Photographer Sven Eselgroth contacted me to share an interview with menswear brand Our Legacy he had conducted while he was touring Scandinavia this past summer. Sven visited lead designer and brand co-founder Christopher Nying at their studios. In the interview Christopher touches base on the brands roots, inspirations and future, all accompanying photos in this feature are by Sven.
Can you describe your design education?
I studied art and fashion communication and I think that led to the clothing because I was working with clothes during this time. At first I studied very fine art – sculpture and painting. Then graphic design, fashion communication, illustration and some photography. I didn’t really want to do that, but at the same time we started Our Legacy and made graphic t-shirts, which suited me quite well because it was really conceptual. We didn’t set out to purposely make clothing, it was more about expression. We tried to understand what sub-culture a particular t-shirt came from and create a look with it. The prints were inspired by lots of different ideas such as punk, skate, football hooligans in the 80s… Today we are coming back to those inspirations again. It doesn’t need to be very specific sub-cultures but I think there are new ones growing today that we’re not even aware of yet which could be quite interesting. Time feels like it goes faster today, people are more aware of what is happening socially and politically due to the newsfeeds.
Read the rest of the interview after the jump
How did you meet Jockum?
We played ice hockey together when we were 15. Then we didn’t see each other for a while but met again through a friend when we were in our early twenties. We both lived in Gothenburg so we started to hang out as friends and even though we are quite different, we realised we had something in common creatively and that’s how we became interested in what we are doing today.
So you started the brand in Gothenburg?
I would say Gothenburg was the starting point, but it was actually in Stockholm. My father makes vinyls and printed materials for companies. The first t-shirt samples we printed in the cellar at his home in Huskvarna, which is a small city in between Gothenburg and Stockholm. Then we went to Italy to make the very first production. One year later I was living in Stockholm working as a freelance art director and Jockum had an agency with some other clothing brands. He also moved to Stockholm and we decided slowly to create more and more clothing.
Was your intention always to create a line of clothing?
We had a small idea and initially it felt more like a personal project than one we wanted to make a business out of. I think we both just wanted to express something new with prints at that time. Then when we understood we were actually capable of making clothes we wanted to try that. Jockum also had a background in marketing, but it took us two years to get there with the right factories and the right manufacturing.
How difficult was it, creating your first samples and getting them manufactured?
We did have some difficulties in the beginning but we held onto really wanting to push it through, even if it ended up not being done that season, so there was perseverance and a bit of luck I think! Fortunately we met some good factories quickly and we went down to Portugal a lot to visit the factories. You have to be very ‘on it’ I guess because in the beginning the factories know you’re not going to produce a lot and you always get the last line, so you have to show commitment. We received our first sample collection in 2007, which was around 40-50 pieces from Portugal with colour options. We had trousers, knitwear, some light suiting and coats. We went to a fair in Copenhagen and had a showroom, we didn’t have any expectations about visiting for our first season but it went really well. We were surprised that it went as well as it did in the first season. Of course we thought it was nice stuff we were doing, but we didn’t expect to get 50 customers that season, and the factories were surprised too! In that sense we were a bit lucky, to get good numbers for our very first orders.
Where were your first buyers from?
They were from all over the world. Terry Ellis from Beams International Gallery in Tokyo was one of our first buyers, and Storm in Copenhagen. They were really good stores so we were very happy. We had some Italian and American customers too.
What are your favourite parts of the AW13 collection that you designed yourself?
I like the whole idea of it. For me it’s definitely the best collection we’ve done structure wise. It’s a bit different visually but structure-wise I think we kept it really clear in all parts. The idea was to look at official sectors in hotel lobbies, aeroplanes and banks and reflect the interior of these places in the clothing. We have a fabric that Lufthansa airline used for their uniforms in the 80s or 90s, which was 100% nylon. We have one called ‘real fake leather’, which is actually like it sounds because the leather on this fabric is torn down and then sprayed onto polyester. That’s why it’s called ‘real fake leather’, it’s recycled leather that you spray onto technical garments. The collection is very consistent. It’s not that we’re using nylon or polyester or ‘real fake leather’ because it’s cheap, we just wanted to show that you can make these normally quite boring environments in a totally different way.
Were any of the garments inspired by the uniforms people wore?
Some were yeah, for example we tried to make flight jackets with the ‘real fake leather’ and we also made bomber jackets with the Lufthansa material. We tried to make hybrid clothing, so we would take a classic suiting fabric for example and make a shirt, hooded jacket or even shoes just to break the norm of traditional clothing. We also used the expression ‘no service’ within this collection. It is inspired by the idea of somebody standing in the subway wearing this slogan. People would be more likely to approach them if it said ‘service’ as they would assume they were working there. So there are design details like that within the garments as well.
Do you make accessories?
We’re starting to. We already do some sneakers and boots. Luggage will probably come in one year because we felt that we really wanted to work on it and build up a proper collection. It’s not going to be very big but it will be very good hopefully, and we hope to show it in Fall/Winter ’14. Instead of just classic luggage and accessories, we’ve been working on merchandise material like stickers, shopping bags, key rings and a small pouch which is actually in this collection but that’s only for our own stores. We like to have an accessible product, especially in this collection because it’s inspired by the ‘service world’ so we wanted to create more merchandise type products. Another big thing with this collection is that we wanted the garments to be customisable, so you can take out some details if you want to. The bomber jackets and the shirts for example have straps which can be taken off if you want, which gives them more of a uniform and workwear feel.
You haven’t done any fashion shows yet, do you think you will in the future?
Not now but maybe we will in the future, it just needs to feel right. I like it, it’s not that I’m against it but it feels a bit too traditional and predictable sometimes and I’m quite surprised that brands haven’t gone further with this type of presentation. Not every time and I’m not saying this in general but the big brands have the muscles to do whatever they want, and they are still building it around a catwalk which I find surprising. Some are doing it really well and maybe they should always do that, but I think brands have to find their own way and shouldn’t feel expected to do a catwalk. Some brand are also doing very well without the catwalk. We decided quite early on that we weren’t going to do it until we really feel it. Maybe it would be good for us, but right now I’d rather focus on the product and the books we’re doing, actually give something to our customers that they can keep. Maybe some other media could be interesting like electronic films, mixed materials or having more intimate presentations. It doesn’t need to be shown every time on a model, I don’t think it really works like that today because there isn’t so much of a stereotype anymore. If you look at the internet or the image flow we get today, I think there are quite a lot of things you could do if you spent some time rethinking which could have a better impact.
Have you done any collaborations with Our Legacy?
We did one five years ago with a Swedish bike brand. Maybe we will do it again, it can be interesting if it’s the right match but we wouldn’t do it just for the sake of it. I think some collaborations feel more like a marketing trick, rather than actually generating something between two parts. It wouldn’t need to be with something within the fashion industry, we could do something like a bike again, but it could be really interesting to collaborate with another clothing brand.
Do you have brands that you look at and watch what they do?
Yeah, of course. We grew up with some brands that influenced us when we were younger and they’re probably some of the reasons we’re doing what we are today. We grew up with Helmut Lang which was interesting and Armani was in that period in the 90s. You get affected by so many but all these brands still exist and are very different. I think it’s more about finding the dynamic of your own inspirations though. Today it’s very rare that I buy fashion magazines. It’s not that I don’t like them, but I’ve always collected photography, art and books. We take inspiration from them a lot.
When you say books, do you mean photo books?
Yeah. A colleague here started publishing and I was working with him in the beginning of this Swedish photography publishing house. So that’s always been a big interest for me. The first book we did was with photographer Viviane Sassen, called Sol & Luna. We sent around 10 pieces down to her in Amsterdam and she played around with them. We didn’t use all 10 pieces of clothing in the book but it was nice to see how she interpreted them in her own way. I think that’s a good collaboration when you let, in this case the photographer, do what she wants with our commercial product. All the books are very different from season to season.
Do you go through any rituals to find inspiration?
I think we look at social subcultures, or at what we ourselves are doing at the time and try to develop that, more than looking to find a concept. I like it when the concept comes by itself and we don’t really struggle to find one. It’s more of a coincidence sometimes and I really like to work that way. You can’t be too structured, you have to give some freedom to your own ideas and the ideas of the people you’re working with. Some of the SS14 collection takes inspiration from the treatment and over-exposure of materials. We did a lot of tests and played with bleaching indigo to almost white. Then we needed some sort of opposite energy and created the clothing that looks very much like protective, chemical laboratory clothing. It’s a small part of the collection but I think it’s a nice example of how we can work.
Do you have a particular constant inspiration that you are always coming back to?
Maybe it’s the very culture of field studies and looking at what a store can sell in different areas. You have many different areas here in Stockholm, we try to look at them all – the different things or feelings, what they are doing, and bring them together a bit more. For example, how you wear a suit on an aeroplane, as a uniform, in a bakery or in a bank. We’re looking at how we can combine these and achieve a non-segregated look, because we don’t like segregation. The first piece we ever did was a basic grey marl sweatshirt because there were so many ways of wearing it, but it was segregated because it was seen for a specific purpose such as training, or for the gym. We wanted to bring it into a new light and that’s what we’re still trying to do.
Making the collection more distinct or clear is a long development and we don’t want to be stuck in one typical style or an idea all the time, we try to change from season to season. But even though we’re creating and developing we still have our classic styles that we always do. We update them a bit but we always keep them in the collection.
Is it true you’re going to make a womenswear collection?
Yes, I think it’s going to be good for us to do that and we’re not going to let it affect the menswear. It will be a bit different, and it’s not going to be a boyfriend style because that can be quite complicated and it doesn’t really work in practicality. It’s about finding the right production, trying out some samples and seeing whether it works or not, we’re going to take it as it comes. We’re going to work for it but we want it to feel as though it’s been around for a while and is established; we don’t want to make it as a new thing.
In mid May this year Photographer Sven Eselgroth embarked on a four-month motorbike trip of sartorial discovery through the heart of Scandinavia. Determined to discover some of the exciting and unique brands that give the region its newfound status in fashion Sven travelled through Copenhagen, Gothenburg, Stockholm and as far north as Trondheim in Norway, to meet the designers that inspired the project and photograph them and their current A/W collections.
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