BOSS and Russell Athletic Launch New Collection: an Interview with Designer Ingo Wilts

26.03.2021, Fashion Interview
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With a Big Bang, two iconic brands launched their new collaboration last night. The event was marked by a video release that will stick: It starts with a huge crowd of class A models gathered in the locker room of New York’s notorious Gotham Hall (what better place to launch a sportswear collection?) until House of Pain makes Ashley Graham, Bella Hadid, Precious Lee, Lucky Blue Smith, Keith Powers and co. „Get out your seat and jump around!“ What follows is a wild celebration of dances, poses, and flashes in the BOSS x Russell Athletic collection which combines both houses’ heritages: fine tailoring and American sportswear.

The film is accompanied by a high-profile, 360-degree digital campaign. Expect to see a lot of #BOSSxRussellAthletic on your instagram feed and a #BOSSUpYourGame challenge on TikTok.

We got to speak to Hugo Boss‘ Chief Brand Officer and designer Ingo Wilts about the new collaboration, how the company has dealt with the pandemic, and his very special relationship with the brand.

Let’s jump right into the Boss x Russell Athletic collection that is inspired by both brands’ archives. We are speaking of two very different heritages here: While Boss’ stands for fine tailoring and German precision, Russel Athletic is rooted in American sportswear. When I thought of similarities between the two companies I personally felt they are both making very high quality costumes for a very specific target group. So, did you create a new costume here? And if so, who is it for?

For this collection we literally walked through our archive and thought of what customers want from their clothing today. We found that they want comfort of all things, as everything is a little more relaxed these days. The last time Boss focused on pieces like that was in the 80s: There were these oversized coats and wide lose fit suits … so we pulled everything out of our closets and asked Russell Athletic to send us their pieces from the 80s. This was our starting point. From there we had to figure out how to marry the two of them and – of course – create an entirely new look of it. We put models in hoodies and sweatpants, but added a blazer jacket on top. We threw around shorts, tracksuits and jackets… the whole time we had a younger client in mind, which not only shows in the collection but also the way we present this collaboration. Our campaign is digital first and we have a lot planned for social media.

Athletic wear has been part of BOSS’ collection for several seasons now, which I am sure is also due to your own professional background. Why do sports elements go so well with formal wear, and what is your approach in combining the two of them?

I think this comes quite natural to me, as it fits my own personal style. I am an absolute sweat pants type of guy on the weekends but I wear suits on week days… though I always go for drawstring pants. I also love to replace classic jackets with bomber jackets, which is already my way of integrating sportswear into our mainstream confection. I also enjoy playing around with different fabrics and avoid overly stiff woolen pieces by using jersey instead. By simply mixing and interchanging fabrics and creating more flexible and comfortable formal wear, the two worlds of sport and business are already being mixed up.

When speaking of this last year and the chaos caused by the pandemic, „slowing down“ seems to be something most people can associate with. What do you currently find more important: the process of slowing down or speeding back up?

Personally, I was forced to slow down as I used to travel a LOT.  I don’t necessarily see a need for speeding up, but I think it was important for the world to be turned around 180 degrees. As a company, we had to react quickly to the circumstances – and this is where the speeding up comes in. All content that had been produced a year prior had to be adapted to the situation. We had to change collections, make them more sporty in order to meet new trends and demands caused by the pandemic. On one hand, this year has still been a process of slowing down – mostly in private life – but on the other hand, we had to move quickly as a company and we as a team have successfully managed to do so.

As the virus made our everyday life turn upside down, it also managed to muddle up the traditional conventions of fashion. There went the strict fashion week calendar and analogue runway shows! They have found their new home in the digital sphere. At one point, your company replaced models with avatars as well. Are digital fashion weeks the future or is it merely a temporary solution? Have there been any digital highlights that inspired you?

I think the digitalization of fashion will continue further. We also noticed that we actually can do our fashion shows digitally. Of course this will never ever be the same experience as sitting first row at a Milan fashion show. But it is working somehow. I don’t know if things will stay the same in the future. I rather believe we will go back to physical fashion shows as soon as we have the chance. But for now, I am absolutely happy to do everything digitally whether it is campaigns or even re-designed work processes. Our collaboration with Russell Athletic, for example, has been developed strictly digitally with the American team throughout the whole process. So we see how everything goes and I find it very exciting that we can walk new paths. And as a company, you not only should- but but must- find new ways. 

The key piece of Hugo Boss is the suit. With most people spending their days in home offices, keeping a social distance from each other, suits might not necessarily be on anyone’s agenda right now and may not be for a good while longer now that working from home has been more normalized. How do you deal with this as a designer? What does the new suit need to look like in order to not lose its relevance?

The suit of the future is no longer the one we made two years ago. To me the suit didn’t lose its relevance, it got a new meaning and therefore requires a new design. There will be more technology and new fabrics involved. Again, we are talking about more sport influences, jersey and stretch materials, drawstring pants, bomber jackets… For me, the suit is far from dead, but the one from two years ago definitely is. Long live the new suit!

Usually, you are a man on the go. You are a frequent traveller, you call more than one city your home, and you love spending your summers in the US. How important is this life style to you when it comes to creativity? Have you missed the freedom of doing whatever you want or does it also inspire you to narrow down your radius and rely on your direct surroundings and your inner self for inspiration?

This certainly requires some self reflection. It would be awful for me to say that my life used to be much better than it is now. It definitely is different, there is less traveling and inspiration has to come from somewhere else. But it still works. Of course we also need to see that all of us working in fashion have been living in this bubble that hasn’t been very sustainable in the long run. To reflect in retrospect what that did to people – myself included – surely makes sense. And I must say it also feels good to read an actual book instead of watching another movie on the plane.

This is your fourth episode at Hugo Boss AG. Let’s quickly recall your career path: You first entered the company in 1997, then returned a second time in 2000 after working at Joop, then went on to Kenneth Cole, Elie Taharie and Tommy Hilfiger until you found your way back to Hugo Boss in 2014. Shortly after that, you went back to Tommy Hilfiger and have finally been back at Hugo Boss since 2016...What is it about BOSS that you seem to be drawn to? Is the company especially inspirational to you, do they grant you a certain kind of freedom, or is there a special vibe going on in Metzingen? How would you describe your relationship with the brand?

(Laughs) Hugo Boss is an incredible brand that admittedly isn’t based in the most ideal location, BUT there are amazing people here that I get to work with. For me, eventually it is the people that are the ones turning your work environment into an exciting one. The way we work today, digitalized and internationally, is far from how things were back when I first started working at the company. We are an international team where everyone enjoys creating fashion. So to give you a final answer, I’d say it’s the team spirit and the brand’s values that might just be a good match for me.

BOSS x Russell Athletic is now available online at boss.com and in stores worldwide.

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