Koto Bolofo is explaining the difference between amazing and AMAZING! The former, he attests, is a flippant qualifier used breathlessly within fashion circles; the latter was the one-word emailed response he received from American artisan retailer Anthropologie to his collection of handmade dresses, his first venture as a
“When I saw that word it just went through my body,” says Bolofo, over the line from his home in rural France, where he spent years gathering the vintage linens from local convents and hospitals that he fashioned into his eponymous, debut collection for Anthropologie this spring.
I can feel his energy pulsating into the receiver; the kind of charismatic, thoughtful interviewee who emphatically says your name while talking to you, Bolofo speaks with the urgency like he’s sharing his story with you—only you—for the first time.
An eclectic visual storyteller
Born in South Africa and raised in Britain, Bolofo recounts the mundane frequency with which those fabled linen sheets were used by his family in his home, where his wife would casually toss them over sofas or bring them along for picnics near the French coastal town of La Rochelle. “When I picked them up, I felt they had life to them,” he gushes intensely. “I felt something in my hand.” That’s when the natural-born lensman (Botofo is entirely self-taught), who’s shot editorial spreads for
GQ, as well the Anthropologie season catalogue, decided to snap photos of the linens.
How does Gatsby play into the photographer’s debut clothing line? Read on to find out…
“These sheets—they each contained dreams or nightmares. Babies were born in them!” says Bolofo, who quickly became obsessed with collecting sheets and fashioning them into perfectly photogenic garments. What would later become his 13-piece collection for Anthropologie was taking shape in front of his camera. “I wasn’t trying to become a
Valentino,” he states. “The designs are an extension of my photography.” After an unwelcoming reception by the European market, he soon stashed away the garments in his attic, hopeful that his young daughters would discover the sartorial trove years down the road.
The accidental fashion designer
It wasn’t until he had shot several collections for Anthropologie that he finally dug out those garments to present to the whimsical retailer, who were in the early stages of launching the
Made in Kind site—an online platform for exclusive capsule collections by up-and-coming and established designers—which launched earlier in April this year. Bolofo wrapped four of his dresses in brown paper— fastened with a sprig of lavender from his garden— and shipped the package off to Philadelphia. Two days later came the unforgettably short and infinitely sweet email, resoundingly approving of his designs.
Soon after, Anthropologie reproduced Bolofo’s one-of-a-kind pieces for the collection, while the original storied garments he photographed live on in
Dreams, his latest coffee table book, a fittingly titled visual diary of his design process, available with the line at Anthropologie. “I don’t call myself a designer,” says Bolofo. “I’m a person with an idea; this is a seamless extension.” Though he’s undergone a scrupulous visual training in design, having spent 15 years working at Hermès for seven of those years, he snapped craftsmen piecing together those legendary Kelly bags for his 2011 book on the leather couture house,
About the eponymous collection
The largely white, minimalist line, which includes six dresses and the occasional candystripe pattern, plays into Botofo’s governing photographic philosophy: to create a classic, timeless photo. He can’t help it: “The clothes are based on the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s—because what happens when you look at an old photo from that time? You say, ‘God, she looked great!’” He references the eternal glamour of the
Gastby era, and I immediately picture the effervescent Daisy Buchanan in one of Bolofo’s sharply tailored, lace embroidered snow-white frocks.
Bolofo is currently shooting his second collection for winter—yes, shooting. “I think of a photo in my head,” says the designer. “And something comes alive in the process.”
Fashion trends: Festival chic accessories
6 spring style swaps you should try
Patricia Field’s guide to New York Fashion Week
Eco-friendly fashion: Hot Canadian labels you should know and love
For the latest in fashion, beauty and culture, sign up to receive ELLE's bi-weekly newsletter