COS Creative Director, Karin Gustafsson, talks Agnes Martin, abstract art, and the elements of a true icon


On October 7th, I headed off to the Big Apple to check out the latest exhibit at the Solomon R. Guggenheim, an Agnes Martin retrospective. At first glance, her work appeared almost mathematical with its grid-like forms and linear aesthetic, but a closer look left me in a trance, with its serene quality, caught between Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism. Amidst the cacophony that followed with the official opening, this collection of artwork allowed you to immerse yourself in deep contemplation and for a moment, escape the digital world. In this day and age, nothing could be more precious.


As a tribute to Agnes Martin, Swedish sister-brand to H&M, COS, launched a limited edition 12-piece capsule collection for men and women inspired by her understated artwork. After chatting with Karin Gustafsson, Creative Director at COS, I may have developed a newfound appreciation for abstract art and who knows? Maybe you will too.



When did you first discover Agnes Martin’s artwork?


I’ve known about her work for quite a long time. As a team, we looked at it many times through books. Then I came across a few pieces a couple of years ago. I think when you see it in real [life], you really realize how amazing her work is. Last year, Tate Modern held a retrospective of her work. It was a lot of the same pieces but it was created in another way. We went there as a team, and when we saw all of her work again, from her more abstract work to her linear work, we were sort of like “wow it’s amazing”.


What resonated with you most about Agnes Martin in particular, whether about her work or as a person?


For us, what we really like is the subtle expression. We want things to be understated, but we still want them to have this certain feel and tactility. That’s what her work is all about. You can look at it for a long time and you just rediscover it over and over again.


Is there a particular piece that resonates with you?


I really like the abstract work of hers, the early work. I absolutely love the more linear and the grids. There’s a piece in the exhibit called “The White Stone”, which I think is really amazing. When you see it from a distance, it looks one way. The closer you get, you see a grid becoming more clear and apparent to you. You can just look at it for a long time and you see more and more things. I think that’s what so beautiful about her work.


What would you say differentiates art and fashion?


Depends. For us, why we look so much to art and architecture is because we really want a timeless and long-lasting feel to our garments. Architecture is built to last and appeal for many years. Same with art. It’s something you never get tired of and that’s very close to our hearts. I would say, for us, that’s the link and that’s why art is so important. But of course, fashion and clothing is always going to change more than art and architecture.



Agnes Martin had a strong spiritual sense of self and looking at her work has been likened to meditation. Do you think there’s any way in which this connects to fashion in terms of the creative process?


I think it’s all about creativity, being curious, expressing yourself, and enjoying while you create something. That’s the strength with our design team. We really think about every single little detail and we end up really close to the collection. We work a lot with the product before we launch it into the store. That’s our way of taking pride and making sure that this is going to be a quality piece for our customer. I guess hers is more spiritual, and in a way more personal, but I think it is about being really dedicated to your profession.


Though Agnes Martin’s career reached its high point in the 60s, she still remains relevant today. Why do you think that is? What makes her such an iconic figure?


I think it’s about her having her own personal expression. You see one of her pieces and you know it’s by her. The way they created this exhibition was different to London. [This collection] was created so that you saw her earlier work and you could almost follow her journey, how she developed as an artist, and how she found her signature style. I think that was really nice, the way they created that.


For someone who has never encountered her work, how would you recommend approaching a work by Agnes Martin?


I wouldn’t want to dictate. With art you should always be true to your heart and enjoy it. With her work I think it’s about taking your time.


I feel like in a world where information is at our fingertips, we’re so inclined to dig into her background rather than just taking in the art in and of itself. Would you say it’s good to look at the artwork separately before looking into her backstory? Does it offer a different experience?


It depends. When you look at it individually, you’re drawn into that piece only, but I think the beauty of this exhibition is that you see the whole story and the development of an artist, and that’s amazing.


The Agnes Martin exhibit is on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim through January 11th 2017. The COS capsule collection is currently available in select retail stores and online.




About The Author

Belinda Anidjar

Belinda is a writer with a BA in English Literature from Concordia University. She can be spotted reading in every public setting imaginable. Whether a 19th-century novel or a fashion magazine, she’s addicted to stories, fashion, and stories about fashion. Her eyes may rarely leave the page, but she can instantly be recognized by her tiny stature and bold lipstick.

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