Words Martin Mitchell
Pictures Jesper Drejer
Seasonless fashion has been discussed for some time, but due to the logistically and financially logical thing about gathering buyers and press at specific places on specific times, Kjetil doesn’t think that would work. ”People don’t want to travel to different showrooms all year long”, he says.
His way of doing things is to look back at how it was done back in the day. Brands would only present a spring/summer and a fall/winter collection: “If it is only up to me we will continue to make two collections a year”, he says and adds: “Although you have to be able to re-think your strategy and make the changes necessary. We are doing things for a period, but also need to be realistic.”
This industry seems stuck in a position of constantly keeping the wheels turning and in order to do that, they keep feeding consumers with more and more clothes. As a result of that, the consumers have gained the habit of demanding new clothes constantly. As Kjetil puts it: “It’s a vicious circle we are taking part in.”
He believes there are alternatives to the fast paced development. One could be to increase stability in the product groups at which your brand excels. Make it go beyond season and maybe offer mid-season deliveries – having a strong base of essentials within all collections. And very important: have a good communication with the shops and make them understand that they can come to you.
”We need to service the shops more than they need to service us!”
Increased attention and communication
Recently Kjetil Aas and his brand, Armoire Officielle, has been gaining attention on different media including Soundvenue, Selectism, and Man of the World and that is a multifaceted experience Kjetil explains:
“We are getting this attention that we somehow need to live up to. We talk a lot about how we can use that attention and develop our brand further.”
Attention is something you are unable to control as a brand. For Kjetil and Armoire it is ambivalent. To get acknowledged for what you are doing is a great thing and can help a brand in a number of ways. At Armoire, they try to maintain the slowness in all phases of their brand. They have come this far and are now hoping the publicity they received can turn into a real breakthrough.
“I think that a big number of consumers, readers of magazines, think that as soon as you are relatively hyped then you’ve already become successful. This is far from the truth. This is because hype doesn’t equal great sales. Most buyers want reassurance about the longevity of garments within a brand. If they buy into a brand that is only hyped for a single season they are wasting their money!”
Kjetil explains that he used to be worried about the attention and whether people would grow tired of them because of the dynamics of the so-called ‘hypebeast’. At this stage he is not worried anymore, because, as he puts it “We are doing things at our own pace.”
At this point the number of buyers and shops is slowly increasing every season proving to Kjetil that they are not just a number in the line of brands fighting for their place in the endless row of fashion brands.
Talking about development, Kjetil and I turn our attention to his aesthetics. Not only in clothes but more specifically in his communication through social media. We agree that he shares a similar preference in style to the ones of Hay, Cereal-, and Kinfolk Magazine. They are all brands that are talk-of-town, and Kjetil and his brand Armoire Officielle is closely connected to this look.
It is easy to imagine a brand being recognized by a distinctive look for a period of time and then that look suddenly ‘goes out of fashion’. How does a brand withstand stagnation? Kjetil argues: “It’s about keeping up and progress slowly. You are influenced by your surroundings. And if you take a look at my Instagram-account from when we started I am sure you can see a progression.”
That progression is what Kjetil hopes will continue and he doesn’t view at it as a sign of danger, but merely as a sign of his own taste developing. Everything about Armoire Officielle and Kjetil Aas seems to be about embracing your own development, but at a slow pace. Small steps at all times. But maintaining your points of recognition.
Kjetil and Less Magazine have seen the approach to sustainable and slow clothes change within the Danish fashion industry and for the better at most parts. A few years back, the media covered slow fashion and sustainability merely as a trend.
“I see that it has been treated this way earlier. At the same time I sense a change in the way of talking about it (sustainability) and it is not being spoken of as a trend as much anymore. It’s a much more common thing in Denmark now. A consensus is being developed and it seems that most agree that we have to go in that direction.”
A big part of making sustainability and slow fashion a normal thing is the work done by DAFI and NICE, and especially Eva Kruse, says Kjetil. Their work have cast rings of change throughout the industry and a magazine like Costume even made a green stamp labeling all content sustainable in their magazine with it.
“I feel it is extremely positive that Costume launched their Green Stamp. And I think it’s the right way for them to approach in regards to their segment. They don’t do it because it’s a trend. I think they have launched it because it is simply not a trend anymore. Their readers have needs and they now adhere to those needs.”
On the other hand, consumers are growing increasingly tired of eco-this, eco-that, sustainability, and other often used words. It’s been used and misused to often, Kjetil claims. “It is also a big part of why we don’t talk about sustainability at our site.”
Instead, the focus is on other ways of talking about it: “We want to talk about other things but with the same goal and message in the end.” Once again, Kjetil explains to me the importance of not taking on too much. Taking small steps and doing something is better than doing nothing, Kjetil adds.
“If you are a smaller brand and don’t have the resources or the competences to do a lot, perhaps you could start by looking at injecting a single organic material to your collection and then taking small steps each season. It is important to say: We do this now, but we still need to work on that.”
To Kjetil it’s also of great importance to add that several Armoire Officielle pieces do not have a sustainable certificate. His viewpoints on cotton are not as black and white as I expected.
“What if you have a very bad quality eco-cotton and a great quality conventional cotton? Which is the most sustainable choice? I would any day choose the conventionally made cotton because it has a longer life span.”
It is a very complex topic, as he underlines. That is the very reason for him and his team to talk about slowness instead. If the slow consumption pattern of old days had been maintained he and I would not have this conversation, he tells.
A common dislike for Kjetil and Less Magazine is scarcity marketing. They never work, we agree. People don’t want to be told what to do, they want to think they came up with the idea of doing or not doing something. And if someone forbids them, they do it anyway. “I keep on claiming I quit smoking, but I also keep up smoking a cigarette once in a while”. People want to make their own choices.
The above is also true in times of presenting a collection for Kjetil. He prefers to talk about the timeless features in the collection and the longevity of a material and the overall aesthetics. “And then we can supply that it is made of tencel to add value. Then of course, we can explain what tencel is, because not many people know what that is.”
Making garments should always be about the aesthetics first. How the garments look, as Kjetil exemplifies: “If you create a product and the costumers walk into a shop they don’t know if it is eco-cotton or tencel or fair-trade or whatever. You are drawn to a piece of clothing because of the way it looks. And if they are not drawn by it they will not buy it and it will keep hanging there. You then end up producing more waste”.
The big three
To end the interview, we go back to where Kjetil spent a pivotal part of his career: the street referencing brands in Copenhagen. The Big Three as we called them while discussing: Wood Wood, Soulland, and Norse Projects. They, in Kjetil’s eyes, shaped Danish menswear into reaching never before seen international recognition.
Having knowledge about the segments of both worlds is great, he says. He explains to me how he observed having costumers aged 55 loving his work and young 18-year-old guys buying into Armoire while also being supporters of The Big Three.
“That is in many ways fantastic. I really want to maintain that. I want to be relevant for the 18-year-old and the 55-year-old. That is a great sign, I think.”
The segment of the big three is very much aware of new things and it is about being first-movers yet staying true to ones background. Coming from that part of the industry, Kjetil obviously appreciates the balance between street and classic menswear these brands embrace:
“I chose, what I like to call, a more classical and grown up approach when I started on my own. But their universe is still very intriguing to me. Especially Silas (Adler) at Soulland does great. I think he is really talented!”
These three brands have had a large impact on the development of Danish menswear in the last couple of years. Starting as a t-shirt brand, as in the case of Wood Wood, and as someone beyond the business like Silas Adler of Soulland, inspired a whole generation of young designers.
“I have a mixed feeling about all the brands launching in the footsteps of these three brands. I am of the personal belief that it gets irrelevant. It’s a story we’ve seen before. Not with the same dedication, though. It’s bandwagoning to be a part of it instead of creating something new. It’s not interesting”.
Kjetil is to me, now more than ever, interesting. By staying authentic and keeping his progress slow he stands out in the industry – but in the best possible way.