Interview: CDLP Co-Founder + Creative Director Christian Larson on Underwear From Future-Oriented Fabric

Talking material innovation in light of the brand's new premium activewear category, Mobilité

Many of the fabrics, designs and mindsets behind underwear and its production are outdated. To be honest, the men’s undergarment industry has long suffered from a drought of fresh ideas. Underwear, let’s say, has gone stale. It’s been the mission of Swedish design company CDLP to upend that. Defined by their materials—which offer wearers everything from breathability and softness to shape-retention and durability—CDLP continues to release items crafted from luxury Lyocell from sustainably-grown wood. But what began with various trunks and briefs has now expanded to socks and T-shirts. Everything they produce, in meticulous European facilities, adheres to their rigorous standards.

Mobilité, the brand’s new premium activewear category, introduces a new fabric to their roster: recycled PES fiber. The fabric delivers moisture-wicking and anti-odor capabilities and it’s also quick-dry. That, coupled with the capsule collection’s designs, delivers greater flexibility, range of motion and mobility. They’re also silken to the touch and altogether handsome.

To learn more about the brand and the launch, we spoke with CDLP co-founder and creative director Christian Larson who offered us insight on the debate over boxers versus briefs and the materials that will define the future of comfort and performance underneath our clothes.

What was the impetus for Mobilité?

Andreas [co-founder] and I have always trained to stay in shape, but since starting our company, we’ve had to give it some more sincere attention for sure. With this came the discussion of what made the perfect underwear for working out. Andreas does Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and I do cycling—but neither of us do it to win the Olympics. Winning is not a goal for us; rather, it’s our wellbeing. Around this holistic perspective, we wanted to create a line of essentials for wellbeing. For us, it came down to “mobility,” for the body as much as for the soul.

What sort of research and development goes into an activewear capsule like this?

As with everything we do at CDLP, it’s our subjective view on what makes the perfect performance underwear, but since the purpose was different from our core collection, we kind of had to start all over again. Starting with the fabric, the priority had to be comfort and performance, and we were interested in finding sustainable options in this area—as we try and do for all our products. We settled for a recycled PES fiber that offers fantastic comfort, great support and moisture-wicking and quick-drying properties as well as a luxurious feel. The length was a big discussion and we decided to involve our customers on this one, asking people for their preference when it came to working out in underwear.

Can you talk about product development for your core collection, as well, from a material standpoint?

Most men’s underwear is still made of cotton, which is to us, a terrible choice of fabric for underwear. Cotton absorbs moisture, doesn’t hold color or shape, and is agreed to have a heavy environmental impact. When we tested our first design from our core collection in Lyocell—all fell into place. Lyocell is a future-oriented fabric made from wood-pulp in a closed-loop process ensuring it’s kinder to the environment than cotton, but with many improved features for comfort, functionality and luxury. Basically, it’s a “responsible” fabric, but with added features and feel—rather than a step down in quality that many responsible options are. To us, it’s the winner of what’s on the market right now.

However, we constantly work with research and development and currently there are some interesting options that we’re monitoring, but nothing that beats Lyocell for underwear yet. This has also become our reference for all other product development. It can’t just be about sustaining; it has to beat the norm, too. Otherwise, how are we going to change the world?

How then do you make the values of your brand and products clear in campaigns? How do you distance yourself from competitors in this way?

Underwear has become a crowded market, so it’s key to be clear about who you are and how you stand out. Obviously, this has to start with a great product. And then, the rest needs to be quite personal. We wanted to be a new voice in underwear, changing both the product and the perspective of men. To do this, I picked up my cameras and started to photograph the men around me, the story which has become our visual narrative. There is no strategy really, I shoot our friends as I’d like to portray them. This perspective I guess is quite hard to copy. Also, you either like it or you don’t.

Can you talk about what you know about the different types of wearers: those seeking briefs versus boxers, etc.

It’s really interesting, because when we started CDLP, one part of the vision was to broaden men’s view on being a “this or that” style of wearer. Instead, we wanted men to look at choosing underwear based on occasion and emotion, perhaps a bit more as how women have traditionally opted for their underwear. Over the past two years we have seen our customer purchase behavior evolve—before carts would be limited to one, maybe two styles. Now carts are filled with a broader range of underwear. We see the customer experiment with different fits: building a wardrobe, if you like, of styles for different moods or occasions.

How do your T-shirts match the values of your underwear?

So many brands aim to create “the perfect T-shirt”, so what could we bring to the table, and what is the perfect T-shirt? Lyocell has been a clear winner as the fiber in our underwear, so we started to experiment to see how this could be used in another base garment: the T-shirt. It needed to be mixed with something to give it more texture, so we opted to mix the Lyocell with some fine Pima cotton. The result is a wonderfully light, smooth and breathable T-shirt—the perfect T-shirt!

Do you have a dream project down the line?

Yes, we look at many men that inspire us in our lives, not necessarily style icons, but everything from creatives to entrepreneurs—and many would be strong collaborations for something. At the same time, we are so pleased to see our brand growing with new customers around the world, that we’re already living the dream.

Can we talk about collaborations? How have some of your notable collaborations—like Grand Hotel Tremezzo and Sting—taken shape? What are you looking for in a collaborator?

Collaborations and special projects are effective ways of providing fresh context, both from a design and story perspective. The Grand Hotel Tremezzo was a joy to make, designing a swim collection for a favorite destination of Andreas and mine. But when people think of Lake Como, it can easily feel a bit old school. I wanted to bring some fresh energy into it, and asked two of our friends to step into an ornate Italian villa but behave as if the world was about to end and they just had one hour left to live. They put on a song and started to dance with each other, and it became this electric energy of two men sharing a spontaneous dance together in an odd location. It simply became that perfect crossover that I hoped for, between old and new, between an old brand and a youngster. That’s what a great collaboration is about.

How did you develop your in-store experience in Stockholm?

The store needs to be an experience for people to experience CDLP. We put all the effort into creating an experience of one of our campaigns, and skinned the whole store as the lobby of the Grand Hotel Tremezzo. Point of sale is secondary to us. If people have a good time and feel the brand, that’s the success. Perhaps they buy in-store, online, or through one of our partners eventually—or not. Delivering the experience has to be the priority.

Images courtesy of CDLP