Elise By Olsen

EBO: Hello

SP: Hi Elise, did I call too early? Do you still need time to get your tea?

EBO: No, no - I just had to sit down quickly. What's going on?

SP: Not too much, we are in our studio, preparing everything for the show

EBO: Nice, how's the show going to be? Is it going to be a digital or an actual physical thing as well?

SP: It's going to be a physical thing, but we have this pretty huge space and only invited a limited amount of people, so we can guarantee social distancing.

EBO: Oh that sounds good, I mean we are on the verge of wave two here in Norway - the connection is a little bad, hold on

SP: Can you hear me?

EBO: It's making a little weird sound in the background

SP: Is there an echo? or...

EBO: I just think if you want to record it, we should fix the wifi. Wait, should I call you back?

SP: Okay, give me 3 mins.

EBO: Yep, cool


(Changing Room)


SP: Okay, should be better now!

EBO: Yeah, no I was just thinking if you will record it, then maybe it's better to have a good connection.

SP: Yeah, true

EBO: I am also sorry that this call has taken forever to organize. It has just been like crazy... usually, it's not like this. Because I'm working on this cultural institution that I am establishing, within archival practices and printed matter.

SP: Right. Right! Sounds very exciting!

EBO: Thank you. I am excited to present it all soon, I've been working on this for the past two years.

SP: So, how is this time for you? The pandemic, and everything that has been going on?

EBO: Well, the thing is, call me pessimistic, but I think we are just at the beginning of this pandemic, you know? I was imagining, in March, April or even May, after summer stuff is going to be way different.

SP: Yeah, me too.

EBO: What has happened here is that March, April, May, were kind of bad. We were obviously in lockdown, but then in June, July we opened up and it has been more free – way too free in my opinion. What's happening now is that we are probably going back into lockdown in September, but it's impossible to predict. Usually I have been traveling very consistently for the last five years, a couple of times every month, which first of all, it's not sustainable for the planet, not for me, neither my health, nor is it sustainable for my work. At the beginning of this year I felt, before any virus, that I need time to do the actual work, I can't just fly around and, represent and do all those different things and go to events or fashion weeks and whatever. So I was in Italy in early February and went back to Oslo and that's when stuff kind of blew up. I was supposed to go to New York as well that whole month, but then I obviously had to stay home. I've been staying here in my childhood home with my parents pretty much ever since. My dad has had an ongoing serious illness and is in the high risk group, we've had to be extra careful, but it's been good to just spend time with him and be present.

SP: True.

EBO: That's been important, and then I have also been really productive, there were no events to attend and no social pressure. I'm an introvert and I like to stay at home doing my kind of stuff, so for me it has been perfect. Of course, there's a lot of challenges financially, since I am dependent on working with a lot of brands and advertisers. From the companies' side, this financial struggle has also been a bit of an excuse at times, though. When you think about it they have saved a lot of money; no travel, no marketing campaigns, no production... No shows! And they have re-used old collections! Many brands have double, tripled, their e-commerce revenue. Part of the reason behind these recent budget cuts, and why some of these financial systems, or even ways of operating institutions, are failing in crisis, is because they were never sustainable in the first place.

SP: Totally, that's very true. How do you feel about, staying in your house or town where you grew up and not constantly being in big cities such as Milan, New York or Paris? How has that affected you? In terms of creativity?

EBO: I feel a lot of things. I feel that it's been really important for me to just process these past few years as well, because when stuff is just on a roll and you're just going, going, going at all times, it's like you never have the time to actually treat what you have done in the past years.
And also another thing which is very dangerous when you live a life like this, is that you never sort of tap yourself on the shoulder because you're always on to the next thing. By staying home, you get the time to reflect and say, I did good on this or to be critical and evaluate yourself and say this was not good.
Creativity wise, it feels very much like going back to where I started. Because I started out of this childhood bedroom, essentially started working and networking with people through Skype, Email and Facebook chats or DM's. So it feels very much returning to that foundation, which I think has been very important to me. I find it important to stay in your own bubble at times, for good and bad. Another thing is that fashion is decentralizing, and increasingly happening outside of the big main fashion cities.

SP: Hmm, right. It's also interesting, I don't know whether that was planned or not, but in your last Wallet, you choose to take tech as the main topic. Was that planned or was it more like, now it’s the time where we have to do this subject?

EBO: Well, the thing is that actually what we had planned for that issue was to do a production issue. And because we were planing to do this in March and April, it was a tricky time to do a production issue, the factories were closing and the whole situation was just unpredictable.
We try for every Wallet issue to be timeless and to be able to exist in different contexts and therefore we didn't want to be too Covid-19 specific. Of course, we had to mention it, but we didn't want to make an issue that pertains to that only. So we skipped doing the production issue and swapped issue eight with issue nine, and ran with the tech theme now instead. It has been ever so relevant because during these times, fashion has embraced virtuality and the Internet in a whole different way. It has also been interesting to be critical about that, thinking about what does that mean? We have been stimulated and exposed to so much information every day. Then also looking beyond the digital sphere and considering biotechnology, data, e-commerce – other variations of the fashion-tech relationship. I think it's a very interesting and responsive timing.

SP: Yeah, it's a very interesting issue. So what do you think, can digital fashion as a new generation of fashion can really exist? Do you think, we are now going into a future of fully digital shows and presentations where even the clothes are produced digitally? Can this be something coming up in the next few years?

EBO: God, I hope not! The past few months have shown us how important tangibility really is. Physical or sensible experiences are so important, whether it's a print publication, garment, exhibition or a fashion show. Having said that, I also think that the fashion system obviously needs to be rewired. There's a lot of the modes of distribution and production and communication that have vanished. We need a fresh start and rethink the mediation of fashion, whether it is the fashion show or other display formats, but I definitely believe in the physical and spacial experience of fashion.

SP: I agree

EBO: Just the amount of content we are exposed to these days, with Instagram, Zoom, Instagram lives, digital viewing rooms, whatever it is, it's so saturated. I am sick of Instagram. I'm sick of just scrolling and being exposed to so much information, it's very tiring. I think that this should become and it can be to an extent a standstill, where we are confronted with ourselves. For our generation, I think that it's become very rare to be confronted with yourself, with your emotions and feelings. Without any social stimulation or the Internet I think that could be healthy if one can do it. But that's the problem, I don't think a lot of people can do it because I think generally people are very afraid of ourselves in some sense. And then again it also has very scary consequences when it comes to mental health. We forget to stop and reflect on certain things, so by it being forced I think it would be a good thing, yeah.

SP: Yeah, also with our upcoming collection, we are always questioning how personal can clothes be?
We are implementing the patterns of garments in our webshop to let the consumers choose between the process as well as the final product.

EBO: Oh, wow.

SP: So everyone can make the product themselves with own fabrics or out of old garments. We are questioning what design in terms of fashion actually is nowadays? Is a designer still needed to actually design another piece of clothing, or how democratic can this process look like? But what's your perspective on that? Can the process and personality of a product become more valuable than the finished product?

EBO: I agree. Collectivity and this whole, we are in this together sort of thing, embracing autonomy and individuality has become extremely important! I think we are also living in a time where fashion is, again thanks to social media and the Internet, has in many ways become a very superficial and collective thing that you share with others. You wear this piece and therefor you flex and fit into that specific group.
It’s all about social association, and social layers to dressing to style and fashion. I think that this is also something that will become less prioritized and, the only reason why certain types of designers have been doing really well with this flashy style less individual and logomaniac design. Is because they express more a; look at me, I fit into this category alongside the attitude of “this is expensive and I can afford it“ or “this is exclusive and I'm a part of it”. You know, there's been this whole, show off culture, and there will be an antidote to that.

And I'm very supportive of you doing this project with the pattern making, it's a solid concept.
I don't know if you saw it, but I did this foldable pocket pamphlet publication, for the Russian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, which had to be cancelled this year. We sort explored the idea of domestic publishing, home publishing and what one can do with simply a regular inkjet printer. Production and distribution of publications and magazines and catalogs and whatever have been completely disrupted in this crisis. It is also interesting to see if people actually will print and interact with it. So, I want to see some data and see how many people actually, downloaded it and if some maybe just downloaded it and didn't print it. That's also fine. I just want to see if people are interacting with it and how they consume information. It's an interesting thing to consider, also about the consumption and mediation of fashion.

SP: You made this little interview with Yusuf (Hassan), I think.

EBO: Yeah.

SP: I met him once in New York.
He is a very interesting guy also because he explained to me then how he does his zines and publications with a Xerox printer on very basic paper. And I think it's really interesting how something so easily done can become so valuable and important, if the right information and context is behind it.

EBO: Yeah, I also like the physicality of that being potentially printed and foldable.
I like the foldable aspect of it. I think that it's interesting to see how people will grapple with this A4 sheet of paper.

SP: Right.

EBO: I was very pleased with both the conversation with Yusuf and also some of the others, also with Isabelle Graw from Texte zur Kunst and Cecilia (Dean) from Visionarie. There are so many interesting perspectives and I think the idea of “the fashion publisher” hasn't been a spectacle. That position hasn't been so sensationalized as other positions in fashion like “the designer” or maybe “the writer” to an extent, or “the stylist”, “the photographer”. But the fashion publisher embodies such an interesting and important role in fashion.

SP: Very much, yeah. With these conversations that we're doing right now, we aim to produce something that is more intertwined and not so distant from all those aspects of fashion, because we think many times there are those very basic forms of interviews or very standardized critiques that always come from a very distant field and perspective in which only then the writer, publisher or editor takes part.

EBO: And that's over here, then you have the designer over here, and the photographer over here, but you know, for our generation, I think, that's what we do; we work across different fields, our generation is sort of bringing these things together in novel formats and different ways of working together. And it happens organically as well, for other generations this interdisciplinarity seems perhaps more forced.

SP: So you think, a multidisciplinary approach is essential today?

EBO: Yeah and you know, I think that is incredible that your collection and your brand is a reflection of this new sort of mode of working.

SP: We're trying to.

EBO: But if you're trying to, then you are doing that.
I think it's just as blunt as that, that's what you're doing. That has also been my approach, being a young woman in this industry, you just have to claim it. You just have to be; this is what I'm doing and that's what I'm doing. Everything is an attempt to an extent and it's always learning by doing, but I think it's very powerful in just saying “this is what I do” and stand by that.

SP: True on the other hand it's also hard. Working throughout many creative fields, how can you make the work in its own field very pure and powerful?

EBO: First of all, I don't know if I do, that's up to you to decide. For me, I'm mostly a facilitator, that's what I consider myself, absolutely. In my work, publishing, editing or doing curatorial projects, in the form of an exhibition, print or digitally, it's all facilitating. What I'm good at is having an overall vision, bringing incredibly talented people into a certain mix and having conversations and not just listening to them, but actually and actively involving people from different fields.

SP: Right.

EBO: I think this is also the reason why, there's this idea of “the creative director” rather than a designer now because that's how they work, you know a designer now has to have this overall perspective.
It's not just designing clothes, it's not just doing what we perceive as designers to do, it crosses so many different fields!

SP: It has become much more than just designing clothes.
You also teach the art direction course at Polimoda right?

EBO: Yeah.

SP: How has that affected you? teaching or mentoring.

EBO: That's the thing for me, I was specifically mentioning them, I can't be teaching. I don't have any education myself, I don't want to be teaching. I don't feel comfortable taking up that space and saying “this is how it's done” and doing these uptight presentations, because that's not what I'm here for. But what I can do is, I can share my experience and I can learn from their experiences – talking and having genuine and mutual conversations and learning experiences. And that's basically what my mentor title would be, compared to simply a teacher.

SP: Right.

EBO: Because I'm very critical of the educational system myself and have always been questioning it. On the other hand, I have this certain kind of respect for teachers because that's a very specific role and it is a complex role. What I can contribute are conversations and those have been interesting and generous, because, there's just so much to give and take. But also some of the students are older than me, which is kind of an interesting dynamic, another point on why I don't teach.

SP: Right.

EBO: I'm just saying, that is also a cultural thing, you know you are supposed to sort of have this authority.

SP: It's very much is this old system in place.

EBO: Yeah, it is.

SP: How do you think it can be adapted?

EBO: I think that...

SP: The Internet?

EBO: Education is no longer about obtaining information. It is no longer about becoming knowledgeable, that's not what it is about anymore, because we have literally access to information and knowledge through a Google search. But education can give you guidance, and curation and suggesstions to what you should be looking at in terms of reading lists, technicality or even specific niche parts of history etc. The other thing that it does, which is very important in good and bad ways, it can make you very critical. I think that's what education should do, it should discipline you but also make you critical of yourself, the system, your work and the world we live in. You should be able to sort of process and reflect on on all of these things and question them and I think this is what it allows you both the time and the space to do that.

SP: True. The Internet on one side made us more conscious about certain topics, but on the other side, might as well made us victims of big institutions and companies forcing us to invest into a certain way of life and ideology.

EBO: Yeah, and then, you know, that's the other thing, it needs to make you critical of the information that is out there and the information that you are Googling or reading and finding in mass media.

SP: Exactly. I mean, I had some questions prepared, but most of them have already just been answered in this conversation.

EBO: Yeah.

SP: Well, I mean, one question I think is really interesting in terms of your practice is talking about your bigger goal in terms of fashion? Especially because of you working throughout all those fields as a curator, publisher, editor, what are you aiming for by doing all of that?

EBO: This is always a really hard question to answer because I have a very specificnarrative in mind. I have this inkling of where I want to go, and that vision is definitely not manifested in a specific position or doing a specific project, it's not really about that, but I just know, like, the notion and direction of where I'm heading, you know? I also don't know if I have any goals for my work in fashion specifically, because I don't even know if I feel like I'm a fashion person, I think that I have very much one foot in and one foot out of this industry.

And that's also why I'm able to look at it with a whole other sort of critical or distant view because I do not have to attend all the parties, I'm not dependent on being invited to all those shows, dependent on commercial interest or money or even advertising to a certain extent. I am not dependent on that. For me, it doesn't matter if I'm invited to this certain fashion show or press event or an exhibition opening or whatever. I think this is also parts of the reason why fashion criticism has been so contested in the recent years, because most people who considers themselves a fashion critic, writer or journalist does not seem to have integrity in their field. It's a shame, because they are dependent on attending the press shows, getting flown into shows, it's a part of that economy, getting sponsored clothes. There is little to no money in criticism or writing, because all the money that used to be spent on the written word, is prioritized on visual content.

SP: Unfortunately, yeah.

EBO: Perhaps that’s a goal for me, having that distance. I wouldn't say neutrality because I think that's quite utopian and I don't think that's feasible or possible, even, today. Rather, it's about integrity, it's about critical integrity. It's about having integrity in your work, being genuine, authentic because that's the only thing you really have, the only thing. When you start fucking up your authenticity and when your readers no longer believe in what you say or think that you are fueled by specific interests, that is when you're not going to have any viewers or readers or followers. It's very easy to see through that today and I think our generation sees through that stuff so easily. So yes, for me, that's something that I want to maintain, integrity and a certain distance.

SP: Yeah.

EBO: There's a lot of exciting projects I want to do and conversations I want to have, of course. I feel very lucky and privileged to be able to do all of this, operate my own business at a quite young age, previously have traveled the world, so I don't necessarily feel restless right now. That's very lucky. That sort of comfortability also means that I can stimulate creative dissatisfaction, which is great. It can make you hungry and angry to an extend as well as critical to all these different things that are happening, creating solutions or antidotes to whatever you're frustrated about. That can be very powerful, angriness and frustration is something that honestly has fueled every single project I've done. Recens Paper for example, came out of a frustration towards mass media youth magazines at the time. Wallet is a frustration because I felt there was no commentary publication in fashion prioritizing the written word. And, this one book that I'm working on is a frustration to the established art world and the cultural institution which I'm working on right now, is a frustration towards the culture of people throwing away magazines and printed matter and not guarding or archiving them.

SP: I also think, coming from those well-established countries such as Norway and Switzerland, with this privilege and having this safety.

EBO: Yeah.

SP: We should be thinking critically! And we should take into consideration how to rethink the pre-existing systems.

EBO: Yes, and acknowledge that safety, comfortability, luck and privilege is all really important, it affects your work, lifestyle and mindset, professional and personal, for the good and bad.

SP: Yes. I agree.

EBO: So I think that's something very important, especially in a time now which is fueled by this political and social turmoil as well as a civil rights movement which is as global as ever because of the Internet and social media.

SP: Totally!

EBO: Yeah, It's you know, it's a very interesting and complex time right now.
I'm excited to see your collection. When is everything coming out?

SP: We are having the show on the 29th of August.

EBO: Okay,

SP: We will maybe also have a Livestream, I'll send you the link if we will.
Or definitely some photos after the show.

EBO: Yeah, I would love to see it. I would love to come, the only problem is that I just got the news that Norway is becoming a red zone country like next week, which means that I would have to quarantine for ten days if I enter your country.

SP: No worries, travelling might not be the best idea right now.
I'll send you an invitation anyway, just so you have it.

EBO: Thanks. And you should also just keep in mind, now you know about the library project and if you have any sort of thoughts on that or, something that I need to have in the collection.

SP: Sure.

EBO: Speak soon, good luck with everything.

SP: Thank you, you too!

EBO: Bye, Bye - Bye

SP: Bye Elise

13.08.2020 (Edited 19.08.2020)