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Beyond The Basics

The walls are raw. The lights are dim. The room rectangular. There is a crowd buzzing between rows of wooden benches. Plastic cups filled with sparkling wine. The runway show for Avenue’s Spring/Summer’17 Collection is about to begin. Music starts. Model after model strides down the narrow runway, between the wooden benches where people armed with smartphones, witnessing the clothes through their digital screens. 

just as quickly as it began, it is over. Fragments, memories, of what has just been seen, linger in the air. The crowd exits into autumn’s wet greyness. The rectangular room is left dim and raw, holding only the empty wooden benches.

Two days later, two of the designers behind the brand are seated at table on an unusually lively Monday evening at Litteraturhuset in Oslo. Voices talking loudly in the background, cutlery clinging, glasses and coffee cups chinking. The usual trio consists of Espen Follestad, Gustaf Gyllenhammer and Ingvild Abrahamsen, now represented by the latter two, whom in addition to being work partners also happen to be partners in life.

Joining forces as likeminded indie creatives with nerdy aesthetic hangups, the three of them started the Norwegian fashion brand Avenue back in 2012. The original plan was to only show their collections through videos published online, but catering to a local audience, they decided to host an event to showcase their latest designs. The result – the runway show presented last October  – was still within that strict and nerdy aesthetic framework.

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Ingvild: We wanted to create an intimate and relaxed show. Nothing pretentious. People love events. We wanted to do something where people could come and experience Avenue. It’s part of the fashion industry to have a fashion show, and it’s fun to gather people and create something around them.

It finally felt right for them to do a runway show and present the clothes live for the audience to experience the fabrics in movement, up close, with their own eyes. The music playing in the background was produced by the Oslo-based DJ and music producer Annette Kvithyll, whom also goes by the name PurPurrPurple. Ingvild explains that they have collaborated with her before, using her music in their videos for the Autumn/Winter’15 Collection. 

«They shall stand the test of time. If you look at furniture design; what was created sixty years ago is still hot today, because it’s designed well. We like to make things that last.»

Gustaf: It is aesthetically pleasing. We had placed the audience really close to the where the models were walking, so that you could see the clothes close up. Often, the audience is placed far away from the runway. 

When they started out back in 2012, their aim was, and still is, to create clothes they would wear themselves. Back then, that meant unisex, as they all seemed to wear a similar style of clothing.

They also share a common interest in music, having all been involved in the hardcore scene. Espen and Gustaf played in several bands, and Ingvild and Gustaf met at a hardcore concert in 2005. 

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Gustaf: We all have the same background, and we share a common indie interest, if you can call it that. Everything is indie. I use the word to mean ‘alternative’. We’re all vegetarians and alternative. We’re really quite nerdy about our aesthetic.

Ingvild: We like the same clothes. I don’t wear that much feminine clothing and I didn’t want to design girl clothes as it didn’t feel natural to me when we started out. I used male clothing as inspiration for my women’s clothes when I worked on my own. It’s just for these last few collections that we have made both male and female clothing.

Gustaf: We use the same fabric for both styles, which is a conscious decision. Also, the cuts are quite similar on the male and female pieces. We use the same patterns; we just scale it down for the female clothes. When the brand started out, we had a stronger focus on this unisex aspect. We were very early with that. Now everyone does it. That’s maybe why we’ve moved on. 

Ingvild: We tend to shy away from everything that becomes the norm. 

Gustaf: You have to always move forward and think about the future. We are a crew of crazy perfectionists who are never satisfied. Everything we do is very thought through. We think a lot.

Going back to what united the group, it is safe to say that a common theme is their obsession with aesthetics, finding common ground in architecture, art, culture, design, music and movies.

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Gustaf: But we’re not identical. Not clones. 

Ingvild: We are three different generations in a way. I belong to the younger part, and I have a very different experience of our music environment than say Espen, because we entered it at different times. 

As they talk, the couples fiddle with the objects around them absentmindedly. They share drinks and exchange looks, referring to one another to see if what they are saying has consensus with the group. It’s a sort of conversation between themselves, where most of the subject matter is common knowledge. They find they’re repeating themselves and finishing what the other one is saying.

So, why did you decide to start Avenue?

Gustaf: We all have a background in clothes and we were anxious to start something of our own.

Ingvild: I studied Clothing Design at the National Academy of Arts in Oslo. And Espen and Gustaf have worked with clothes before. We had talked about starting our own brand for a long time. Gustaf and Espen started while I was doing my own stuff. Then I left that to start working with Avenue.

Gustaf: That is when it became what it is now.

Ingvild: There’s not many people working in fashion in Norway, nor are there many people who focus on the creative, artsy part of designing. We wanted to offer people clothes that we would have worn and that we felt was lacking in the market. The aesthetic behind it is critical. It must have a good overall image.

Gustaf: We try to create a good aesthetic around the brand. That has been important from day one. Everything is connected aesthetically and there is a red thread tying it all together. A lot of thought is put into it and there are a lot of references behind it. Nothing is random.

Ingvild: We have called what we have designed up until now basic clothing, but with this collection, we have taken it one step further. We want to show clothes that are not just basic. 

Gustaf: Over the past two years, everyone has started to make basic clothing.

Ingvild: So now we want to develop the brand into something more.

Gustaf: It’s a natural development.

Ingvild: We wish to make good items that last a long time, through different epochs and during different trends. If you create something basic, it doesn’t have to be put on sale, and it can last through different style periods or seasons.

Gustaf: They shall stand the test of time. If you look at furniture design; what was created sixty years ago is still hot today, because it’s designed well. We like to make things that last. A good style does not have to go out just because the season changes and you are supposed to put out a new collection.

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What was your dream when you started the brand?

Ingvild: Well, it has been, and I guess still is, to create high fashion in Norway that can reach out internationally. 

Gustaf: That has been one of our main focuses since day one.

Ingvild: We are aiming abroad, but we have to work a bit with Norway first.

How does one succeed internationally?

Ingvild: Who knows? The Internet? It is important to do a show, create show pieces and attract interest from fashion magazines to shoot the clothes. It is a bit more difficult when you design basics, because they do not stand out in the same way. You have to try to be noticed. It is hard work to get outside of Norway. Our philosophy is that you should work hard over a period of time – it doesn’t have to happen instantly. It takes time to reach a certain level. I would rather use a lot of time to achieve something good and well done. The quality has to be high. 

Ingvild pauses and looks at Gustaf. He repeats what she just said in similar wording and agrees. 

Ingvild: The next step now, is to get some shops abroad to stock our line.

Gustaf: From our online shop we sell to the whole world. That is going really well.

It is safe to believe that avoiding conformity is probably why the group have not shown their collections during the newly launched Oslo Runway – Norway’s answer to Fashion Week.

Ingvild: We have thought about it, but maybe we’d do more of our own thing at the same period of time. This year we showed a bit off-season. But apparently, that’s hip these days. People show to sell clothes to stores. That’s the negative side of showing your collection off the runway season.

Gustaf: The good part of fashion week is that all the people in the industry are gathered in the city. It is a good thing that things are happening in the fashion industry in Norway.

Ingvild: The people behind Oslo Runway are doing a great job. They are taking it to another level than what Oslo Fashion Week was. It’s a good initiative.

Gustaf: A lot of cool things are happening here these days as well. 

Ingvild: People are becoming more and more interested in fashion. It would be nice if people where courageous enough to try new and unknown fashion brands. Norwegians buy what they have seen twenty something times on a blog or Instagram. That’s true of the whole industry – it’s not often that someone dares to be a frontrunner or do something different.

Gustaf: Norwegians like it safe.

Is it difficult to live off fashion in Norway?

Ingvild: Yes.

Gustaf: No, it is not that difficult. It depends. It is a lot of work, a hard profession.

Ingvild: You can go all in commercially and get the hottest bloggers on your team. But then you sell out. It is a bit about who you create fashion for. If you want to reach out to the masses, then you can do that, but if you want to reach those individuals who don’t want to look like everyone else, then it might take a bit longer to be able to live off it. We’re in the latter group. We want to reach a niche audience. 

Gustaf: But you reach whomever you reach. Fashion is like music, it is very subjective. Everyone has their own style, their own preferences.

Ingvild: It is different how people experience our clothes.

Gustaf: I do not think it is easy and of course the more commercial you are, the easier it is, and the more avant-garde you are, the harder it gets. At least to sell more. It is not always media and marketing that influences sales. There is no right or wrong.

Ingvild: There are not that many arenas in Norway to show a different side of fashion. I think that is why things are a bit slower here. It is interesting when fashion is leaning towards… I won’t say art, but something that is about more than just the clothes. When there is a whole concept present.

The three of them still have jobs on the side, but less and less time is spent working on projects aside from Avenue. They have a studio at Majorstua and a showroom at Frogner. Before they moved the studio into Gustaf and Ingvild’s home, they had to commute one hour to a studio that Ingvild rented at Ensjø, the other side of the city. It became an effort to go there in the evenings after they finished their day jobs. 

Gustaf: We work a lot from the studio. It is pretty cool because it is also a part of our home. Espen lives close by. It is quite nice to work where you live. You can just roll out of bed and go to work, but at the same time it can also be a bit annoying because you never leave your apartment. 

Gustaf: It is a big advantage to be more people working together. You can make decisions together, you are a team. You do not get so lonely. There is also always someone else to blame.

He laughs.

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Ingvild: We discuss a lot, but we do not disagree that much.

Gustaf: It is also nicer to sit in the studio at night, drinking coffee when you are three people, than if you are alone. 

Ingvild: You go a bit crazy working only by yourself. You also get a lot more done when you are more people. 

We revisit the place where our conversation started, the runway, indicative of their desire to be at the forefront. Showing their collection in newly opened creative space at Bjølsen in Oslo, where runway shows have not been held before, only underlines their need to push forward and avoid the mainstream.

Ingvild: We wanted to show our collection in a space where people haven’t had runway shows before.

Gustaf: It is a very cool space. It is very raw.

Ingvild: They have a lot of parties there. It is cool vibe around it. I hope people had a good time.

Gustaf: And that they managed to understand the whole concept with the clothes, the music, the space – the whole package.

Ingvild: I wanted people leave feeling that they experienced something, not just think: Oh, clothes.

As our conversation comes to an end, the environment around us is still very lively. Dressed in matching dark sweaters, the couple put on their outerwear, dismiss themselves politely and exit into the cold, dark October evening. The only evidence of their recent present, is an empty bottle and a wrinkled napkin left behind.

Visit Avenue here: avenuewebsite.com