“Our garments are bespoke. We dream for a fairer world where artisans are respected for their trade.
We aim to provide a decent and dignified standard of living and develop individuals to their full potential.”
…is an embroidery technique used to gather fabrics so that it can stretch. Before elastic, smocking was commonly used in cuffs , bodices, and necklines in garments where buttons were undesirable. Smocking developed in England and has been practiced since the Middle Ages and is unusual among embroidery methods in that it was often worn by laborers. Other major embroidery styles are purely decorative and represented status symbols. Smocking was practical for garments to be both form fitting and flexible, hence its name derives from smock — a farmer's work shirt.Smocking was used most extensively in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
From Argentina with love: An interview with Guillermina Ackerman, the woman, mother, daughter, photographer and philosopher behind COQUITO.
What is COQUITO and how did it start?
It was never planned! When I was pregnant with Viola I used to knit little things for her. One day my mum came to visit us and she embroidered those items. Here in Berlin, nobody does that. My friends loved it, so we gave some of our little hand made things to some of them and all of a sudden, they all wanted to have one. A little later, my friend Stephi asked me “why don’t you sell it?” To which my first reaction was, no, I mean, how would I do that? Her response was simple: create a website and call the brand COQUITO! That is what I used to call my babies. And it stuck. It was a perfect name, short but sweet and groovy too, and it had a lot to do with my personal life.
What is the principle behind COQUITO?
Right from the beginning, it has always been important that the products are handmade and something we do for someone we know and love. When I told my mum about the idea to sell it, she said sure, let’s do it, and let’s make smock dresses, like the ones you used to wear when you were small. Recently, she commented: “I do this as if it was for my grandchildren.”
So the next step was putting the dresses online?
Not quite. The birth of COQUITO was a beautiful moment – very Berliner style and “from the hood.” We had a little event at Teutoburger Platz, central Berlin, and we invited all our friends – some even came from Paris where I spent 7 years before moving to Germany. We presented the clothes and, right there and then, a shop owner came over, bought a lot of dresses and said “we are going to do business together.” Without knowing what I was doing, I jumped right in the deep end. And that is how I improvised my way to becoming a businesswoman! I come from the photography world and my mum, although she did have a sewing atelier with a friend when I was small, is also an artist with a background in ceramics, among other things. At the beginning, we made all possible mistakes.
So for you, a great traveler, this is a way to keep in touch with her and do something together?
Yes, that’s what it is. It’s a super family business. A meeting of three generations, even four. It all started with my children, who were babies at that time. As for me, this is how I am, I have a strong creative need. I was a photographer and the base of my work was to expose my own private world in exhibitions and in books. But being a mother brought out an instinct of privacy and protection, and the need to produce something with less intimate content.
I also have a very intense, deep relationship with my mum. We meet twice a year in Argentina and put everything together. I tend to work more on the structure of the collection, the mood and the themes, and she designs the dresses.
How do you combine your education, training and experience in the creative process?
My label is more than my education; it captures my path through life. The coming up Spring Collection is a tribute to my last three years spent sailing around the world. But COQUITO is also a return to photography for me. Now that the production process is up and running and the whole background of the company has a shape, I can commit to creating a brand identity and universe. My studies in philosophy at the Sorbonne University in Paris and my work as a photographer play a big role in that. Also, I get to develop this expression with Viola and her friends, and Bruno (my son) assists me during the shoots. I love that. It creates a further link with my own story. And it gives me the chance to develop an authentic image, which is about more than the dress; it focuses on the child wearing it. I like images in which a person’s character breaks through the prettiness, even though this is fashion photography. And that’s also why the label is different to what you see in other children’s brands.
You started a couple of years ago, how has production developed?
Well, when we started everything was done by my mother and me! Today, it’s still an artisan made product, but we work with a team that is gradually growing. At the beginning, it was all improvised. After two years, we had a complete collection. Now, we have an organized production process with a good working rhythm that allows us to grow and increase quantities.
Inspiration for the collections comes from what I find. The extra sparkle is always something that appears spontaneously and materials come from all over the world, from many different places. We have a base of classic cuts that we can reinvent and that gives us a framework in which we can move with total freedom, a little outside what fashion dictates. I am completely instinctive and moved by the music I listen to, the books I read, and particularly the places I am in. I am restless and I don’t like rigidity.
Where will you be in three years from now?
The project is growing organically. The aim is to transform the label into a business but keep the exclusive touch and the “limited edition” nature. This has a lot to do with my earlier education; my political and social origins. I want to build a company that respects the people actually doing the work. And more than that, support an otherwise dying artisan trade: smocked hand embroidery, which is the core of our dresses and the heart of COQUITO. There are not many people practicing this traditional technique anymore. It’s a complex craft, and each person has her own style. That’s what makes each of our garments unique. The challenge now is to roll out a luxury item, a kind of haute-couture for children that also addresses a wider public, one who recognizes the value of the real work behind what they consume. People are as important to me as quality.