TOS gallery: a label where fashion, art and craftsmanship collide

TOS gallery: a label where fashion, art and craftsmanship collide

Tosca Soraya Otten: “I want people to experience TOS gallery with all their senses”

A feast for all senses, that’s what Dutch fashion designer Tosca Soraya Otten wants to achieve with her brand TOS gallery. After graduating from the prestigious Parisian Institut Français de la Mode, she did an internship at Cacharel and back in the Netherlands, she became the right hand of fashion designer Ilja Visser. Since 2016 she owns her own brand: TOS gallery. A brand in which fashion, art, different cultures and her dreamy world go hand in hand. I spoke to Tosca at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to talk about her brand, art and one of her favorite works from the art collection.

Tosca Soraya Otten, founder of TOS gallery, in front of one of her favorite art pieces from the Rijksmuseum collection © Marjolein van den Broek

When did you know you wanted to go into the design profession?
“Pretty early, I was 8 or 9 years old. I’ve always been a very creative child with a lively imagination. I even had a sketchbook beside my bed, so I could immediately draw my dreams when I woke up in the middle of the night. When I started doing ballet I designed the outfits. These kinds of things. Eventually, I chose to go into fashion because it has such a wide scope. Next to shapes, colors, and materials, you’re thinking about wearability, vision, and concept. I can use all of these things to translate my ideas into my designs. As a fashion designer, you’re always interacting with people in a very personal way, as clothes are on someone’s skin. They give somebody a certain feeling. During my education at AMFI, I also got to develop my artistic side. But sometimes it was hard to merge these artistic ideas with my more commercial studies, so I started working on my own projects. I was very curious about the broader world of design.”

After AMFI you went from Shanghai to Paris, why? 
“For my first job, I moved to Shanghai. Besides learning about the commercial side of the fashion industry, I learned a lot on a cultural level. The link between fashion and people fascinates me, it’s very changeable. Fashion is an extension of someone’s character in which culture plays a major role. That’s the reason why living in different places around the world is super interesting. You learn a lot about fashion psychology, what’s the driving force behind people’s clothing choices and tastes. I wanted to work in the high-end fashion industry, so I moved to Paris to get my master’s degree at the Institut Français de la Mode (IFM). IFM teachers work for the biggest names in fashion. For example, Sidney Toledano who was the CEO of Dior. It’s absolutely fantastic. During my studies at IFM, I did an internship at Cacharel as a creative patternmaker. IFM teaches you all the ins and outs of the international fashion world, at the same time we were pushed to dive deep into ourselves. This process of self-discovery and reflection was exhausting, but eventually, you get a clear view of why you do certain things, what choices you make and the direction you want to go in life.”

And what was the outcome of this ‘digging into yourself’?
“The fact that I wanted to develop more than just a fashion product, I really want to tell stories. In the Netherlands, I got a job at Ilja Visser and became responsible for the elaboration of the entire collection story. It was a large creative playground where I could extend my skill set. Besides clothing, materials, and fits, I had to translate Ilja Visser’s vision into every detail. From the choice of a model’s outfit to directing the music played during the fashion show. This working experience made me realize it was time to start my own brand.”

“TOS gallery isn’t just a clothing brand; it’s also linked to art. I paint the patterns directly onto my pieces. I want to have the freedom to develop all of my stories into new creations.” © Marjolein van den Broek

TOS gallery stands for Stories, not Seasons. Where does this brand vision come from? 
“I think the idea started to grow during IFM. I already knew that I wanted to start my own business someday, but I didn’t know what I wanted and where to start. At that point, I didn’t know myself well enough to set up a brand with strong core values. During my studies in Paris, I found out that I’m a storyteller with a very dreamy style. From that point of view, I developed the concept and a branding that I can roll out in new business directions. So, in addition to fashion, the brand can develop towards, for example, art, illustration, and film. I don’t what to set boundaries, but keep things open. I think that’s one of the most beautiful things about all different art forms, the open nature of art. Moreover, I don’t want to design new collections every season. I believe in developing an individual style instead of following trends that suggest you have to buy something new very frequently. I prefer to dive deeper into the story I have to tell, the style that comes with it and to develop it over time.”

© Marjolein van den Broek

What are your main sources of inspiration?
“As a designer, I really have to feed my creativity. In that case, museums are an ideal place. Especially refined Japanese art and 1920s art styles attract me ever since I was little. Art Nouveau, for example, this very soft, powdery, romantic aesthetic with a modern twist. Traveling can be very stimulating for my creativity, but something as simple as wandering around the canals and flowery streets in Amsterdam as well. I guess my greatest source of inspiration is the way the universe works, from the mysterious stars and moons to the patterns in plants and flowers. I recently saw this documentary on Discovery Channel about some sort of microworlds in our cells. My mind starts to create forms as soon as I see these kinds of interesting biological things. These three branches together with my dreamy character often determine my designs.”

The fashion mood board of Tosca’s latest collection called ‘Ensemble’. © Marjolein van den Broek

You’re currently working on your couture collection ‘Ensemble’, what story does this collection tell?
“Ensemble is about the beauty of diversity, an important topic on today’s social agenda. In this collection, I try to bring opposites like the sun and the moon together through a universal aesthetic. It’s about being yourself, whether things are ugly or beautiful or wherever you come from. It’s about finding the beauty in the furthest opposites, day and night, and all the beauty that comes in between them.”

In July you will exhibit your collection in Paris. Why an exhibition?
“Yes, I am! And for this, I collaborate with a Zimbabwean industrial designer Daniel Acutt and with Dutch artist Corine van Voorbergen. We want to create an entire experience, in which the couture pieces are presented like they are levitating, like celestial bodies in a super aesthetic universe. Light and sound will also play a major role. And why an exhibition? Well, a fashion show usually takes about 10 minutes and I think that’s a waste, it’s so short! I’ve put so much time and effort into every piece that I want to touch people, I want them to sense the collection and give them the time to really see and experience my designs.”

Do you find it difficult to be a creative and an entrepreneur as well?
“Yes, It’s difficult. You have to find the right balance, but that’s also a very interesting part of this job. What are my capabilities and what are the solutions to the things that I’m simply not good at? It’s like a big puzzle, but at the same time fascinating and one of the biggest challenges. At some point, you have to accept that you can’t do everything yourself. I’m a designer at heart, but being an entrepreneur is a totally different ball game. You need to make money with your creativity. At this moment I work with a team of freelancers, but in the near future, I want to hire people. I strongly believe in working with a dedicated team that continues to grow together. I want a fixed team with an investor or business partner to join the adventure so that I can focus myself on the creative part and expanding the brand.”

Detail of the new collection ‘Ensemble’ © Marjolein van den Broek

Detail of the new collection ‘Ensemble’ © Marjolein van den Broek

What attracts you to art?
“It’s the way an artist communicates his or her vision, the emotions, and the concept to the viewer. It’s a translation of a feeling that’s based on a well-determined vision or something very impulsive but truthful. That visual expression of people is very cool and I like how personal art is. I find that the story behind an art piece is interesting, but I also appreciate the design and craftsmanship. When you see that a lot of time and effort has been spent on the elaboration of a piece.”

One of your favorite works is the very first acquisition of the Nationale Kunstgalerij (the forerunner of the Rijksmuseum) in 1800: the Threatened Swan (1650) by Jan Asselijn. Why?
I was immediately drawn to this painting when I saw it for the first time. Now it gives me goosebumps again. This work is very intense and emotional at the same time. It’s poetic and very hard. Normally surroundings affect the way I feel or think, not paintings. It’s the light, the use of color, the proportions, and details. There’s so much emotion incorporated into this artwork. I think it’s because of this weird mix between the innocent, poetic and almost angelic element of the swan contradicting the violent environment in which it fiercely defends its nest against the dog (bottom left). This way of protection is very powerful, almost like a warning to not push an angelic soul over the edge.”

Tosca Soraya Otten in front of the Threatened Swan (1650) at the Rijksmuseum © Marjolein van den Broek

Tosca Soraya Otten in front of the Threatened Swan (1650) at the Rijksmuseum © Marjolein van den Broek

What are your future plans and biggest dream for TOS gallery?
“My ultimate dream is that I can unfold the brand as a Maison, from couture clothing to more commercial product lines in fashion and home decoration as well. It really has to become a lifestyle brand where interior and food also play a big part. I want my store and my studio in the same place and create an environment where people can stop by for some drinks and food whilst walking through my decorative world. A place where one may find my creative ideas translated into every detail. For example, during the press event of my previous collection ‘The Phoenix Series’, I collaborated with Emiel Gerardu from Nutorious Peanut Butter. He had made a beautiful little bite that really matched the feeling of the collection in terms of taste. You can’t experience a whole concept if you only look at it, you also need to taste it, smell it, feel it. I want people to experience TOS gallery with all their senses.”