Saturday, 12 April 2014

Fjord Facing: Norwegian Rain x Frank151

It was an overcast day when I first stumbled upon Norwegian Rain (obviously from Norway) during London Collections: Men and tried on a “Raincho.” Intrigued by their design aesthetic to fight against the rain in a stylish way, it quickly became apparent this creative label was one to look out for. I caught up with the duo behind the design, T-Michael and Alexander Helle, to find out just why their raincoats are unique and surpass design expectations.
Who is behind Norwegian Rain? Tell us a bit about yourselves and your story.
TM: The unlikely meeting of the bespoke tailor and the business graduate. I have been operating from my base in Skostredet, Bergen for the last 17 years. I have my own line of suits, shirts, shoes, scarves, bag’s and own two shops in Norway. Alexander Helle—the creative director who decided to fight the rain and to shape the future—approached me after graduating from business school with this idea of making raincoats and we sought to find a solution to our lives. Alexander and I decided to merge my tailoring and design expertise with high tech and extreme weather protection know-how with Japanese sensibility.
How did Norwegian Rain come into existence?
AH: Well, born and raised in the rainiest city on our continent does make an impact on your mind. Sitting on the metro in Milan as part of a study exchange at Bocconi always put me in a state of reflection. I knew I soon was going back to Bergen. How [was I going] to make those two out of three days of rain a more pleasant experience? I decided to use [my] master’s degree to start exploring. The ideas from this thesis materialised when T-Michael came into play, followed by the graphic designers in Grandpeople—now ANTI Grandpeople, and photographer Bent René Synnevaag—all based locally. Actually it is a creative team that owns Norwegian Rain. The final addition to the team is Antwerp born Wesley Swolfs, our commercial director with a background from Damir Doma.
What is the brand’s aesthetic/ideology?
TM: We endeavor to look back into the past to find our inspiration from traditional tailoring techniques, then combine that with groundbreaking fabric technology to create fashion forward and stylistic rainwear with a Japanese-like aesthetic.
How did you manage to put a fashionable spin on performance wear?
TM: I suppose that comes from our departure point. It rains two out of three days in Bergen, waiting for that 'third day' to be stylish might never come. So, for us, it was very clear from the get go that the pieces will have to be able to be adapted and styled by many for all three days. The other aspect of the rainwear, which is the keeping-the-water out bit should be a given! And of course it should be breathable and comfortable.
What is inspiring you for the next season?
TM: We've decided to give Norwegian Rain an upgrade. It's Norwegian Rain 3.0, which means we are getting even closer to traditional tailoring. Wool like fabrics and menswear staples such as bomber jackets amongst other new pieces will be introduced. The goal is a thick warm winter coat engineered to keep all the elements out yet maintaining that stylistic factor.
Form over function or vice/versa?
TM: Form follows function.
European design is quite different to the UK despite the weather being similar, what is your USP for making Norwegian Rain internationally appealing?
TM: Quite simply by trying at every level to be the best in our field. We know rain, we live with it everyday. We strip off all the bits that usually accompany utilitarian clothing and add details that are relevant both functional and design wise, straying ever so slightly from all of the well known tailoring reference points. We like to think that that kind of design language is universal and not regional based.
What would you like the brand to achieve?
AH: We want to challenge every level of fashion with hard-core products that please the wearer. Functional, stylistic, ecological - no compromise. And then stir it with conceptual presentations that reflect our relation to design and water, in a way that hopefully will inspire the viewer.
In what way are your designs sartorial?
AH: Heat sealed seams, hi-tech membrane fabrics, functional construction… We put all our pride in hiding it. These qualities are camouflaged by cashmere qualities, satin lining, defined shoulders, horn buttons, pattern making, all inspired by T-Michael’s bespoke tailoring then adapted to performance, allowing the characteristics and nature of industrial production to create garment with its own signature. The allure of tailoring meets industrial rigidness. Our aim is to make the best possible garment for the wearer - versatile and adaptable.
How did you take Japanese influence and incorporate it within your designs?
TM: We base all of our work on contrasts, rain/ staying dry. Bespoke tailor/ business graduate. Black/ White. Tradition/ Innovation. Wabi/ Sabi, Kintsugi...the imperfections in beauty. These are influences found everywhere but are more predominant in Japan from my point of view.
What is your key piece, the one that you believed has nailed everything that the brand stands for and why?
TM: The Raincho; simply because it's the Raincho. Sartorial, quirky, functional, Japanese aesthetics, unisex, adaptable, versatile....
What is the difference between Norwegian Rain and other performance garment designers in the sporting industry?
TM: We know what we stand for. We don't know what the other brands stand for.
AH: The core of our project was to create garments that stylistically fitted myself and Michael’s everyday urban life and style, without compromising on function. Sport labels are active wear. The fashion labels have style as mission; none are forced to go the extra mile on both simultaneously. Living in Bergen, makes it a necessity for us.
What does the future hold for you guys?
TM: We've got this London Project underway. Norwegian Rain and friends, an eclectic mix of creatives sharing the same retail and showroom space in the heart of London. These are friends I have collaborated with on other projects and we feel it is just a natural extension of our admiration and respect for each other and our work. Watch this space!
As emerging talent, what has your journey been/ how have you been received in the fashion industry?
AH: We would be lying if we haven’t been enjoying every day since the start. Before we launched the label we were invited to gala dinner at Grand Hotel e de Milan with Franca Sozzani as part of Vogue and WHITE’s “Talented Newcomer’s 2010” - Straight from the rainy, unpolished streets of Bergen... that’s the beauty of today. It doesn’t matter where you are from. You can hit the tone from wherever as long as you are true to what you do and work like there is no tomorrow.
Do you like rain?
TM: I love Petrichor, the smell of rain!
AH: I wouldn’t say I liked it, but having been born into the epicenter we have had to deal with it. And now it’s turned into something that is no longer negative. The next step is to create an underground movement that transforms the city into something that explodes in sensual perceptions when it rains. The rain could be a [great] resource people better start realising it.

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