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In Conversation with Nicolas Ottersten

Photography by Haruki Horikawa. Styling by Eunice Jera Lee. Grooming by Pace Chen. Models: Matt King at Next and James Hampson at FM Agency. Photographer’s Assistant: Sylwia Bajek. All clothing, Nicolas Ottersten.

London-based Swede Nicolas Ottersten is a designer engineering his own masculine elegance with silent accuracy, yet he isn’t afraid to speak up when it comes to the repetitive rhythm of trends or the notion of too much fashion. In fact, when presenting his menswear collection in the Central Saint Martins BA graduate show, the designer based his entire line on sustainability. Still, Nicolas is accepting and aware of fashion’s environmental challenges. He isn’t single-handedly trying to save the earth, he’s just “trying to raise the question.”

The resulting collection inhabits a space between traditionally austere Savile Row tailoring and youthful digital-print-and-DIY creations. Having worked at Acne, Nicolas’ Scandinavian roots transpire in fluid Oliver Twist-inspired silhouettes and earthy hues, but the collection came from Scotland, where he sourced the tweed and wool from the famed Harris Tweeds. Dossier caught up with the recent graduate to discuss on his aesthetic obsessions, the hamster wheel of fashion and why New York feels more like home.

Modesta Dziautaite: How did you first become interested in fashion?

Nicolas Ottersten: I decided on [becoming a] menswear [designer] at an early age. Clothes have always been an interest, but I’ve always felt that it’s hard, for me, to understand the aesthetics of how a woman wants to be. So it’s been a very natural progression: I basically design what I like to wear. I have this kind of ideal that what’s modern does not change or get outdated. It’s the same as when you see a good chair or a good table or Danish designers like Arne Jacobsen—it’s timeless but has a sense of modernity. People need to start considering this fast-fashion consumption of high street and look back to [clothing's] original purpose. Fashion is consuming in itself; we need to put a break on that word.

Modesta: What was the starting point when working on your graduate collection?

Nicolas: I guess it started with a story of a nomad traveling the world. During his travels, he meets this orphan boy and he takes him on. He understands this boy doesn’t want to live in an orphanage and just wants to just enjoy life and nature, and he goes back to his wife and adopts him. It’s kind of something from the last century—that important time for me when menswear was about comfort and buying something and taking care of it.

Modesta: Is that how the sustainability factor comes into it?

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Nicolas: What I want to do is not create an identity for someone, but [for them] to print [their] own identity onto it. I’ve heard that if something is handwoven, it’s slightly irregular. That’s why I love vintage linens, for that worn-in feel. Right now, I don’t think people have time to reflect on anything and digest it—even high fashion. I don’t think we’re meant to, as humans, digest this much. We need a slight break from the speed because we need to catch up. Traveling to Scotland and seeing 40 people around the island who sit in their garage, in their back yard and weave by hand is absolutely fascinating. It’s another level of craftsmanship. I found it fascinating that they create the fabric first and then it’s made into fashion through a whole different stage. I guess, ultimately, I wanted to do something relating to that.

Modesta: You spent a year working at Kenzo. How did it influence your sensibility, as it seems so different to your collection?

Nicolas: Kenzo was great; it’s like Japan’s version of Paul Smith. In the beginning, I thought: Is this something for me? But then I tried to remember that your education is like a toolbox—you try to pick up on aspects you’re not safe on because you learn more. Then I realized [Kenzo] was not for me, from a personal taste level, but I got a lot out of that year by learning about prints and colors. Sometimes people ask, “Who do you design for?” Obviously I design for myself, but I’d rather design for the person behind the camera than the person in front of the camera.

Modesta: Do you think fashion is something that can be taught?

Nicolas: I think fashion can be taught to a certain level. It’s like football; as long as you’re determined, you can reach the premiership. But I think you need to be born with the talent. For instance, with someone like [Yohji] Yamamoto, you can tell [his talent] is intrinsic. That’s why I like Japanese design, silhouette-wise. It’s more challenging than European design. It’s just all about what you make of it.

Modesta: What are your aesthetic obsessions?

Nicolas: Abstract art. For me it summarizes everything you know about life; using media in a childish way, almost through a child’s eyes, which you can’t judge. If I had to have something on my wall, it’d be [Jean-Michel] Basquiat. Also, SOME/THINGS magazine makes me feel like, “Oh, this is why I do what I do.” And I love New York! When I get off the plane, I should feel like it’s more pollution but it’s like I’m home. I don’t know why. The sidewalks are broad, the buildings are tall, the smell is interesting… I’ve got love for that city!

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