No. 5
  • Fashion Exhibition: A short novel on men’s fashion Museo della Moda e del Costume, Palazzo Pitt, Florence

    Written by Philip Warkander by Meghan Scott

    L’art est né des contraints.” With this quote by Stendahl, Olivier Saillard explains his view on menswear: For a man to care too much about his appearance is dangerous, as he then risks being seen as effeminate and thus losing his hegemonic position in society. If he cares too little, he is considered to be dirty, possibly too poor to buy new clothes when his old are worn out, and then he will be treated like an outcast. Most of menswear therefore takes place in a very confined space, constrained by societal norms on how a man should appear. But for Saillard, arguably the most interesting and innovative fashion curator in the world today, this is precisely what makes menswear so interesting: “I have been doing this work, of curating fashion, for more than 25 years now. In that time, I have probably curated about 150 exhibitions on women’s wear, but only three on menswear. It’s easy to do an exhibition on evening dresses and luxurious haute couture, but it says nothing about the wardrobe of the everyday, about how we actually encounter and engage with fashion in our daily lives. This is also why it’s challenging to curate menswear; it’s not so bold and extravagant as women’s wear. With this exhibition, I wanted to find the dream in a grey suit.”

    Anyone interested in fashion knows Saillard’s name. Though soft-spoken and humble, he has for a long time defined our idea not only of what fashion has been in the past, but also what it has potential to become in the future. Through magazine articles, museum exhibitions and books, he has proposed a more poetic and whimsical approach to fashion. He is therefore widely considered to be one of the most influential voices in the industry today. His exhibitions are his way of proposing that we should make fashion more magical and explorative again, and that we should leave behind us the industry’s current obsession with Instagram-culture, athleisure and celebrities in expensive gowns posing on various red carpets.

    It has for a long time been common practice to explore the link between fashion and art, but for this exhibition Saillard has chosen another path; to use fashion as illustrations to literature. In every room, he has placed large “books”, in which quotes from selected classics have been printed. The outfits are then used as illustrations to the quotes.
    Fashion exhibitions at museums have throughout the years been criticized for presenting clothes as dead objects, the opposite of how they are used when hanging in our closets at home. In the museum, behind glass, they become lifeless, like ghosts. Reacting to this critique, Saillard has deliberately chosen to display the outfits on tall, metal valets, enlarged versions of the type of furniture otherwise rarely seen outside of people’s bedrooms.
    The garments have not been selected randomly but represent the brands that have showcased their menswear collections at Pitti Uomo, beginning with Vivienne Westwood in 1990 and by now including names such as Raf Simons, Dries Van Noten, Valentino and Dolce & Gabbana. But, the exhibition is not only a reflection on Pitti Uomo but on what has happened in society at large during these past three decades. Saillard explains: “Interestingly, the pieces that were the most difficult to showcase were the sportswear garments. They have not aged well, and perhaps we need to revisit this look in a few decades from now, to assess it in a more accurate way. Instead, it is the suit, and in particular, the black suit, that intrigues me. This kind of garment looks almost the same from decade to decade. Contemporary menswear is based in an idea of masculinity that was formulated in the 1800s, and in many ways, this remains the same today. It is the same jacket, the same trousers, the same colour palette. For me, the effects are very clear: if we want a fashion industry that is sustainable, we should look to menswear. Here is the idea of a fashion that doesn’t go out of style, almost like a uniform. Of course, today we are less formal and instead more casual and I think perhaps that in the future, we should turn to work-wear for inspiration. Work-wear deserves more recognition. But this should happen in the existing tradition of menswear, finding a few pieces that already are classics.”

    The exhibition ends in a room with only monochromatic, white outfits, spread out on white pages of a book. For Saillard, this symbols his vision of the future, where fashion is still a blank canvas, waiting for us to bring it to life.

  • From Couture Paris to sustainable A New Sweden

    Written by Mari Florer by Anonymous

    The Swedish fashion designer Lisa Bergstrand grew tired of the environmental damage the textile industry causes our planet. After several years working within the business, from high end Céline and Saint Laurent to start up brands, she moved from Paris back to Sweden, determined to show the colleagues that it’s possible to produce clothes more locally.

    Today, she has started A New Sweden - her own sustainable brand with a full insight in every step of the production. Her first design is a unisex sweatshirt which is made from 100% Swedish wool.

    At the moment, Lisa Bergstrand and her family are living in Berlin. Her husband is there for work, and her for her own project A New Sweden, that can be done from anywhere most of the time, she explains. She also works as a sustainable fashion and design consultant for different companies and projects around Europe.

    When I meet Lisa Bergstrand in our studio here in Stockholm, she is surprised that I speak Swedish.
    “I thought you were American. You have been writing to me in english.”
    I smile. She smiles.
    She has that face that looks gorgeous when she is happy, but when she is serious, her look is a force to be reckoned with. Her versatile facial expressions look great in front of the camera and we got an excellent portrait of her.

    Q: What’s the best thing happening in your life right now?
    A: I’m happy that people are talking about how important my work is. There is also a lot of interest from people in Sweden wanting to do similar things, and various people who are working at other Swedish fashion labels have said that A New Sweden is inspirational.

    Q: Why did you move back to Sweden?
    A: My company is based outside of Piteå, but I am not living there full time. I moved back to Sweden from Paris cause I believed that Sweden was more advanced in its way of thinking and acting sustainable. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed once I arrived. In Sweden there is a lot of talk but not so much action. France managed to ban plastic shopping bags almost two years ago, while in Sweden we still have them in shops.

    Q: Why didn’t you collaborate with any of the other brands in Sweden instead of starting your own company?
    A: For me it was difficult to live up to my ideals of what sustainability was, without challenging the existing fashion business model. Most of the brands in Sweden, at the moment, have a traditional way of planning, designing, manufacturing and selling their collections. I think that this model needs to be updated. A New Sweden is not just about trying to find a better way to make the garments, but trying to find a business model that enables a brand to not create waste.

    Q: In what moment did you decide to start A New Sweden?
    A: It was when I moved back to Sweden and I saw that there need to be some options to the clothing offered on the market. I had taken some courses on sustainability and the more I learned, the more I thought about moving away from the fashion industry. It’s an industry that is considered to be the second biggest polluter after oil, but yet there was little talk about this a couple of years ago. People happily filled up their wardrobes with cheap plastic clothing without reflecting on it.
    After giving it a lot of thought, I decided that instead of changing jobs away from this pollution industry, I should try to make it better. After all, I had more than ten years of experience of working in fashion. I asked myself how to make a garment that I believed was actually made in a good way. And I decided that it was to use locally grown natural materials and have every step of the production as locally as possible. As I started to investigate the different options of materials, I also learnt more about wool. I found out that only 18% of all Swedish wool were being used. And that wool is an amazing material that is very versatile. We actual have sheep in Sweden that has all kinds of different wool qualities. Wool does not need to be shipped from Australia or South America for be soft and have an excellent quality.

    Q: Is it difficult to produce garments in Sweden nowadays, when all the textile machines have been sold abroad and most of our genuine knowledge has died out?
    A: It has been very challenging to find the few producers that are still left in Sweden. The spinning of the yarn had to be made in Italy, because in Sweden there are no machines to produce a yarn that thin. We used to have a very rich textile industry but all that is left now is mainly the design offices. It is amazing in a way that such a small country has so many fashion companies, but all the production is thousands of miles away.
    However the knowledge is still there. After a lot of research I managed to find some great factories, and have met many passionate people at all stages in the production process who are trying to keep manufacturing in Sweden alive. From the farmers who want their wool to be used, to manufacturers who are paying fair wages, to people who are trying to restart old mills. So hopefully A New Sweden can inspire and show people that it is possible for Sweden to once again be proud of its garment industry.

    Q: Do you think it’s possible to start a local Swedish textile production again?
    A: I definitely think that it is both possible and necessary to start producing textile more locally. I think the way technology has advanced, a lot of machines that used to require lots of manpower, can now be controlled by computers. And the main reason that factories moved was the high cost of labour in Sweden.
    More and more people are also starting to think more about the environment. Even though we are very far away from changing our shopping behaviour, I do hope that more people will start to think about what they are wearing and where it has been made. There is also a trend of knowing the story behind the things you buy, and an interest for real craftsmanship.

    Q: What has been most difficult on your journey starting a sustainable fashion brand?
    A: It’s not difficult to start a fashion brand with existing supply chains, but existing supply chains aren’t engineered to deliver sustainable garments in a way that lives up to our standards. Therefore, we have had to build up our own supply chain and find all components along the way. In a way, the most difficult part has been trying to live up to our own ideals of what sustainability is. Meaning not using plastics or chemicals, and making all our garments completely biodegradable.
    For example, to find a sewing thread that is not made of polyester or made in China, took weeks to find. Which is crazy, cause all garments are sewn together with thread. But I guess most companies unfortunately use polyester.

    Q: Do you believe that the ethical and sustainable trend is here to stay?
    A: I hope it’s not a trend! It has to become our way of being. Unfortunately I think that the word sustainable is being used in very misleading ways. Many companies use it to make themselves and their costumers feel better about producing and consuming new clothes. We might need to use a new word to create a bigger meaning. “Accountable” is a word that my partner use.

    Q: What defines a sustainable textile material?
    A: It should require minimal resources to produce. It should leave as little trace as possible on the environment during the course of its production, use, and end of natural life.
    However, sustainability isn’t just about the textile materials and where they are produced. It is just as important when it comes to our attitude to clothing in general. It doesn’t matter if we have the most sustainable textile materials, if we still buy garments with the intent of only wearing it a handful of times before putting it in the good will bin.

    Q: And what future materials are most sustainable?
    A: I think recycled natural materials will be the most sustainable in the future. There might also be new ways of making natural materials that can be made without too much chemicals or energy. Growing natural materials, such as organic cotton, is better than cotton with pesticides, but cotton still requires a lot of water. And it is not sustainable in the scale that it is being produced today, and at the expense of land that could otherwise be used for forests.
    Same goes for materials made from cellulose such as Lyocell / Tencel or Bamboo. Not only are they now a part of the cause of the worlds deforestation, they also use enormously amounts of chemicals in first steps of the process.
    Materials made from recycled plastic can only be sustainable if their owners are aware of how to wash them and use something that can trap the microfibres. But, even then I’m not sure it’s possible to stop the micro plastic pollution. All manufacturers should have a bigger responsibility to take back the garments they have produced at the end of their natural lives, otherwise they still end up in landfills.

    Q: I read that earning money wasn’t that important to you. How do you manage to finance this startup?
    A: A New Sweden is largely self-funded, but we have some investors who believe in what we are trying to do. I did not start this company because I wanted to make money. I started it cause I believe that it is necessary to change the way we produce and consume clothing. It’s not that earning money isn’t important - it is, especially if we want A New Sweden to continue.
    We don’t have the ambition to grow exponentially like other fashion brands. At our core is the belief that the need for growth is one of the least sustainable aspects of any business. The question to any brand that adds a “conscious” or “sustainable” line is, how many non-conscious, or unsustainable lines did you remove to make things in a better way? We don’t just need to produce better, we also need to produce less, and that means understanding what growth should mean to a sustainable business.

    Q: Do you have other ideas you want to realize?
    A: A lot of ideas! They mainly involve using Swedish wool in different ways.
    I am also working on a project to create a high end European trade show that will make it easier for companies to find local material and manufacture.

    Q: Which of all timeless garments is your favorite?
    A: I really love the trenchcoat. Its history and also its shape and details. I hope that one of our editions can be a wool trench coat.

    Q: You have worked with Celiné, Givenchy and Saint Laurent. Which of these brand do you like most - from an aesthetic perspective?
    A: I liked what Phoebe Philo did at Celiné. I think it’s something special with a woman designing for women. Now Celiné has turned into old Saint Laurent in a way. But, I also liked working with Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent. He has a very strong creative vision that also is incredibly successful commercially. And his way of perfecting already classic pieces has taught me a lot.

    Q: What sustainable brands do you wear except your own?
    A: I wear a lot of vintage and try to not buy new things. I don’t always agree that what other brands call sustainable actually is sustainable.

    Q: In the end, what needs to be done to get people changing their consumption behavior?
    A: Maybe a Greta Thunberg in fashion? Or that the younger generation is more aware. I think knowledge is the key. We are learning things about our environment every day. If people knew that polyester is a type of plastic made from oil, and there are thousands of dangerous chemicals in the productions of it. And that it releases thousands of microplastics when washed. Hopefully, less people would buy it. And there has to be an alternative offered.

    Q: In a sustainable world, it would be better if the market is close to production. Are you going to export outside Sweden? 
    A: The idea is to focus on Scandinavia and Europe first. It’s good to stay locally to avoid transportation, but it’s also good if the message reach more people then just in Sweden. One of the ambitions of A New Sweden is to create a framework that allows our model to be open-sourced and reapplied in other places, so one day there could be A New France, or A New Britain, but we still have a very long way to go.

  • The Scarlet

    THE WORDLESS METAPHOR OF ANJA NIEMI

    Written by Ksenia Rundin

    Anja Niemi’s world is a faceless personal story of the film Paris, Texas’(1984) peculiar kind of sadness, accompanied by David Lynch’s neo-noir mystery and wrapped in Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s remarkable melancholic feast of a human fantasy, stretching itself from a luxury hotel in Paris to the blue-grey rocks of Monument Valley in Utah. Being the front figure in Anja’s artworks, the enigmatic blond woman is an expressionless symbol of the inimitable plots, which are narrated by the imagery of marvellous details, divulging a true collector soul of the artist. A kimono from the 1920s, acquired at a vintage shop, a pair of worn-out glittering party shoes, purchased on Ebay and a pink beauty kit from the 1950s, discovered somewhere else online, become pieces of a greater puzzle, making the story complete.

    Niemi tells us amazingly intriguing stories without actually saying a word, but painting those with the lens of her camera and the unique wealth of her visual world. In fact, the stories are a looming metaphor about looking for your true self, while doubting and hesitating, loving and devoting, daring and challenging, without giving up your hopes and abandoning your dreams. The transitional nature of the photographs form a bridge between the bold newness of modernity and the scary uncertainty of the ever changing postmodern times by including an endless account of layers that you never get tired of discovering. Beholding Niemi’s artworks provide us an opportunity to become an architect of our emotions and feelings, each time exploring a new intriguing dimension of our visual perception of the world. Following her invincible gut feeling and exquisite artistic taste, Margita Ingwall, PR and Marketing Chief at Fotografiska (a centre for contemporary photography) in Stockholm, kindly introduced the writer of this article to Anja Niemi, what later turned into an alluring and heartfelt conversation. 

    How did you discover photography as your artistic language?
    After I had shot my first film roll, trying to achieve something rather than merely snapping, I think is how I discovered that. Being a creative child, I was always filled with imaginative stories but my dyslexia made me struggle with words. It was not until I attended a photography class at the age of eighteen that I found a tool to tell my stories with. It was the first time the things I saw in my head and the stories I imagined, could be turned into something I was able to show or share. After that I just knew that it was mine.

    You have yourself in the photos but at the same time you have made it clear that it is not about you. Who is the woman that you put in the focus?
    I think, she could represent anyone and any gender. I want to talk about what it is like to be human, what it is like to be a woman. However, it is, as you mentioned, never about me, I do not find that part very relevant to share. Therefore, I make my characters either faceless or expressionless; sometimes neutral or very exaggerated. It is in order to turn them into symbols rather than real people. Hence, you can project whoever you want and the viewer can identify the character with their own selves.

    Since they are all female, I am asking myself whether this is about being a woman. Maybe some of them actually are but, in general, it is a gender-neutral topic about us as people, about emotions and relationships that we have with ourselves. And I do not think those are necessarily gender-specific. Because I am a woman, there are certainly female elements sneaking to it. Especially, it could be visible in my early works, when I was doing a twist on female icons and characters, who we normally see in the movies, directed by men and created by men, allusions and an unattainable ideal. An unattainable ideal is also gender-neutral but it can also become very feminine in a rather exaggerated way. I also find a lot of inspiration in drag queens. It is a mix of things, not just a classic female ideal with certain unwillingness added.

    In your series “Darlene and Me” you have two female twins in the picture. Do they represent any kind of alter ego or any archetype?
    Yes, they definitely do. And this is something that goes through my work. It is about the relationship we have with ourselves, when it is double or even when it is triple. It is an inner dialogue. That particular series is about one woman and her relationship to herself, where you see her in all the shapes and forms, which such relationship can take. It is quite a brutal connection at times; it is very extreme to all ends of the spectrum.

    Actually, a lot of my works start with a clear inspiration and very often it is an object. Being a devoted collector, I collect old things, which once belonged to someone and you can read something out of them. I use character triggers and often include those collected items in a composition. With “Darlene and Me”, it was a beauty counsellor suitcase from the 1950s or 1960s. I ordered it online. It looked really beautiful, containing jars with powder, cream and make-up samples for a door-to-door sales kit. When it arrived, it looked really beautiful with the powder still left in there and you could open those little jars and smell. I did open them all and it created an amazing feeling. Nevertheless, I quite quickly realised that it was so much more than that. It had a clear story to it.

    Obviously, my story is partly a fiction, but the woman’s name was written on the papers. So I know something what I did not know for sure was her story. However, what I acquired from it, was an old but, in a certain way, untouched suitcase, where most of the jars were still full and the lipstick looked almost new with the owner’s fingerprints on it. I also looked at the paperwork enclosed to the kit and there were only few receipts. The owner did not really do many sales. When I took a closer look, I realised that the sales she did were to herself. I could see her image as a beauty counsellor, selling the products  and as a client, rehearsing her role in a career she might have dreamt about. This is what led me to the character and to the story about how she had struggled and got in her own way. I think, we often do that at a certain stage of our lives, a ‘destroy it all’ feeling. This is how Darlene was born, through a suitcase leading me to her.

    How do you prepare for your photo sessions?
    My process of getting to the point where I am actually photographing is really long. It is me, the whole process is me. I work alone on everything. When I know what character I want to make, I start collecting things that I assume she would have, finding clothes, wigs and make-up she would wear. It takes some time to complete. Prior to every new story, I clear my studio and start filling it with new items, exclusively belonging to the story. Then I find locations and plan the trip. When I have built up a character and everything is ready, I pack it all up and go to make the images. It takes between one and two years to make a series for me. Finally, when the show is up, I immediately start working on the next series.

    Do you conduct the whole styling process by yourself?
    This is a building process. I do have a costume collection but for every character you always need new pieces. I know what I need for my character and then I just look through vintage shops, online or anywhere. Mostly, I mix decades to make them timeless, with the exception of ‘The woman Who Never Existed’ maybe. I want the feeling to be genuine to make the character more real to me when I wear them. There is something immersive in using older objects like shoes or clothes, what undeniably comes through. And there is history in them, coming from and created by real people.

    What role do you think fashion plays in your artwork, if it does at all? 
    At the beginning it did not matter for me, but later I started really coming closer to the costumes. Gradually, it became my world through the construction work with the character, while looking for things to complete the image. After I started making this work, I really fell in love with clothes in a new way. Today there is a connection between fashion and art imagery with a lot of inspiration, crossing over both ways.

    Don’t you think that you create your own fashion in your photographs by putting clothes in the limelight in a very special way?
    At the beginning of my art career I thought a lot about the language of dance, which was more accessible to me than the language of words. I use the body to talk, to tell the story and disclose feelings. I might, as well, be doing it by means of the clothes that I use in my images. It is a body language in connection with the way I dress my character. There is a very different feeling from a cowboy outfit with rough fringe leather chaps to a vintage lace-dress with the lace dripping off the character.

    How do you usually scout for locations?
    It is pretty straight forward. At a very early stage, when I have a character, a vision appears quite immediately. My world is very visual, it is all images. I see right away what I want it to look like and it is just a matter of searching through everything. Through film sets, through landscapes and houses for sale and for rent, magazines, museums - anywhere where the look will exist.

    In the series “Do Not Disturb” I used hotel rooms. I would  pack up a selection of  costumes, take it all with me and see what would happen in those hotel rooms. I just spent around two days behind those doors in order to make a character. Later, it evolved and became much more specific. And for “Darlene and Me” the images I first got, were connected to that suitcase, sort of putting her into the 1950s time era. But it is never like a period drama, where you have to specifically stick to an era.

    The Woman that Never Existed” was, for example, inspired by an actress, who works in the 1920s. When I first started collecting dresses and kimonos from the 1920s, fans and makeup jars, I suddenly discovered that I did not mind mixing other things. I am not documenting anything specific story but using fantasy, where you can do whatever you want. 

    Could you please tell more about the series “The Woman that Never Existed”?
    This series was sort of a shift in me, because it was the first time where I really had a clear inspiration coming solely from words. Words have always been my enemy. But in this case it was words that actually triggered something. I was reading an article about an Italian actress, who had worked on the theatre stage and in silent movies during the 1920s and 1930s. As a person concerned about her privacy, she never wanted to give any interviews. Once she told to a journalist, “Away from the stage, I do not exist.” Those words just jumped out of the page and I could see a character right away.

    This person I started to imagine dissolves or fades away, when no one is looking at her. If she is not directed, having her role or a script, the woman simply does not know what to do. Seemingly, it immediately gave me a new narrative and I started searching for requisites. From the beginning I wanted the plot to look luxurious by adding exclusive fabrics like velvet and silk, frescos. It might seem over-embellished but I did it intentionally, because I wanted to show her world which holds her up and constitutes her allusion. If you took it away from her, there would have been nothing left. She has no facial expressions. Her face is either heavily painted or completely expressionless, reminding of a doll. And that is what she became in my had - an empty shell.

    You last series “She Could Have Been a Cowboy” illustrates a completely different world, continent and plot. Where did you photograph it?
    I did it in Utah and Arizona. Basically, after I knew what my story was and what I wanted, I collected everything I needed and took a road trip to the American Southwest. I drove for about two and a half weeks by myself, having all those locations preplanned, and my costumes with me. I hiked up mountains and rode horses. The experience becomes a part of the story, I do not turn it to the main point of the images. However, my work process becomes a part of the final product, because the experience of going through it on my own is of significance. My trip to Utah was the biggest challenge so far, it is a very foreign scenery for me, as a girl from Norway. I did not really know how I would feel driving those roads on my own but I certainly knew that it was what I wanted.

    I had imagined this character, who dreamt of another life but became stuck in her own reality. The character wears a pink lace-dress, while her fantasy is to be dressed in fringe and leather, while riding horses in the Wild West. There is an image in the series, where you see her sequence repeating itself. It illustrates where she is stuck and what her reality looks like with days repeating themselves and her wearing the same dress. Everything else is just a fantasy built upon things she sees in Western movies and magazines. All the images that I have made represent things she has seen without ever having been to Utah.

    I had to go to those classic locations like Monument Valley and the places where John Wayne's films would have been shot. Seemingly, I lived out her fantasies, took that trip and experienced it all, wore the cowboy costume for her. It ended up with an image of the woman sitting on a horse, what actually turned to be my symbol of braveness to dare to be what you really want to be.  Her story might have had a sadder twist but, I think, it became something else afterwards. I wanted to create a series that would feel familiar to everyone, who live their life differently to the way they truly want. It could raise the question “Who is stopping you?”

    When you were a little girl, could you imagine that one day you would become an artist?
    Not being a fabulous illustrator or otherwise showing any special talent, I felt very lost. My sister is a writer, a beautiful writer at that, I remember her making books with exciting stories when she was just seven years old. I was filled with stories too but I did not have the means to express them. I did not do so well in school but I always knew that I had creativity however, I did not really know what I would do with it. For a while, I secretly wanted to be an actress, because of my love for storytelling. But I was very shy and socially anxious, therefore I let it stay a fantasy. With a love for transformation, using my grandmother’s cocktail dresses, I could create a feeling of becoming someone else, someone special. At the age of eighteen, I took a photography class, what I previously mentioned, then I knew. A wordless language became my tool.

    The Chrysler
    The Garden Hose
    She Could Have Been A Cowboy
    The imaginary Cowboy
    The Dancing Cowboy
    Room 39 Vanity
    The Roller Girl
    The Socialite

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