• An Interview with ASTRID OLSSON and LEE COTTER

    V Ave Shoe Repair

    Written by Mari Florer

    V Ave Shoe Repair – A Small Wish to Exist

    Astrid Olsson and Lee Cotter are the designers behind the Swedish brand: V Ave Shoe Repair. As a former dance couple they competed in Latin American dance competitions around the world. They created their own costumes and soon they got orders from other artists. “We liked working with conceptual designs to change the perception of what a couple or performance could be. The theatrical of it interested us. ”When their dancing careers ended an opportunity to switch careers came up. Astrid began design studies at the University of Borås. It was at that time that the idea to start a brand of their own, grew stronger. – It started with a small wish to exist, Astrid says.

    Astrid and Lee come from different backgrounds. Astrid grew up in a suburb called Täby, fifteen minutes by train from Stockholm. She began dancing when she was a young girl. She was also interested in crafts, tailoring and sewing from a young age. Lee grew up in London with his mum and dad. His father is English, his mother is Swedish. His parents went different ways when he was eight years old and he moved with his mother to Sundsvall (population 50 000), a town in the middle of Sweden. At first he played “masculine” sports like football and ice-hockey. His mother told him that girls like boys who know how to dance. He grew to like it and that was the beginning of his career as a dancer.

    Why did you quit dancing?
    Astrid When you’re getting closer to twenty-six, your knees and feet stop working as well. And there is a lot of travelling.
    Very, very stressful! You have to practice two to three hours a day, even on weekends. This was the second way out. I’m very happy that we changed careers because now we can design things other than glittering dance costumes. Now we’re free to do what we want.

    When did you two become a couple outside of dancing?
    Lee The dance world is very special. It’s really about match making; length, width, type and how advanced you are in a specific style. We realized that we indeed were a very good match. And then we fell in love. The rest is history.

    Was V Ave Shoe Repair successful from the start?
    Astrid Yes, we set up the label just when the economy was rapidly moving upwards and people were looking for new inspiration. When we ended up at Barneys and Selfridges and those sorts of places I still travelled around helping out with selling at fashion fairs. We didn’t really understand what was happening. I guess it was just life coming to our aid.
    Lee Yes, it was a mixture of having done some interesting stuff and fortunately we made them at the right time. A lot of brands have created very beautiful things and fail because the timing is poor.

    Tell me, what do you think is more challenging; designing clothes for men or for women?
    Lee There are different choices. With women’s clothing, you can experiment more than you can on a men’s collection. Still, we are trying to stretch the framework a bit when we create the menswear as well.

    Does this framework put limits to your creativity?
    Astrid Sometimes yes. In the past, we’ve designed a lot of things that confused more than it opened up, I think. The problem is, when you start pushing the boundaries of male fashion it’s easy to lose the masculinity. You can only build in certain places on the body: the shoulder and the waist. But you can’t build too much on these places because it ends up more like a scene costume if you do and that’s a little boring.
    Lee We have done some advanced things. But I like to keep myself inside the established framework as well. I’m not just pro madness. I like to make a suit. I find that the magic of small movements is inspiring. We’ve always talked about challenging the traditional but at the same time protecting it - always being progressive but at the same never changing too much. There’s a fine line when it comes to fashion.
    Astrid Yes, that’s the hardest part as a designer - never to tire of yourself. You have a tendency to run away from your fans.

    How long does it take in your studio from an idea to a finished garment?
    Astrid If you completely start from scratch, it takes about three weeks. And of course it depends on the how advanced it is.

    And a ready to wear garment?
    Astrid …about a week. From drawing until it is finished. But then the garment is not complete. Everything is rough cut. The details aren’t right. They do those things much better in the factory. It takes about 8 weeks till we get a first sample delivered from the manufacturers.

    Are you satisfied when you finally get hold of the product?
    Astrid You must keep your cool. Sometimes, it’s not funny at all opening these boxes when they arrive - And at the same time it’s exciting.
    Lee For example, on a sample: the seams can be off, the details all wrong and the fabric different from the one you ordered. Usually, they take the fabric that’s available at the time - to get the shape. You’ve got to have a lot of fantasy to imagine what the final product will be like. There’s a lot of anguish before it’s all set.

    Where are you manufacturing?
    Astrid Portugal, Turkey and China.
    Lee We are trying to stand up for the small producers. We make our shoes in a Portuguese factory where there’re three people working - Really made by hand.
    Astrid The factory is just as small as this room (about 20 square meters). It’s really really tiny! We are very committed to the ethical aspect of manufacturing. We are only using the best raw materials. We are buying the leather from Italy and it is always premium. We use it for our finest products to bring longevity.
    Lee We are trying to work in an ecological way. For example we are coloring most of the leather with vegetable tanning. I don’t think our customers are aware of that, we never really shout it out.
    Astrid The knitwear we produce in a small factory in China. We worked a lot with Italian factories before, but it’s no longer possible, I think.
    Lee Maybe, I need to explain. People have some strange ideas about China still. We use a small factory in China that is much more expensive than the Italians are. And the Chinese are extremely talented and they’re doing amazing things. They get paid well and have reasonable working conditions. But, we are still buying our wool from Italy. China quality is not yet up to standards when it comes to raw materials.
    Astrid We plan to move some of our production to Estonia and Latvia because we want it to be closer to home. Unfortunately, we can’t manufacture here in Sweden because there are no textile mills here any longer.
    Lee If that were possible it would have been fantastic to produce knitwear, suits and shirts here - items that are pretty simple to produce. You don’t need very advanced techniques for that.

    At the presentation of SS13 you told the audience that people need more fairytales. What did you mean by that?
    Oh, I think we need it all the time. The whole world is very realistic right now. I think people should dress up a little more. It’s not very often you see dressed up people going to theatre or the opera. Today we are designing clothes that work all day. People just change their shoes when they are going out for the night. The wardrobe has become a bit one-sided. When was the last time you went to a party where people wore indoor shoes? Everyone walks around in their damn socks.

    So you think that people should change their clothes more often?
    Astrid Yes, and I think it would be nice with a little more magic. Life should be more like in a movie, I think.

    And Lee, you said your inspiration was – if I caught you right – a working class guy who comes to the big city with dreams of creating a new life but at the same time as he’s still very connected to his past…
    Lee There’s a bit of me in there too, even if it is fiction. I feel that I want to do things I could not do where I grew up. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew it was not possible in Sundsvall where I lived. Not that I disliked being there, I had a nice childhood and all that. It was when I was dancing and travelled the world I realized that maybe I wanted to do something that was bigger. And then I felt a strong urge to move to the big city.

    What are your plans for the future?
    Astrid We are waiting for the autumn collection, the clothes are really beautiful. Designing the fall line is more fun than other seasons because you have more fabric to work with. And the material differs. A lot of wool! Otherwise, we are also planning a relocation of the office.

    Lee We are moving our studio from Södermalm to Vasastan close to our own apartment. We are planning the interior right now and looking forward to see it come true.

    What’s the next inspiration or concept?
    Astrid It’s more festive emphasized both the male and female collection - more luxurious details. I think it will be a little bit smarter – with increased focus on tailoring. But it’s kind of vague at the moment and I have not yet formulated my thoughts. Right now it is only small disconnected pieces and small papers on the walls.

    Do you have your own style icons?
    Lee That is an extremely tricky question. A few years ago, we would’ve answered Annie Lennox. But then we didn’t mean her clothes. We like her because she is beautiful and exudes strength. She can be both male and female. She looks great in a suit as well as in a dress. But I have to say we are struggling with this thing and I have to be honest: We have received comments that we appear to be elitist. That is saddening to hear, because as I said before I am a working class guy from Sundsvall. I’m no elitist. It’s the last thing I am. It’s just that I’m very ambitious.

    So you have an understanding that people think you’re elitist?
    Astrid Yes, I understand exactly what they mean.
    Lee And that’s why it becomes difficult to answer your question. If I were say: Giacometti who was handsome when he walked around in his studio in the sixties. It becomes like too much… I find it hard to name someone that others can relate to.

    Are you affected by the economic crisis?
    Lee What has posed problems for us is that we have customers that don’t pay. It’s about millions of Swedish kronor. It has been a tremendous challenge for us. And for the whole fashion industry, I say. It really is not just us.

    Astrid It comes right down to the thread level. It’s difficult to find the fabrics you are searching for. No one can afford to produce fabric. Often when we find a nice fabric they don’t have the color we want, or it’s sold out.
    Lee It’s hard when our partners have problems. Of course, we are affected when one of our suppliers goes bankrupt. Suddenly, in a panic, we must find a new one.
    Astrid We are nurturing the relationships with the most important suppliers. You have to know them really well. We have to travel and be on the phone a lot more. And we had to be more flexible. We need to customize the design according to what is on the market. All of a sudden we have to rethink completely.

    Maybe it will be an exciting challenge?
    Lee When we started out, sometimes out of necessity, we put the same fabrics in both the jacket, and pants or in a dress. We have always had that thinking.

    photography by SANDRA MYHRBERG
  • Interview with Polly Morgan

    Written by Michaela Widergren

    The first time I saw one of the art pieces by Polly Morgan, I was immediately drawn to the beautiful and delicate animals. Polly Morgan is a taxidermist and an artist, combining the two in an enchanting and most original way. “All taxidermied(sic.) animals are either road casualties, or have been donated to the artist by pet owners and vets after natural or unpreventable deaths.”

    How did it come, that you became a taxidermist? Did you ever think, while growing up, that you would become one?
     No, but that was really because I didn’t know any taxidermists so it didn’t occur to me that I could be one. I think if I had, I would have decided to learn sooner. I was certainly keen to hang on to dead animals when I found them but was carefully encouraged by my Mother to bury them instead!
    How did your education start, and how did it feel, touching the deceased animals for the first time?
     It started because I researched taxidermists online and found a practitioner willing to teach me in Scotland.
    It began as just a day’s lesson but he then became more of a mentor and I returned to him whenever I got the chance and spoke to him regularly on the telephone. Touching the first bird was thrilling, as everything was new to me – I had never studied animals this closely before and it was fascinating.
    Are there different techniques to taxidermy, or is there only one way to go?
     There are different techniques. The traditional technique, which I use, is where the skin is first removed and tanned, the body constructed either with wood wool or cast foam or fiberglass, and the skin then stretched over and stitched up around the form.
    There is another technique called erosion casting, where a mold is built around the body and it is then left to rot before the mold is removed. Within both these techniques there are many variations too – there is no singular way to do it.

    While reading about you online, I got the feeling that you just happened to become an artist, is that the actual fact? Or, was it always the obvious choice?
     It wasn’t something I really planned, although looking back over my youth I can see that I was always heading in that direction. My interests were always very arts-focused and I gravitated towards artists, I just didn’t see myself as one until I started working with taxidermy.
    How do you choose which animals to work with?
     Sometimes they are integral to the piece for symbolic reasons; other times it is more about the shape and form of the creature that is particularly important. The other consideration is always what I can get hold of. Sometimes I think of a piece of work that involves animals I can’t get hold of and I have to put it to one side and work on something else.
    For your art pieces, do you have a definite plan from the beginning, or do you work on intuition and impulse?
     Mostly these days I have a plan. I then have to experiment awhile in the studio to help me work out the execution of the piece. Sometimes I discover things along the way that change the outcome.
    Which one(s) of your art projects has been the most emotional and personal creating?
     There isn’t really one in particular. Each new piece takes a lot out of me and makes me feel very insecure at times. Making art is a very personal thing and I feel very exposed showing it to others. There is also a sense of relief when something is complete that makes it all worthwhile.  

    Which one of your pieces is most precious to you today? Is there any of your pieces that you are extra careful about?
     No. I like to be rid of everything as soon as it is made. I find it very difficult to move on with new work if I still have older works in the studio. It doesn’t matter how happy I am with a work, I don’t want to hang onto it.
    Is there an animal that you have not yet gotten your hands on, that you would like to work with?
     This idea changes all the time, depending on what I am working on. Right now I am looking for Lovebirds for a new work but in a few months it could be something completely different. It is always nice to work on something I’ve not worked on before as I learn so much about the creature as I go.
    We would love to see your work showcased in Scandinavia, when will it happen?
     When I am asked by a good Scandinavian gallery!
    And lastly, what are your plans for the future?
     I had a show in Nicosia, Cyprus in March 2012 and shows in Ireland and Italy next year. I am moving into more casting work and can imagine my work developing to the extent that I don’t always include taxidermy.

    All images by Tessa Angus, except Still Birth (courtesy of Other Criteria).

    rest a little on the lap of life
    to every seed his own body
    still birth
    dead ringer
    the fall
    ep harbour
  • Interview with Maria Nilsdotter

    Written by Michaela Widergren

    It’s the 28th of August and it’s fashion week in Stockholm. I’m on my way to the event of Maria Nilsdotter, where the Spring / Summer 2013 collection “Lost World” will be presented.

    It’s a busy time at the party, people are conversing and drinking wine while admiring the new collection worn by angel-like models and exposed in showcases like exotic installations.
    Maria and I have a seat at a small table on the terrace, crowded by bloggers, PR-people and other fashionistas.

    The first question I ask her is about the choice of material.
    -Because I’m quite traditionally schooled, material and quality always comes first. I work mostly with precious metals. I love working with gold, it’s soft, yet strong and very worthwhile to work with, but silver is my main material and sometimes I also use bronze, which is a lasting and beautiful metal.

    How much time does the process of creating a new collection take? And how important is the practical part?
    Hmm when I do my jewelry I always start with research and sketching, after that I start creating models to try the ideas. Next I make the first original. It takes quite some time and a lot of puttering with details. It’s all a long process connected with everything around it. The practical part is important because I am able see the process from idea to reality. There are a lot of changes made when the jewelry takes form in 3D.

    She tells me she feels contempt and is well aware of the dirty business connected to mining, and that it’s often hard to find well regulated distributors. She always buys her metals from relatively local distributors in Sweden and England; countries where the regulation and standards are high. Some of her pieces contain details of fur and leather, which are all vintage and hand colored.
    It’s evident that her love for animals can be seen in both her aesthetics and her way of production. One animal, specifically the raven, is frequently recurrent in her pieces.

    Tell me about your fascination with ravens and their symbolism? Which other animals do you incorporate into your jewelry and which animals do you avoid?
    I like the raven because it’s such a powerful bird! If you ever see one you’ll be astonished by how big they are! They are just so interesting, for example: they often pare up to form lifelong relationships, then there are also interesting ravens in mythology such as Hugin and Munin.
    I often find inspiration from mystical and scary animals, I like to combine them with precious metals and sparkling stones, it’s a fun and unexpected combination. I don’t think I would avoid working with any kind of animal. In school I made fun little animals like pigs, donkeys and monkeys :)

    Which jewelry would you not leave your home without? And which is the most precious to you?
    I always ware one of my silver claw rings on my pinky. One of my most important jewelry pieces is a big Zuni (Native American) Indian ring from Santa Fé, that I got as a gift from my husband.
    I love how jewelry, because of its solidness can wander through generations, possessing a lot affection and stories.

    The new collection for Spring / Summer 2013 is called Amaranth, inspired by the book with the same name. Amaranth is about an old lady during the 17th century who finds another world, a place that becomes her escape from reality - her own personal truth, her own lost world.
    Maria read the book during her study at Central Saint Martin in London, and now it’s become one of what I think will be her most prized and recognized collections.

    Will sagas and folklore be a continual inspiration for your designs?
    It will always have a place in my heart, I’ve loved sagas and mythology since I was a little child, so I’m sure the fascination will last forever.

    Her artistic vain can be also be seen in the scarves she makes for each collection. The garments are often covered with beautiful and enigmatic illustrations, incorporating everything from animals, insects, skeletons and female silhouettes.

    You’re a brilliant illustrator, if you weren’t working with jewelry, would you be a painting artist?
    Oh, thank you, I don’t see myself as an illustrator but I do enjoy drawing. I draw and sketch a lot during the design process and I think it’s fun to use my sketches for look books, etc.. If I didn’t work with jewelry I would definitely do something else creative, possibly painting.

    Our time is running out and there are a lot of important people for Maria to meet. I feel grateful that she had time for our conversation, on probably one of her busiest days.

    Lastly I ask, if there’s anything that journalist’s write about you, with which you disagree?
    They often write that Madonna wore one of my head pieces during her Super Bowl performance. And actually she didn’t, her dancers did ;)

    tank top NORRBACK

    RALPH LAUREN sequin skirt

    dress JAN AHLGREN

    styling MEGHAN SCOTT / Magnolia

    MICHAELA MYHRBERG hair & make up

    model CLARA J/Stockholmsgruppen

    SAMUEL ÖFVERSTEDT photo assistant

    all jewelry by MARIA NILSDOTTER



There’s nothing to see here.