Interview: Astrid Andersen on NYC Swagger, Wu-Tang Clan, and Breaking the Scandinavian Design Mold

Interview: Astrid Andersen on NYC Swagger, Wu-Tang Clan, and Breaking the Scandinavian Design Mold

Interview by James Harris (@Dr_TacoMD)

Astrid Andersen is a designer that is blazing a path through the most impressive realms of men's style right now. She's stocked in some of the dopest stores in the world, can include current style icons in her fanbase, and is climbing the ladder towards veritable stardom—all this at the age of 28. But other than being fans of her sick, athletic-inspired clothing, Andersen is so new to the scene that we didn't know too much about her. When we had the chance to meet up with her during her first time visiting NYC, we immediately invite her in to chop it up. The conversation went way beyond what we expected, and was the first time Wu-Tang, Vlade Divac, and Topman all made a verbal appearance before 11 a.m.

Welcome to New York! So what do you think of the style and what you see on the street, or of what guys are wearing?
I wish I could stay longer. Or I wish that I knew when I was coming back. Four days is okay, but now I know it might be a long time before I come back. It’s such a relevant place for me right now, in terms of style references and just the whole mentality of how people present themselves. You see people dressing in the same clothes as in Copenhagen or London, but the guys here just carry themselves a different way. Maybe its just that my work is very influenced by male confidence and I always reference that. But that’s what you find in New York, I think. People wearing this stuff with such confidence that it just looks that much better. 

Like a very masculine swagger?
Yeah.

What do you see in London or Copenhagen?
You get a little bit of that, but it’s just that here, that guy isn't the odd one out. It’s like, these confident guys are walking down the street, and they don’t stick out. It’s more like a constant blend of it, and it’s really amazing.

 

...for my work I need to push it somewhere else. And this doesn’t sit with the scene in Scandinavia. I think I will always come out looking like the crazy designer...

 

Do you think you’re going to take anything back from New York? Will it affect what you create next season, or in your general approach?
I think so. I think it’s inevitable for me. After being here, I want to have these references visible in my work because I’m quite grateful for this scene. It’s what I feed off in my work. So I think there should be an element showing that this is where I take my inspiration from. I think that’s going to be visible next season.

There are a lot of athletic references in your work. Do you think that that’s always going to be the case, or has that just been true for a few seasons?
I think that’s always going to be the case, or at least from where how I feel about working right now. I think it’s just down to how I want to dress men or how I would want them to be dressed, and there’s always an athletic kind of reference within that. I mean I get really excited about the technical stuff as well, like when I go into Niketown and see all the laser-cut stuff or even the gear that they make for the Olympic teams, when you really read about how it’s “body scanned” and everything. That gets me just as excited as a tailor on Savile Row gets about wadding or cross-stitching.

You see it in every design house these days as well, sports references are becoming just as important as other factors. People are so anal about it, in the same way that they used to care about how everything was hand-stitched. Now it’s like the same level of luxury and concern, where everything is either laser-cut punched holes to create a breathing effect, or other crazy techniques. 

What’s the number one sport in your mind? Is it basketball?
Yeah.

 

...last season I was very obsessed with this old history about this Croatian, Vlade Divac, who used to play for the Lakers. I think he’s my all-time favorite.

 

You have said that you design for the player on the court, and the mentality he has on the court where he’s leading a team down the floor.
It’s a sport where they are a team, and the team spirit is so visible there, but it’s also like a one man’s game at the same time. It’s about playing up to each other and making one person shine. I love that whole mentality around that, they’re not afraid to shine, and they’re not afraid to give room to make this other person really just go for it. At the same time when they're lined up, they’re so uniform, and there’s something really powerful in that.

It's one of the only sports you can play 5-on-5, 1-on-1, and one guy can take over the court, or it can be a very team effort. Or, it could just one guy just absolutely taking over. Do you have a favorite NBA team?
I don’t actually. I don’t have a favorite NBA team at the moment.

Favorite player?
It varies for me a lot. Like last season I was very obsessed with this old history about this Croatian, Vlade Divac, who used to play for the Lakers. I think he’s my all-time favorite.

Did you watch that documentary on him [Once Brothers]? It’s kind of sad.
It’s pretty intense. I think it was after watching that that I decided on him. It’s about something more than just the history behind him so I would say he’s my favorite.

 

...if I show in Copenhagen, people will be like “Oh my God, what is he wearing?” and, “No one will ever wear that.” Whereas in London and here in New York, people would be like, “Oh that’s amazing, he looks sleek.”

 

He’s also an awesome dude, which really comes through in that movie. He’s just funny.
I love this Eastern European vibe as well. For me, I’m not saying he’s tacky, but I like the Eastern European aesthetic of, like, if you go into a home. As I said, I’m from Scandinavia and everyone is so obsessed about good taste and good solid furniture. I guess it’s my way of breaking free from that a little bit. I love going into these homes in the Mediterranean. They decorate their homes in such a different way than us—it’s actually decoration. Whereas in Scandinavia, it’s more about just stripping it down, to being all about function.

You mentioned this earlier today, but the reason why you present in London, or have a presence there is to get away from what you call a “narrow lane” in Danish design and aesthetics?
It is. Well it’s probably the definition of cool, Scandinavia at the moment. When you’re there, you kind of get that feeling as well. Acne is like, the way to do it? And I’m sure that if you just buy their things you will look like you’re just a very cool person. Anybody can do it.

What is the way to do it?
Almost like, just buy all their black clothes. I mean I’m in black as well [Laughs]...but that’s who I am. I’m not saying there's anything bad about it, but for my work I need to push it somewhere else. And this doesn’t sit with the scene in Scandinavia. I think I will always come out looking like the crazy designer and that’s actually not what my brand is about.

I don’t think we do crazy pieces. I think we do very sort of functional, sleek things as well. But if I show in Copenhagen, people will be like “Oh my God, what is he wearing?” and, “No one will ever wear that.” Whereas in London and here in New York, people would be like, “Oh that’s amazing, he looks sleek.”

When I learned that you were Danish, I was a little surprised, after seeing your work because it did have this very British intricacy. Elegance, but at the same time very masculine. So I want to ask you, why London?
I moved there when I was about, 18? I lived there for about a year and a half. That’s when I really realized what I wanted to do was clothes and fashion. I always felt creative, and when I was really young I used to paint. But I would always kind of get a picture of a painting and then paint that. People would be like, “Oh my God, you’re so talented,” but I always felt like, ”Yeah, but I just copied what someone else did.” I always felt a bit like a fraud.

 

I was always doing something that people really liked but no one knew how to place it anywhere.

 

When I was in London, I realized that there can be a creativity while making a product that’s not not meant to be art. That’s what London really taught me, and made me want to go and learn the craftsman side of it. So I went to Denmark and did my B.A., and then came back to London to finish my master degree at the Royal College. It was really during that time, at the Royal College, that I kind of got comfortable with my aesthetic.

When I was getting my bachelor degree in Denmark, I was always doing something that people really liked but no one knew how to place it anywhere. The questions would be, “Oh but which designers are you in the same lane as?” And it would always be, “Oh well I don’t really know, but is that really the most important question to be asking now?” They never asked that at the Royal College. It was never about, “Where does this fit in?” It was more about, “Let’s get 100% clear on what your direction is, everything else will fall into place."

Personally, I think London is the most exciting place for men's style right now. I think a lot of that is because of what you just spoke on, and there’s a crop of new designers who don’t fit in anywhere and don’t care that they don’t. They’re kind of defining this new genre between streetwear and higher-end luxury wear. Sean Samson, Kit Neale, Joseph Turvey, you, etc. No two of them within the genre look alike.
Yeah it’s true. Sean was like, a year before me. He was in the Man show a year before me. Then we ended up doing the Man show at the same time as well, and I remember people were like, “Are we just showing two things that are similar?” People didn't think sportswear could have as many options as tailored menswear.

 

We have to have the same kind of range within sportswear as we have in suits or tailoring.

 

I was like, “Yeah, but you’ve got 10 brands in here that are doing suits.” Like a suit has always been done, but no one questions that. There are 10 different suits, just in different fabrics or colors. There’s the same kind of room at the moment for 10 different tracksuits, but that’s taken these couple of years; proving that this is what people want. We have to have the same kind of range within sportswear as we have in suits or tailoring.

There’s really no recent precedent. Everything that’s coming out is just like, “Oh my God that’s amazing.” We haven’t seen this before.
This season I thought was so strong. It was I think the third season they did the London Collections: Men, and it was so good.

I think having the 200 year-old Savile Row heritage is a good foundation, but what I really appreciate is that institutions like Man, Fashion East, and all of British Fashion Week is that no one is afraid to incorporate the weird and the directional, so there's both a strong history and no hesitation in going to whatever’s next.
Well definitely. It also has to be said that the big sponsor is Topman, and they work from what is selling on the street. They know exactly what people on the street want to buy. They push what the streets want so they can feed from what's showing, and how can they push that to their own shop floor. I think that’s a clever way of actually promoting style that they know they can sell more easily in their shop as well. 

The Topman General Store, we don’t have that here. But they bring in cool brands that kids want, and they put them on their floor next to Topman to showcase that they, Topman, are relevant and in the same place as these brands that all the cool kids know and want.
It’s brilliant and pretty clever marketing. Topman is doing is actually admitting, “Ok, we feed off of these small guy...we survive when other people generate some kind of creativity that we can take things from or borrow from," which is totally what fashion is about. I have no problem with that.

I really applaud that they then give back in terms of sponsoring the whole unknown squad of designers. I think every high street retailer, who’s making 12 collections a year, making it impossible to have a creative team of their own, should give back somehow to the people that spend half a year researching “What do we do next?” 

You took a picture of that Wu-Tang art piece, are you a fan of hip-hop?
Yeah.

 

I am really obsessing over the Kanye album. I didn’t think I would be, but I am obsessing about it.

 

And you're a fan of Wu-Tang?
Well, Wu-Tang is definitely a constant for me. For this summer’s show, we played an acapella of “C.R.E.A.M.” It was so good, I really loved it actually. It was first an acapella version and then it went into an instrumental. Then, at the end, we played the full song. I think for me it’s just the way that they interact as a group. For me it’s a style reference as well.

Is it kind of like basketball? 
I feel it is. It’s all about one person shining, but when they’re together as well, it’s a very strong group mentality. I’d love to be able to create this universe where, if I saw a bunch of guys in my clothes they would look that uniform but still super individual. That’s what’s really exciting about them.

Who’s your favorite rapper of all time?
Of all time? I would probably say Method Man.

What era though? 
I don’t know why, I just really love it. I love that album with blue on the front, and he has the scary grills [
Judgement Day]. He’s very smooth, and that’s what I like. He’s always the one that comes in and is like...The Man.

Have you seen him live?
No I haven’t. Actually they’re coming this week. I don’t know how many of them, but they’ll be in Copenhagen, so I’ll have to go check it out.

I mean A$AP Rocky is a fan. Do you see that in the A$AP Mob?
Yeah. Totally. I just did a collab in the spring with a shop called Storm that we launched at FourTwoFour. They did a lookbook with Left Brain from Odd Future and Ian ConnorIt was really nice of them to do that lookbook, but it was a black and white thing. It was nice to do it as a collab with someone like Storm and FourTwoFour because doing a black-and-white thing was not really what my brand is essentially about, but it’s very much about what young kids want right now.

The whole Hood By Air thing is awesome, and I kind of liked doing that as a small little thing, just to see who would latch on and how quickly it would really sort of build. I was really blown away by the attention that that got, and also from the A$AP Mob. All their Twitter pictures is, like, worth probably five times more in marketing that it ever was in sales. [Laughs] That was kind of interesting. All the buyers in Paris this season were like, “Yeah but...what about the black print on a white t-shirt? Are you doing that again?”

Besides Wu-Tang, what hip-hop are you listening to right now? 
Well I do have to say right now, I am really obsessing over the Kanye album. I didn’t think I would be, but I am obsessing about it. I love it, I have to really evaluate why that is. [Laughs]

 

Givenchy is the best way to describe how much those two things, high fashion and hip-hop, can really generate for each other.

 

Do you like the new Jay Z album?
I do. That took a little bit longer to grow on me. I did actually feel like he’s rapping in a way that he didn’t used to? He’s almost rapping like Kanye, which is a little bit sad when you think about it. He’s supposedly the legend and Kanye is supposedly the student. But, with these two albums it does feel like those roles have been shifted quite a lot. I do love some tracks on that album, but I just had to get my head around the fact, maybe just accept, that he also is doing what is most sellable.

Do you think high-fashion, or the sector of the industry you occupy is embracing hip-hop? I mean, high fashion is definitely interacting with hip-hop right now, but we’re not sure that that will always be the case.
No. I think it’s a trend like a lot of things, but I think it will be a trend that will be here for a substantial time. It’s very clear that, you know you can hear Jay Z referencing Ricardo Tisci. It’s like “What happened there?” I thought that was Kanye doing that. [LaughsIt’s like, it’s everywhere. For those guys who mention that name, it’s like, “Damn.” Givenchy is the best way to describe how much those two things, high fashion and hip-hop, can really generate for each other.

We’re in the middle of that. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.
Also, I went to [A$AP] Rocky’s concert in Copenhagen and before I went to the concert, I didn’t know that there were that many of this specific kid, age 13 to 20, who’s so obsessed with his music as well, but it’s also about all the things he name drops. They’re all really aspiring to wear Alexander Wang, they really want to look like the part of this black and white look, and I didn’t know there were that many of those in Copenhagen. But then you go to a concert and you realize, “Oh my God, he’s got a massive following.” Even in Copenhagen. He probably sold more T-shirts than anybody else because people buy an A$AP T-shirt for, I don’t know, $20, and they feel like they bought a fashion item. That’s pretty clever. As a designer, it's like, how can I do that? [Laughs]

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