Last week, the international fashion pack descended upon Oslo, Norway, for Oslo Runway. Oslo Runway, in layman's terms, is Oslo Fashion Week. It joins the ranks with other emerging fashion weeks across the globe which continue to decentralise the focus from the Big Four in New York, London, Milan, and Paris.
Norway's fashion industry is developing, as it is in the other Scandinavian cities. It is smaller in comparison to Denmark and Sweden but, Fashion United reports, the domestic market value of the fashion industry is $6 billion.
Oslo Runway is the Norwegian capital’s fashion week and this year’s press and buyer attendance built on the January instalment, the Fall 2018 season's success. The Spring 2019 season saw editors from international editions of Vogue and a phalanx of street style photographers. Like Copenhagen Fashion Week, the attraction is the pristine, perfectly packaged Scandinavian lifestyle that inspires women globally. However, this season at Oslo Runway promisingly proved itself to be worth more than clean lines and minimal colour palette.
“People are hungry for more than the typical Scandinavian minimalism,” Norwegian designer Anne Karine Thorbjørnsen told Paper at her presentation on the opening day of the three-day-long event. She presented a collection tinctured with an aesthetic that belongs in London, where she studied under the tutelage of the late, great Professor Louise Wilson OBE. She also trained at Meadham Kirchhoff, the champions of queer spaces and kitsch in fashion.
She used undesirable textiles and exaggerated silhouettes to communicate a tone of drama. She wanted something delightfully perverse, a ‘so good it’s bad’ moment which is particularly akin to the modus operandi of Meadham Kirchhoff. Also, she emphasised drapery as a signature technique. The myriad of ways drapery can be presented is a motif in Thorbjørnsen’s oeuvre. If you coalesce her themes, the aesthetic discord could point to many London stars but Thorbjørnsen’s felt honest and a continuation from her previous work.
Another Meadham Kirchhoff progeny appeared in the form of Michael Olestad Nybråten who work distinctly points to his training ground—there were more questionable material choices and the use of tacky sequins and bejewelled denim. It evoked nostalgia—a slightly garish vision of the early-00s.
His scope reached both Ann-Sofie Black and Acne Studios, where he served stints, and inspires a commercialism in his work. Ultimately, despite its storming success with the press, Meadham Kirchhoff failed to sustain itself commercially. In order to bottle a chintzy aesthetic for a general audience, a distillation process which involves pieces anyone could connect with is necessary.
Cathrine Hammel founded her company in 1997. In effect, she is an enduring force in Norway’s fashion scene. A scan of her archives will reveal a steady progression in her work, a confident acceptance of one’s talent and ability to create. Her work is self-described as personal but it’s something she hopes connects with other Scandinavian women with its approach to gender equality and sustainability, two intrinsic tenets of Nordic society.
For Spring 2019, she created a series of tableaus which reflected a summery mood. It was as if a group of girls flocked to a vacation home for a weekend, indulging in local delights and in some downtime. The lineup consisted mostly of dresses which were in white or black and boasted relaxed silhouettes. There was a sense of Scandinavian simplicity but she injected an element of surprise and fancy with the use of gossamer-like tulle.
Kit Wan, like Cathrine Hammel, was intent on updating the codes of Scandinavian style. He induced streetwear a degree of intrigue—he describes the focus of his work as “exploring manga, high-tech, sci-fi and mechanical aesthetics.” One could be quick to quip that his shows could look fresh from the wardrobe of Pokémon’s Ash Ketchum or a Studio Ghibli film but the way he works with tailoring and surface decoration is quite inventive and aspirational. (A special mention also for his diverse cast.)
Recent graduate Tonje Plur echoed the same themes as contemporaries at Oslo Runway: Opulence is as much engrained in the narrative as minimalism. The thirteen looks were marked by their extravagant proportion, florid fabrics and crystal-encrusted evening wear. It was reminiscent of Halpern and Richard Quinn. They references weighed this collection down. However, the way she mixed textures and added graphic prints which pleasantly contradicted the formality of the show.
Oslo Runway distinguished itself from Copenhagen Fashion Week by stripping back the polish of Scandinavian fashion, the immaculate minimalism, and bold modernism. It replace it with something quirkier, a playful edge worth revelling in. Even Cathrine Hammel managed to pose a counterpoint to Nordic minimalism without forgoing her identity.
The thing is: at emerging fashion weeks you are often presented with the awkward transitioning periods of companies as they transform from fledgling businesses into serious operations. There is an aesthetic confusion which thwarts entire collections. However, in Oslo, designers like Anne Karine Thorbjørnsen and Michael Olestad are capitalising on eclecticism and eccentricity, traits which catapult locations like London to centre stage. Oslo is up next.