industry should look like, this brand is on the path to changing things from the inside out.
FASHION IS DYING talked to the founder and namesake of the brand, Charli Cohen, about diversity, why the fashion industry is like the Tower card in the tarot, and what’s next for the designer.
FASHION IS DYING: How did you get into designing clothes?
CHARLI COHEN: It’s a terrible cliché but I always knew that was what I wanted to do (well, ever since deciding around 6 or 7 that I didn’t have the emotional resilience to be a vet). I launched my first brand when I was 15 so I could learn the ropes of the industry and after that I studied fashion design at university in London.
FID: I know you mentioned your family has a relationship with textiles, can you expand on this a little?
CC: My grandfather was a furrier — he inherited the business from my grandmother’s father after the war. She worked in it with him as a seamstress and so did my aunt as soon as she was old enough, so it was a three generation family business. I love that his old studio is only two minutes down the road from where ours is now! That’s the Jewish side of the family. On my mum’s side, which is British/Cornish, my great aunt belonged to The Embroiderers’ Guild and used to make altar cloths for churches.
FID: What does personal style mean to you?
CC: It’s how I feel comfortable in my own skin and how I communicate. I wear a lot of black because I prefer to be an observer rather than the one being observed. But within that limited colour palette, I’m really attracted to cuts, fabrics and details that feel special and considered — because good, thoughtful design genuinely makes me happy.
FID: How would you describe the ethos of Charli Cohen?
CC: CC is my platform to address the issues I see within the fashion industry in a proactive way, rather than complaining about them from the sidelines. I really believe any impact, however small the scale, is still an impact and still setting an example. So that means being as environmentally sustainable as possible, making sure everyone at every stage of our business and supply chain is being paid fairly and treated well, giving flexible hours to my team, giving the models we shoot with lots of creative control over the imagery, making sure we have good cultural representation, prioritising talent over network, working with underprivileged communities. We also openly discuss and encourage conversation around politics, ethics and mental health. I want to be able to empower people — whether they’re the ones in the company or the ones wearing our clothes.
FID: I love that your brand pulls from street style/ athleisure but then amps it up with interesting silhouettes, details and colors. What is your inspiration for your designs?
CC: Thank you! I’m really working to define Technical Fashion as a category — something that sits between performancewear, streetwear and luxury. I take a slightly weird non-visual approach to design; most of the time I’m inspired by something that’s happening socially or politically, which I’m feeling a strong emotion towards. I’ll first explore that theme and feeling through writing or music, and then translate it into clothes. Like I said, a bit weird but it‘s how I process ideas most effectively.
FID: Is fashion dying?
CC: I see the fashion industry as a burning building — or The Tower. Some people are sitting at the table, pretending everything is fine even though their house is on fire. These people really don’t like it when others question the fire. Some people are jumping out the fifth floor window and not surviving the fall. Some people are being pushed out that window by those who sit at the table. Other people are managing to jump with only minor injury and are heading off into the unknown to build something new. The system that’s on fire needs to hurry up and burn out; it’s outdated and unhealthy, for both the planet and the workers. The foundations for a new, better system are being laid, but it can’t fully flourish until the old one collapses.
FID: If you had to wear one outfit from the brand for the rest of eternity (#ghostoutfit) what would it be and why?
CC: Probably the Saber Pant and Prism Hoodie because they’re like socially acceptable outdoor pyjamas.
FID: What's next?
CC: I keep adding to the list! We’re building out a mental health awareness platform called Shades of Blue, which is focused on highlighting unhealthy practices within the creative industries and creating a supportive community for those struggling within these industries. We are also working very actively within the music industry — next year’s goal is to add a production arm to CC, where we can offer affordable rates to emerging artists to create their music videos and campaigns. We have a major collaboration in the pipeline with Reebok, can’t wait to share more details on that soon! And because I like to stay busy, I’m currently working on a business self-help book slash satire, with my best friend (who happens to be an amazing knitwear designer) Caitlin Charles-Jones.
Photos by Dean Martindale.