When dreaming up his spring/summer 2016 collection, German designer Marcel Ostertag took inspiration from nature. He remembers watching a television report about volcanoes, which led him to think of natural vistas and, ultimately, great stretches of sand such as the Sahara. That landscape may appear barren from a distance, but look closely enough and you’ll find texture, colour and light, all of which manifest in Ostertag’s latest collection, called Desert.
Playing with sandy tones, beige, fuchsia and dark blue, it is full of life and vigour. Stunning desert motifs, which move from dark brown to golden yellow, cover kaftan dresses and urban bomber jackets. The colour shift represents a sunrise. Elsewhere, dresses feature large pockets, silk crêpe de Chine body-con skirts have slits in the side, and flared beige trousers made of lace conjure up images of a luxury safari. The simple silhouettes and colouring create an aesthetic that is at once traditional, modern and strong.
Girl meets boy
‘I love to play with gender,’ Ostertag says. ‘Strong women need strong, elegant clothes. In many of my coat designs I play with details from the military. It has to be the perfect symbiosis between feminine and masculine details.’
Born in 1979 in Berchtesgaden, a village in the Bavarian Alps, Ostertag began sketching clothes at the age of five. Noticing his burgeoning design talent, his mother and grandmother taught him to crochet, knit and sew. Unaware it was possible to make a living as a fashion designer, he spent his teenage years dancing and, at 18, was awarded a contract with a dance company. But fate intervened: he injured his knee, which forced him to reconsider his career options.
He ended up working as a model and, through a series of jobs in London, discovered Central Saint Martins, whose famous alumni include Alexander McQueen, Zac Posen and Phoebe Philo. He enrolled to pursue first a degree and then a master’s in fashion and collaborated on projects with Paul Smith, Dunhill and Burberry. His graduation collections generated significant media attention, and he won several awards. Encouraged by the teaching staff, he set up his eponymous label in 2006.
A home in Munich
Although he credits his time in London as making him the designer he is today, he chose to base himself in Munich, where he works in a former sound studio that once hosted the likes of Queen and the Rolling Stones. ‘Glockenbachviertel is an inspiring neighbourhood,’ he says. ‘My studio is more like a family home than a work space.’
His growing international profile is built on solid German craftsmanship. ‘Every single piece is produced in Germany,’ he says, adding that most of the garments are made in surrounding Bavaria. He does so out of a respect for sustainability, but also as a part of quality control. ‘I think it’s really important for my customers to know where and how the collection is made.’
Ostertag’s collections are known for wit and whimsy, and also for mixing trends from across decades. From narrowly cut shift dresses with multicoloured geometrical divisions and leather applications, to faux fur jackets with oversized collars, Ostertag routinely fuses the modern and the traditional. ‘My collections are mostly inspired by the 70s and 80s because the image from women during this time is really strong and sophisticated,’ he says. ‘I adore strong women. Researching the music and art scene during those years excites me a lot.’ It gives his clothes broad appeal – and not only among women who lived those decades. ‘The Marcel Ostertag woman is between 16 and 88,’ he says.
Master of change
His collections are never predictable. In the past he has created tie-dye-like prints and colour-blocked tops, and accentuated maxidresses and skirts with chiffon, sequins and fringe. Describing his work, he sums up those extra touches beautifully: ‘Crystals, diamonds, studs, pearls and blossoming flowers explode like fireworks in your mind.’
Ostertag himself says that of all his work across trousers, gowns, barely there blouses and more, it’s his coats that stand out to customers. ‘All of my clients have at least one in their closets,’ he says. And what else do they have in common? ‘They love the high quality standards I work with. Really special women need a really special service. And this is what I offer.’