Draping for social unity: Anne Karine Thorbjørnsen
Since graduating from MA Womenswear at Central Saint Martins in 2012, Anne Karine Thorbjørnsen has struggled with the concept of sitting still. When she’s not reading J.G Ballard fiction or plugging into a Stranger Things inspired playlist, she has her head down, working in her studio in Oslo, surrounded by boxes of materials, rails of clothes and bottles of beer. Over the years, she has made eight collections and presented each at Oslo Runway, Amaze Stockholm and then Diorama Gallery. Most recently, her pieces have been stocked at Rare Market in Seoul and Centre for Style in Melbourne and she is soon scheduled to do a Re-see with Oslo Runway. Adding to this, she has been part of exhibitions by CFS and last August, won the Bik Bok Runway Award; a Norwegian event with a winning prize of 100,000 NOK (almost £10,000!). Her AW/17 collection resembles the glimmering gowns worn by expensive, vintage barbie dolls that once lived inside glass vitrines at Hamleys Toy Store, whilst the drive behind her work hits closer to reality than childhood playtime. Whilst she plans to retour her work through Paris, London and New York, she found the time to explain the conditional impact fashion design can have in uniting people, in the wake of disturbing current events that threaten this from progressing.
“I FIND ‘THE WOMAN’ AND HER POSITION IN TODAY’S SOCIETY EXTREMELY INTERESTING AS A SUBJECT. ‘SHE’ IS MY MAIN FOCUS, ALONGSIDE ALL OF ‘HER’ SOCIAL TENDENCIES.”
It’s been awhile since we’ve caught up with you. Where did you get the idea for your most recent collection, Physis/Techne?
My collection for AW17 came from my reaction to the state of humanity now. Brexit happened and then Donald Trump was elected emphasising the extreme reality that we are living in. I watched Adam Curtis’ Hyper Normalisation documentary and several interviews with Noam Chomsky which highlighted the insecurity and unsteadiness of our time. With this in mind, I looked a lot at extreme wear and gear. Tools that are necessary to survive in extreme activities. For example, ‘’Super-underwear’ that made the base for my ‘Super dresses’. The climbing rope that made it into my ‘Security Bracelets’, the hiking add-on crampons that was the idea for my ‘Tractor Soles’. I wanted to break up the line set in my previous collection; Active City Trotter. I needed to go bigger, bolder, freer, looser, louder. Even angrier.
In the past you have mentioned Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy of ‘the fold’ as an influencer on your work because the theory is relatable to political and philosophical issues of our time. Do fashion and social issues relate in that way to you?
Absolutely. For me it is quintessential. It is how I work, where I get my information from and where I base my research. I find ‘the woman’ and her position in today’s society extremely interesting as a subject. ‘She’ is my main focus, alongside all of ‘her’ social tendencies. I discovered my obsession with drapery whilst doing my MA, and since then I have made sense of this and have refocused my love for the field through making new work in each new collection. This last collection; ‘Physis/Techne’ was actually not only with an emphasis on the woman, but us as a people, us humans, in the world. Today especially I find it hard not to be political and social in any work that I produce.
Now that you’re in the real world of work, is it still as fun as designing as a student?
I love what I am doing; creating and making, but not so much the business part… at the moment I am a one-woman brand and I do everything by myself – that needs to change, so I can focus on what I am good at.
Now that you’ve moved back to Oslo, what do you recognise as the biggest differences between living there versus in London?
The buzz and the energy. I miss that from London. But I don’t miss the stress from the city. There’s more space here. I grew up in Holmlia in Oslo with my four younger sisters. When I was fourteen I moved to Lillestrom with my family and then to Nice when I was 18 for a year. This all took place in the years before I enrolled as a BA Womenswear student at CSM, where I would then stay on to do my MA. After graduating, I started my own fashion practice and moved back to Norway in 2015 where I established my practice back in Oslo. Oslo is where I was born but I feel like London is my city. I go back often but struggle to compare these places because they are so extremely different. Just look at the sizes, mentality, the environment..
Where in Oslo are you and what are you wearing?
Right now, I’m in my studio in Tøyen. It’s dark out right now but during the day I can see the Munch Museum and Toyen School from my window. I like to walk around in Barcode, Bjørvika and Sørenga because it gives me the feeling of something being controlled whilst constructed yet is unknown. I’m wearing a navy blue fitted shirt, wide silk/wool washed black trousers, a green army outershirt and pointy Chelsea boots.
In a previous interview, you told us, “Drapery has a tacky beauty to it because there is an expectation for pieces to accentuate shape and emphasise the body’s figure.” However, you challenge this by removing the physical identity from those wearing your pieces, so each piece is somewhat gender-free and one-size-fits-all.
I don’t think of my work as gender-free. On the contrary, I think I emphasize gender by continuously playing with connotations and the symbolism of both contemporary and historically ideologies of what femininity and masculinity is. I don’t necessarily focus on the body as a fitted frame, or as something to fully fill/fit a garment, I simply have a love for fabric, and the fold, and this is normally my focus, not the actual shape of the body, to extenuate the body.
Is your work only completed when a body wears it?
Without the body, the individual garments in my work become quite abstract and difficult to read. It needs the body to communicate with; to see a certain length, a placement of a fold or just to emphasize a specific part of the wearer’s body.
Some time ago, you discussed with us how artist Rei Kawakubo’s collections try to challenge the mainstream identities often associated with heavy drapery, but lack the contemporary reality of being woman.
I didn’t mean that Rei’s work lacks the contemporary reality of being a woman, but that I saw her challenging the same problems I see with drapery – that it is so heavily laden with certain views on femininity. I try to comment on this subject in my work because I see such an obvious relationship between the woman and drapery. The female is often associated with this; mystery, softness, voluptuousness, voyeurism, sensuality, sexuality, chaotic, absolute beauty… and this is problematic.. These ideas of sublimity and perfection completely disable both the role of woman and the drape. Neither are or should be perfect. This is not how I see women today. We are not objects but still we are too often surrounded by images, text and behaviour that tells us otherwise.
Why do you think this is an important time for these sorts of subjects to be surfaced?
The gender issue is very relevant today and has been a hot topic in fashion for a while, which I’m glad is still the case. I teach on the fashion course at the Arts Academy in Oslo and I often see students working with gender using different perspectives. I’d like to think that we are evolving and our normalities are evolving with us.
“I DON’T NECESSARILY FOCUS ON THE BODY AS A FITTED FRAME, OR AS SOMETHING TO FULLY FILL/FIT A GARMENT.”
Into the Fold regurgitated this idea of removing barriers of identity and unifying a body, which you highlight through your use of uniform and your admiration of the feature of belongingness…. How much of this is a reflection of a progression in socialising communities?
I think it’s actually a reflection of the exact opposite. I feel a great distance between people and it scares me. Individualization is dangerous, I think. We are so frightened by what we don’t know and what is not like us, but I find the lack of empathy or interest and care for people we aren’t close to truly disheartening.
Do you have a favorite piece from your most recent collection?
I think it must be the ‘Come Undone Boss Dress/Coat’. But I also love the Beige ‘Super Dress’.
Do you find that you reflect your own personal style when you start designing?
No, I don’t think so, I certainly do not aim for that. But I do wear a lot of garments from my collections, and some pieces have made it into my wardrobe.
What trends are you seeing lots of these days?
Well, everyone is still wearing Vetements so…
Too much, agreed. Is there anyone you look up to in the fashion world?
I admired Louise Wilson and still do. I always thought she was an astonishing woman; forceful and honest. She really put something in me that I still work by and it’s because of this that she still motivates me.
Is there anyone catching your eye that you would love to collaborate with?
The photographer Harley Weir. Her eye is amazing.
Describe for me what your working environment looks like.
I am normally tidy but as I just finished my last collection so it is a little messy in the studio… I still need to clear away some toiles and bags of fabric scraps, clear the research wall and clean the floor…
What’s the vibe like? Do you listen to music when you start getting creative?
Yes and no, it depends on where in the process I am. This time I have been listening a lot to Tidal’s soundtrack Supernatural Synths.
How helpful has the use of new media (such as your Instagram account and website) been for you, launching your career?
It feels completely necessary to have an online body of work. I don’t think anyone would know about me otherwise. But aside from the virtual world, it is the real world that is paramount for showcasing work. It is the real world of 3D and tactile materials where you can transcend emotions.
What do you miss most about being a student?
I miss the freedom to only focus on designing, testing and making, as well as the tutorials, conversations and feedback
What do you love most about being a graduate?
I mean, that is life. Everything after graduating. I am happy that I can do what I do, that I decided to start up on my own, and that I am still doing it. Now I am in a place where I need to position myself, find the right market to continue working; inside, outside or in-between the industry. That is a lot but it’s exciting.