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Inside the Designer's Studio: Ohne Titel

First, some news: The Ohne Titel girls, Alexa Adams and Flora Gill, have designed their first line of shoes to debut at their show this September! Ce

First, some news: The Ohne Titel girls, Alexa Adams and Flora Gill, have designed their first line of shoes to debut at their show this September! Cesare Paciotti's producing them in Italy right this very second, and, according to the girls, they're along the lines of "hot" and "sick" and "so totally gorgeous." They're working out the details of whether the shoes will actually be available for purchase, so there should be some more news on that soon... Ok - back to now. We paid a visit to Alexa and Flora in their spare Chelsea studio yesterday, and learned that: 1. They love bodies. 2. They love fabrics. 3. They love thinking about how fabrics should go on the body. 4. They like to do their draping on a teeny tiny little mannequin (yes, we got a picture.) And their much-anticipated, upcoming Spring 09 collection? Well, it's...

So, where are you guys from? Alexa: I'm from DC, lived there my whole life, except for one year of high school that I spent in Stockholm, until I moved to New York. Flora: I'm from Alfred, New York.

Alexa, left. Flora, right. Where's that? F: It's like an 8 hour bus ride north. It's really the country. A: Yeah! She even used to know who killed everything! Sorry, uh...? F: (laughing) It's a really small place, so I always knew where all my food came from, especially the meat. Like, I always knew that this one person killed the pigs, and this other person killed the cows. Actually, when I first moved to New York, I was a vegan for years cause I was like, "I don't know who killed it!"

The studio. And you two met at Parsons? A: Yeah, we had a lot of classes together, but then we became neighbors later on. F: At Parsons, it can get pretty intense, so you really know the people who are still in your classes by the time it's over. Did either of you make clothes before Parsons? A + F: Oh yeah! A: I've always known how to sew from my grandmother, she worked at the National Gallery. F: My parents are both artists, they work with ceramics and sculptures, so I've just come from a really creative environment. I've seriously known that I wanted to work in fashion since before I even knew the word. I can remember being so young, and thinking "How can I travel around the world and make clothes? Maybe I should be a flight attendant!" Do you actually remember the first thing you ever designed? A: I remember sketching a shoe that had a transformable heel when I was a kid. You could make the shoe different heights. F: I made something for my friend, actually, when I was five. I think it was a plaid vest or something. She brought it in for Show and Tell, and made fun of it. We stopped being friends after that. So when did you guys decide to actually work together? A: Ohne Titel actually started the summer before our senior year. We worked on a project together, but then we both went to work for different designers for a while after graduation. Where did you come up with the name "Ohne Titel"? A: It's actually German for "untitled". We both happened to be very inspired by Anselm Kiefer, a contemporary German artist I used to admire a lot whenever I visited the National Gallery, and a lot of his work just went by "ohne titel." We really liked that idea - that it was a way of letting the work speak for itself, that it's not about a name.

Cutting table.

Alexa: "This actually isn't a proper mannequin." So where did you guys work after school? A: I worked at Helmut Lang for three years. Then I started working for Karl Lagerfeld, and I brought Flora on with me. F: Before I worked for Karl with Alexa, I worked at a bunch of places - Cynthia Steffe, I did knits for Vivienne Tam, but I eventually went to Karl. Ok, don't hate me for asking this, but what was it like to work with Karl? A: It was crazy, exciting! F: He's really creatively open, he likes young people, new talent, so it was a really good place to get started. Did he give you any advice? A: Geez, he said so many things. Everything's a Karlism. So how did you guys decide to start your own line? F: We used to have these meetings like over Bubble Tea, and Alexa and I would realize that we were thinking of the same stuff, sketching the same things, so finally we were like, "Why don't we do something together?" And things have been going so well! A: Yeah, everything's moved right along. We've just been letting things take their own shape, a lot of our designs sort of happen organically, and we're really just still defining our aesthetic. F: What I'm really interested in is fabric manipulation, like modernizing knitwear. I love to take something like crochet or macramé and take it to another level to challenge what people think crochet or macramé look like. I like to mix it with modern things. Like [at this point, both Alexa and Flora jump up from their seats to show me some of their knitwear from Fall 08, and stroke each detail on the sweater to show me where the fabric is tight - where they added lycra - and where it isnt'] do you see this? If you look closely there are little puffs where it's looser. We used a lot of different techniques in this sweater. What's your first step in putting together a collection? A: I guess we just talk about the overall concept, like, how do we feel? Where are things moving? Then we just start building. F: For us, it's really about how the clothes relate to the body, so we have really intense fittings. That's a big part of our process, because so much can change after we really see it on the body. But we also do a lot of fabric research, and we also always sketch beforehand. But you'd be surprised where you sometimes find your inspiration. A: Like for Fall, it all started with the marble floors we'd recently seen at Versailles. Then it just went from there.

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Their thread wall. Flora: "Oh, we do use those. You never know when you're going to need some weird color of thread for something but the store's closed. They're not just for show."

Their fabric libraries. In case you can't tell, they're super organized.

Books. So what's with the suits? You guys seem to be focusing a lot on those. A: We just like them! They kind of give you a different way to think of women's bodies, like the way they wrap around the body and are so powerful at the same time. F: We really like to explore how powerful and feminine they can be. That's definitely what your suits are. They look feminine, but they have a certain swagger to them, which is kind of masculine. F: Exactly!

Past collections. I love that you [Flora] wore one of them for your bow at your last show! F: Thank you! Speaking of the shows, you guys always have the best models! Do you pick them yourselves? A: Yeah, we've always picked the girls ourselves, we've never had a caster until this coming season (Art + Commerce.) F: We just look for girls that are strong, interesting and gorgeous. Sexy, but intelligent. Yeah, you guys had Jourdan Dunn before anyone really knew who she was. A: Yes, we did! We love Jourdan. We also really like Heidi Mount. So where are you guys with Spring 09? Deep in? A: We're so deep in. We're in the midst of fittings and really just had our first iteration. F: Yeah, we're really just seeing everything as a whole for the first time, so it's really exciting. We're also doing another project with Swarovski. Sooooooo. Can you tell me anything about the collection? A: Uhh [looks over at Stephen, Ohne Titel's publicist], what can we say? [silence from Stephen's corner.] F: Well, I guess we can say that it's going to be a lot about the body and structures of the body. Lots of handmade techniques, but also futuristic fabrics. It's going to be very technical.

Stephen at his desk. Do you think you'll be doing this forever? A + F: Yeah! F: Of course! That's my plan. A: What could be better? Who do you envision when you design? Is there an "Ohne Titel woman"? A: There really isn't an Ohne Titel woman. I really just think of myself, like, "Would I wear this?" F: Yeah, I think that to myself, too. I also wonder if my friends would wear it, and like, "Would a CEO wear this? What about a gallery owner?" We try to make it something that many women would wear, but at the same time, it's really personal. It's all stuff we would wear. So do you guys dress alike? A + F: No! (giggles) F: But we do like how each other dresses. A: That's kind of how Ohne Titel works. It's like the middle of our styles.

The teeny tiny mannequin they like to drape on. It's 1/4 the size of a regular one. Can you read each other's minds? A: Well, I guess you always know what I'm going to say. F: I don't think we can read each other's minds. But there are certain things you always say in fittings all the time. Like, down to the inch, I know what you're going to say. A: So you can read my mind!

The girls. You guys just seem so in tune to each other. Do you live together? A: No, I live in the East Village and Flora lives in Brooklyn. F: I guess we are really close. We've become kind of like sisters, except we work together. I guess we're somewhere between married and siblings, and this is our baby. Well! Time for the semi-Proust questionnaire! 1. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE WORD? A - Veracity F - Yes 2. WHAT IS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE WORD? A - No F - Impossible 3. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SOUND/NOISE? A - silence F - opera (Balo In Maschera by Verdi) 4. WHAT IS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE SOUND/NOISE? A - crinkling paper (it irritates me) F - the buzz of flying insects 5. WHAT PROFESSION, OTHER THAN YOURS, DO YOU WISH TO ATTEMPT? A - archaeology F - fiber Artist 6. WHAT PROFESSION WOULD YOU NEVER WANT? A - lawyer, (like the rest of my family) F - low-level bureaucrat 7. WHAT MAKES YOU INSPIRED? A - travel, traditional crafts, arts F - working with my hands 8. WHAT MAKES YOU NEVER WANT TO WORK AGAIN? A - bureaucracy and tiresome paperwork F - incorrect/ugly samples 9. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SWEAR WORD? A - I don't really swear F - My dad will occasionally say: suckafrucka (it's made up) 10. IF HEAVEN EXISTS, WHAT DO YOU WANT GOD TO SAY TO YOU WHEN YOU DIE? A - I don't believe in heaven or hell. F - "Oh Hi - sorry, I wasn't really paying attention."