• An interview with Esben Leschly Blegvad

    Written by Felicia Eriksson


    It’s Paris Fashion Week. The sun is shining and the streets and the brasseries are crowded with people, carefully dressed to look flawless from every angle and casually balancing an espresso in one hand while instagramming with the other.

    I’m on my way to meet up with the Danish showroom owner and curator of VOID, Esben Leschly Blegvadto talk about how to support young designers, creating a collective space where everyone complements each other without competition; and how one should always follow his or her intuition.

    FE: Tell me about VOID.

    ELB: We started in the season called Spring/Summer 13 in a teeny tiny location of 25 square meters. Autumn/Winter 13 we moved to a location of 90 square meters when the owner of that place suddenly sold it without our knowledge, so we had to move. Then we moved to a bigger location where we stayed for two years; and now we’re here at 8 rue Debelleyme. It’s a big location, 300 square meters, 20 designers, lots of action - the development has been great.

    FE: Did you first start here in Paris?

    ELB: Directly yeah. It started out just being a collaboration of two brands showing together and we had to call it something. But then, realizing that two labels of our size weren’t generating enough traffic for either one of us to make a living. And I figured that if we were ten designers of similar size and way of structuring the company, we could grow together. It’s the same setting now with the designers here today.

    Together we can help each other rather than competing. People get this familiar feeling in the showroom and want to support and help each other. Like this jewelry brand just had this little leather pouch for his jewelry designed by the designers upstairs so it’s this mutual understanding of helping instead of seeing the others as competitors. (Am I doing better than they or are they stealing from me.) People get so paranoid in this industry.

    FE: Especially in showrooms? When you see other pieces so close to your own?

    ELB: Yeah and obviously there are some designers that still do compete, but they come here and throughout the week they learn that they don’t have to. They see that they can grow together. And also having buyers that buy multiple labels from the same showroom makes them stay longer instead of having one appointment here and there and spend 30 minutes in one place and then just end up running around. We have a lot of strong brands at one place and the buyers often stays like three or four hours in here and really talk to the designers and sometimes it leads to an order.

    FE: Do you have a background in fashion or how did you end up with this?

    ELB: The short story is that… I opened up an office space in the town where I live, to share creative spaces with people in every sort of industry and in that office space there was this guy who needed someone to do something in his company, like PR or sales, and help him establish his business. He just came out of design school and didn’t know what sort of direction he wanted to go so I became his brand manager and helped him build it all up. And knowing that Paris would be the best place to position for sales, I came to Paris and once there I realized that there was a huge gap from what was here in terms of renting your own little space and being a designer on your own.

    And then going to a showroom - the bigger ones charging a lot of money and the trade shows are charging even more so there was no sort of solution in between. Whatever you would do you would end up spending a lot of money on little. Here at VOID prices are so reasonable that everybody can afford it, I hope…at least it seems like it haha. So my way to being a showroom owner and curator started out as being a brand manager for one single brand.

    FE: Is this brand still represented at VOID?

    ELB: No, they went to Tranoï (a trade show during fashion week in Paris, editor’s note) because, through this showroom, they grew to a size where they needed bigger space and bigger buyers and had the money to be displayed there. And then we have some other designers who have grown to a size where they want to be in their own showroom and have their own traffic of buyers. So it’s nice to see them growing. Because that is the essential thing, we want to help people to get on their own path where they can expand their businesses.

    FE: How would you describe the typical brand that you work with? I can definitely see some kind of theme going on in here.

    ELB: I think the typical designers in here don’t necessarily have one background as a designer. They all have different entrances to the fashion industry. Many of them have done art, music and architecture before they studied design or even just established their own company and label. So the different backgrounds are similar in that they are not fresh out from designs schools. They have this other perspective on design and you can see that and feel that because of the very well done collections. The craftsmanship is there and the understanding of viewing it not as a commercialized big business but also as having a soul, if you can say that?

    FE: You and the showroom are here in Paris both during women’s and men’s fashion week but which one do you prefer?

    ELB: We started only doing men’s and did that for three seasons and then we started with women’s as well because there was a request for it. Women’s fashion was a lot tougher to break down the door into. There’s a lot more going on during the women’s fashion week and everything is bigger. There are so many showrooms and brands in Paris and now this season for women’s fashion, it’s just been amazing- a really good turnoutThere are strong brands, strong buyers but it has taken a year and a half just to establish oneself and this showroom during this week compared to the men’s where it all just sort of happened from day one.

    During men’s week there are fewer buyers but they have more time to spend in each showroom and to talk to the individual designers so for us, the men’s have been stronger in terms of buyers and business. But now I would say, seeing the result this season and being on the third day as we are now, it’s completely evened out.

    FEAre there a lot of showrooms in Paris like this one that focus on the same kind of designers and aesthetic expressions?

    ELB: I don’t know. I don’t compare myself to anybody or try to structure my business around anything else, it’s all based on intuition and good feeling. Both with the brands that I book and the way that I structure everything and if the good feeling and good vibe isn’t around then I just don’t go with it.

    FE: So there is 20 designers here today, what does the process of finding the right designers look like?

    ELB: A lot of designers are continuously showing here again and again. It’s Mads (Mads Dinesen, Danish fashion label based in Berlin, editor’s note) fourth season with us and he’s doing both men and women so it’s his eighth time here. And Rene (Rene Gurskov, Danish designer, editor’s note) has been with us since day one so he’s been here throughout the three years that we’ve been going.

    We have a lot of reruns but now I started out inviting designers that I thought would be nice to have here and work with. And now, for the past year I’m just getting bombarded with emails and requests, so now I’m screening everybody and then just looking at all the materials and from there just going with the feeling. It’s a long process.

    FE: You went to New York a few weeks ago, what happened there?

    ELB: We’ve been contacted by Coterie which is the biggest fair in New York. They wanted us to curate an area on the fair and set it up as VOID showroom in New York and do what we do here with the designers. So we’ll see, we went there for some research and got invited to see what they were doing and obviously, getting an invite in New York - you don’t pass up that opportunity. So it was a research trip to see what options we had for our brands and also for VOID as a brand, if it’s even possible.

    FE: What’s the future plans for VOID?

    ELB: I have a meeting in 30 minutes to evaluate the New York option and they have brought the whole entire team. As a European showroom and a small company you don’t have the manpower and the knowledge of how to do press and PR in the States. We have a lot of American clients coming here to buy but the American buyers that come to Paris don’t buy in New York so we need to get the broad clientele of the more commercialized stores for our brands. And also just having our name there may help us grow even more over here.

    FE: So the plan is to work with VOID as a concept and expand to other countries?

    ELB: Yeah, being in different countriesbut it has to be curated really really well because Coterie has this area of 12 000 square meters. One day we were walking just aisle after aisle and we spend five hours and just saw a third of it so you really have to do something special and specific not to drown in the mass. That’s all the thoughts and processes around New York right now. If it’s going to happen it has to be done well.

    Brands showing at VOID women’s Autumn/Winter 15:

    Maikel Tawadros (Denmark) 

    Kofta (Ukraine) 

    Anna Ziemniak (Poland)

    Errant (Italy) 

    Micoli Ragni (Italy) 

    Serena Babette (Italy)

    Blume (Italy) 

    Mads Dinesen (Germany) 

    Rene Gurskov (Denmark) 

    Dzhus (Ukraine) 

    Xenophora (USA), also a blogger at Odalisque Magazine

    Gall (Italy) 

    Leonard Wong (Japan) 

    Gaspard Hex (Frace) 

    M-ojo Risin (Italy) 

    Gail Chovan (USA

    Nihomano (Italy) 

    Keta Gutmane (Latvia) 

    AP.OOO (Italy) 

    Propagande Noir (Italy) 

  • photography by CLAUDIA FRIED 

    stylist TSEMAYE OPUBOR 

    An interview with Erik Bjerkesjö

    Written by Michaela Widergren

    I’ve been trying to get this interview happening for almost two months. Erik Bjerkesjö is not the easiest man to get a hold of. You never know if he’s in Copenhagen, Berlin, Florence or somewhere in the States. When I do finally meet him for the interview, he tells me he’s sick and got a fever, but he still shows up. We’re sitting in the coffee shop il Caffé in the middle of Södermalm, on the southern side of Stockholm. I’m having a foamy cappuccino and the sick man across the table gets a warm cup of Earl Grey.

    Erik’s mother, who is also in the textile industry, challenged him to apply for several art and design schools abroad. He got in, got a job at Dior and is now putting all of his time and efforts into his own brand Erïk Bjerkesjö. The style is tailored and clean, but keeps a clear street-style reference. In terms of music, Erik is mixing hip hop with Bach and Beethoven.

    MM: Why did you become a designer?

    EB: I don’t think I wanted to become a designer from the beginning, I just wanted to find a medium were I could express myself creatively and freely. I wasn’t sure what being a designer really meant. I found it a bit diffuse, what a designer really did.

    MM: Your mom introduced you to some schools right? And you guys also work together nowadays?

    EB: Exactly, she studied at Central Saint Martins in London and is now working as a pattern maker. She’s got a lot to say. I often ask her for advice; it’s great to get a more feminine view on things.

    MM: When you began your studies in Florence, was it decided from the beginning that it was shoes you were going to make?

    EB: I was always pretty sure about that. I’ve been skateboarding for 20 years now and I think that was a great influence in the choice about shoes. I’ve always had a love for sneakers. During school I started working with my roomie, who has now got his own surf and skate brand. It was interesting to see how those types of brands work. I was studying tailoring, which is totally different. I wanted to mix the two very different styles.

    MM: And that’s what you’re doing today, mixing tailoring with street?

    EB: Yes, I think that’s what I know best. It just sort of happened.

    MM: You graduated in 2009, what happened after that?

    EM: During my last years in at Polimoda I did some extra assignments for the principal, Linda Loppa. She came to Polimoda from Antwerp and used to be a mentor for Raf Simons. We became good friends and she taught me that being a designer doesn’t only have to do with clothes. She made the concept designer into something free and much bigger than just making garments. She is now my mentor, and we keep in contact all of the time. During my second year in Florence I started working for Dior. Linda was the one who introduced me.

    MM: What did you do at Dior?

    EB: A lot of embroideries! Making small flowers and braids.

    MM: Did you know this from before?

    EB: No, not at all. I learned everything in the spur of the moment. It was a lot of fun. This was in 2006-2007 which was a really good year for Christian Dior. After my time there I started putting more and more of my focus on shoes. Already at Dior I learned the importance of working with your hands, to craft and really put a lot of work into what you do. I learned a lot by reading the book Handmade Shoes for Men by Lazlo Vass, one of the great shoe kings.

    Erik made his first shoe collection all by himself which impressed Linda and because of that she later introduced him to the craftsmen at Azzedine Alaïa and Tom Ford, who was working in a small atelier in the Italian mountains. Erik tells me that the people working there are the best in world when it comes to shoes.

    MM: What’s the name of the atelier?

    EB: I can’t tell you, it’s a secret. It’s a well-hidden spot and I’m not allowed to say either the name or the location. Thanks to my contact with them I could later start producing handmade shoes with the best quality. After that I then moved back to Sweden for a while, then Copenhagen, Paris and back to Italy. I got a really good start by winning a prize when I graduated, and the orders for my shoes came right quickly. It was a dream start.

    MM: How much was a pair of shoes then?

    EB: Back then I think 1200 €.

    MM: And who buys the shoes?

    EB: A lot of people! Maybe not as many in Sweden, since the weather’s so bad…

    For Erik’s first runway he’d won a prize of 100.000 €,. The money could only be spent on producing the show, one night only. Of course Linda was helping and pushing Erik to expand and start designing clothes too. He tells me that he’s a major Alexander McQueen fan and that he’d love to present those kinds of runway shows and that the prize money that he’d won gave him the opportunity to do something creatively free just like McQueen.

    MM: So what did you do for your debut show?

    EB: I wanted the showing to feel like an Ingmar Bergman movie so we used a black light, which made the entire show be seen in black and white. We also had a projection of white noise on the ceiling. The show got a lot of attention. Etienne Rousseau was the show director, and he basically did it for free just because he really believed in me and the collection. He usually does all of the Chanel and Marc Jacobs shows. He’s a Creative Show Director, so it was also a bit different for me, not working with a stylist but with an Art Director instead. After that I had two shows in Milan with Vogue and later on I showed at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Stockholm.

    MM: How did it feel, having that major show at Pitti and then coming to the quite small fashion week in Stockholm?

    EB: I wanted Etienne to do that show too, we had some epic plans; everything we thought of became really expensive. But it all turned out really great, I worked with the Stockholm based team of Marcus Söder instead. Ultimately it become a great start for my return to Sweden. Just a few days later I started working with the tailoring production at Acne Studios.

    After working at Acne Studios (that he speaks very keenly about) Erik is now back in Stockholm and on the search for the perfect atelier to house the self-named brand. He says that he finds no interest in working with other fashion houses – he doesn’t want his previous employment to have too much of an impact on his own creative aesthetics – it’s easy to get labeled by the brands one’s been working for. 

    My impression of Erik, is that he’s a very humble guy with a huge amount of talent. He’s the first true shoe nerd I’ve ever met and he puts 100 % of his time in to his work. Let’s just hope there will not only be men’s collections created in the future. I know many women who enjoys the sound of both rap and classical music.

  • An interview with Daniel Bruno Grandl - The Urban Spotter

    Written by Jenny Lacis by Michaela Widergren

    On a street corner, at a crossover or in the crowd that is getting off the bus - Daniel Bruno Grandl finds fashionable people everywhere. Since 2012 he runs the street- style-blog The Urban Spotter, where he publishes photos of people from all around the world.

    Growing up in Germany with his mother running a vintage fashion store and with a great love of photography, Daniel followed his dream and combined these two interests in a blog. This medium currently seems to be the most common in this sphere.

    JL: So Daniel, when and why did you start The Urban Spotter?

    DBG: In 2009 I stumbled upon the blog The Sartorialist and I loved it. Once I moved from Scotland to London in 2012 I started my own blog, which was the birth of theurbanspotter.com.

    JL: What was your vision with the blog when you started? And how easy has it been to follow that vision?

    DBG: I started theurbanspotter.com in order to entertain people with my style images and to become one of the top street style platforms in the world. Such high ambitions have not always been easy for me, especially as one is faced with many challenges as well as doubts at the beginning.

    JL: What did the blogosphere look like when you started and how do you think it has developed over time? 

    DBG: I started rather late with blogging, mid 2012, so the Market back then was already quite competitive. But now, two years after, there are more street style photographers than ever before and the market is becoming more and more saturated. Only those who have a unique point of view and are truly good at what they do will continue to grow.

    JL: Why did you chose to publish your photos in a blog? 

    DBG: I myself like to read blogs and felt that this was a good medium for my content as well. As a blogger there is great flexibility in what and how you publish and you can reach a large audience quickly. It’s just great being able to share my pictures instantly.

    JL: What is the best thing about publishing your work like this; and, what is the drawback?

    DBG: Publishing online is the perfect medium to showcase my photography to a worldwide audience on a day-to-day basis. It is very cost efficient compared to print publishing and it is possible to build up a large audience in a short period of time. No matter where in the world I am, I can quickly upload new images from current fashion shows or events and let the world take part of it nearly instantly.

    JL: What do you think about blog-portals?

    DBG: From a business perspective I think it is a good way to attract a wider audience and thus attract more business opportunities in regards to advertising etcetera.

    J: There have been many predictions about the desertion of the blogs (that people would tire of the phenomenon), why do you think the predictions haven´t been verified?

    DBG: As we live in a fast-moving society, blogs are an ideal platform for anyone who quickly wants to access information regarding their interests. Blogs are very appealing for many readers as they are free and are being updated much more regularly than say a print magazine.

    JL: How long will you continue blogging? And what do you think of the future of the blogs?

    DBG: I have no plans to stop blogging in the near future. I have not been doing this for very long, and things have only just started to take off. I will stop blogging if one day I won’t have fun doing this anymore.

    JL: And what does a “normal” workday look like for you? 

    DBG: Here one has to distinguish between peak and off-peak fashion week times:

    During peak fashion week times I usually get up at 7am, do some editing, prepare some posts for the day and go to the first 9am shows. Usually I go to 4-6 shows depending on how much energy I have as well as on the shows that are on. After that I get back home at around 7pm and start selecting and editing the images from the day.

    During off peak fashion week times my days are completely different. I usually fill my days with networking, meeting up with clients and friends as well as shootings and editing work.

    JL: Is it possible to make a living on your blog?

    DBG: I make a living from my photography.

    JL: What is your plan now with The Urban Spotter?

    DBG: The plan is to continue on the same track, shooting great style and showcasing it on my website. In the future I will travel more, especially outside of Europe and I have plans to shoot more fashion editorials.

    JL: What blogs are you following?

    DBG: To be honest, I am not following that many blogs. I try to focus on my work and constantly think forward regarding future plans and strategies,

    JL: Where in the world are people the best dressers, according to you? And why?

    DBG: It is difficult to say. Many different cities are characterized by a certain set of styles or stereotypes. For example the Italians wear prints and color very well, the French are very chic and elegant, London has a strong heritage in tailoring and punk, in Scandinavia it is all about minimalism and New York is a mix of everything. I personally really like the styles that I see in Copenhagen.

    JL: And as a last question: What are you looking for when you’re on a street style-hunt? 

    DBG: When I take pictures on the street I have certain criteria in my head that act as a guideline for shooting street style. Ultimately these criteria determine whether I can create an aesthetically pleasing picture or not. I prefer taking photos of people who I think are well dressed and have great style or character.