It was with a keen interest in photography and social commentary that Valerie Hui founded womenswear label, Otho in 2014: a respective Tumblr page, the predecessor to today’s formal .co.uk space, features work by photographers Jamie Hawkesworth, Ewen Spencer and Tom Wood; unknown faces beam from the screen, intercepted by minimalist leaning images of candyfloss coloured walls and bold structures of red and white.
“I take a lot of inspiration from past and present youth cultures,” Hui agrees. “Kids then and now give out a very carefree attitude in their way of life and the way they dress, and it’s this attitude that I aim to reflect within the brand.”
Almost two years in, she retells the beginning thus: “At the time I felt that there was a lack of brands offering menswear style clothing tailored for women. I wanted to create a brand that had a strong element of workwear, specifically playing off the overlooked beauty of the uniforms of various workers.”
“Many details we see as standard in uniform,” she continues, “actually have a developed functional aspect which I find incredibly interesting. I think it’s important to utilise and explore these details in a modern and classic context; I (also) think it is important to be functional, and to transcend trends with a subtle playfulness.”
Working from a studio in Hackney, she began first to appoint and develop essential silhouettes, incorporating those materials and aesthetic specialties that would be intrinsic to the label, later defining a concise identity for the would-be customer.
The outcome is a relaxed aesthetic with a contemporary mind-set; nothing clings, being instead comprised of loose shapes that suggest ease and comfort, with a simultaneous nod to modernity. It’s not exactly the workwear you’d associate with Carhartt, beginning instead from a different place (principally serving females).
“It was solely to create classic, essential clothing with a workwear twist for the modern day woman,” asserts Valerie of her hopes and dreams for the initial launch; “Clean cut designs, no fuss or frills.”
Prior to heading up Otho she freelanced for several labels, ahead of that working for a high street supplier – “It was interesting to learn about the industry and the design process but the job was not quite for me,” she acknowledges, later emphasising the impact of each on her current project.
Designing for the independent woman and prioritising denim on account of its staple readiness, the designer tapped Nina Manandhar (photographer and author of last year’s ‘What We Wore’) to shoot the new SS16 look book, above.
“I’ve been admiring Nina’s work for a while, she has quite a nostalgic yet unique approach when it comes to portraying modern day youth cultures, so of course her work was on my Instagram and Tumblr,” explains Hui. The collaboration works to the strengths of each: the fluid imagery accentuating the chilled nature of the pieces and supporting the friendship narrative of the models.
“She was absolutely great to work with – we share the same aesthetics and ideas when it comes to subjects and the environments that influence them,” she adds of the hook up.
Casting the women featured from the uber current pool of social media – even passing Insta handles over in our exchange (try @thongspice, @fromsarah and @yasminarslan for size) – the final decision was based on a preference for natural vibes, as the results keenly illustrate.
With a mention of the ecomm sphere that has recently blessed the official web page, we return to Tumblr and the influence of visual references that are soaked up across Otho product and branding.
Addressing the platform’s use as both a tool for context and research she remarks that, “It’s a very useful and visually interesting way to express the brand’s identity alongside work from other designers of all aspects, while finding constant inspiration for future collections.” And no doubt hers will likewise benefit others.
Words: Zoe Whitfield