WOOD WOOD and Karl-Oskar Olsen Celebrate a Decade of Breaking Boundaries
The current landscape in fashion has championed a style and aesthetic that is as diverse as ever. Danish brand and retailer WOOD WOOD has clearly shown a direction that implements variety and contrast. This philosophy together with constant innovation and progression throughout its existence culminates in this year’s 10th anniversary. Multi-disciplinary in nature, WOOD WOOD has looked beyond just fashion to make its mark with a strong sports component and a desire to touch up and down the spectrum of fashion. Positioning itself as not quite streetwear and outside of high-fashion, WOOD WOOD looks to define its own position and continue on a path of ultimate creativity as we speak with founder Karl-Oskar Olsen.
How would you define WOOD WOOD as a movement?
WOOD WOOD, as a brand, represents a part of the population in our society, which is well-informed, committed, progressive and reflective. WOOD WOOD is a symbol of the values that our loyal customers and supporters subscribe to. It becomes symbiotic because it is a two-way thing with a mutual exchange of ideas and impressions that benefit both WOOD WOOD and it’s customers.
The WOOD WOOD Universe is composed by a mixture of art forms and large quantities of visual and aural impressions creating an eclectic style with details expressing a combination of streetwear and high-end fashion. We aim to always be ahead of things and in so doing shape the future somewhat.
I believe we have broad-minded approach to design and that our target customers are a diverse crowd. The reason for this is partly because of our women’s collection but very much because we dare to explore various motions and directions both externally and within the WOOD WOOD Universe.
What sort of creative platforms do you work with outside of fashion?
Most of our projects involve working with other fashion and design brands but unfortunately there is not enough time for me to express myself in alternative art forms after designing the WOOD WOOD collections and doing the collaborations and other projects. I used to do a lot of sketching and painting in watercolours and I hope to do more of this again soon, time allowing.
While WOOD WOOD’s aesthetic is mostly subdued, do you find any inspiration from the avant-garde world of fashion?
Definitely! To a large extent we are inspired by design within the world of fashion as this is our main platform for designing and expressing ourselves artistically when an idea crops up for a given functionality or shape. We make experiments to see what fabrics and colours work during a design process. Via WOOD WOOD I have been fortunate to meet motivating and influential people such as Kim Jones who has been an acquaintance for almost a decade. He joined us in our design studio for a few days when he was last in Copenhagen and really helped us put focus on our work. I am indebted to him just for that.
How does one stay innovative each and every day?
I cannot claim to be innovative each and every day but several things are influential when it comes to working at a high level of design. Our ambitions and goals have put us in our current position. Maintaining this position is demanding and we have managed this by putting together a team of highly qualified and dedicated employees. To me, what this means is that I feel surrounded by intelligent and responsible people, which allows me enough room and time to focus on my core work. This way I feel even more motivated to fulfill my responsibilities of making things happen and opportunities arise.
Being innovative is a high and low frequency process of which I am not in control of. During periods of high activity levels I make the most of it and during low levels of activity I spend my time evaluating and analyzing my ideas and thoughts.
We run a very tight set-up with regards to putting together a collection and this makes it easier to add the ideas from our initial inspiration and innovation workshops.
How did you handle the financial side of the company in the beginning?
Since the beginning we recognized that WOOD WOOD, as a brand, is very unique and hence we have guarded it carefully from easy corporate money, a potentially damaging move for the brand in the long run. WOOD WOOD had it’s own retail space from the beginning, generating a small cash-flow to keep things moving. We have always been very conscious about our expenses and hence we produce our own shows, look-books, shops etc. There are important lessons to be learned from doing everything yourself and it is crucial when it comes to understanding the ins and outs of your own company.
How would you describe the popular rise in Scandinavian fashion design over the last few years?
From the inside looking outwards, it has been interesting to represent a focal point but having said that, I cannot really comment on Scandinavian fashion design as a whole. To me, it all seems a bit similar looking. At WOOD WOOD we have attempted to subdue the hype over Scandinavian design and tried to stay clear of being categorized with a certain notion or style.
How does a brand change when it makes the move onto the runway?
Compared to other brands with similar profiles to WOOD WOOD it has always been a priority to have a proper runway show in a location that emphasizes the intended expression of the collection. We are fully aware that our design and clothes are not high-end fashion but even so, we are convinced that we can dictate a way for the spectator to absorb our design expression by putting on a show with the right styling, music and locations. It helps to reach not just the press and buyers present at the actual show but also the end consumer.
Pulling off a runway show also signals that we are serious about our design and it is proof that we are able to complete a collection depicting the DNA of the brand. Whether or not it is a good idea to show both men’s and women’s at a combined show is debatable. But we do it because we hope to offer a better understanding of the brand across to the viewer and we feel that the two collections are supportive of each other.
The bi-annual show is to some degree a mental milestone, reminding us to turn a page and begin a new chapter.
What barriers to entry existed 10 years ago that don’t exist today? Conversely what is harder now about running a brand versus when you started?
Right at the beginning the three of us were bloody clueless about what we had started and where we wanted to take it. As time passed and people reacted positively to our products and started to have faith in the brand the going got less tough. When you start to realise that people credit you with what you have achieved it gives you more confidence.
WOOD WOOD is still a small company in terms of turnover and still does not make a profit as every penny goes into developing new projects and opening new stores etc.
When, at first, the company is small you try desperately to seem very large and then after some time you reflect upon this and begin to set new goals. Expectations increase with the goals and so perhaps there is an element of truth in the saying, “mo’ money mo’ problems!”
Can you talk about some of the special projects on the way to commemorate the 10th anniversary?
I think it came as quite a surprise for most of us here that we were celebrating our 10th anniversary this year. Last year we were incredibly busy and we didn’t have time to plan a proper celebration. This year we have chosen to involve some important people while keeping the over-all theme relatively simple. We initially started out as a T-shirt brand, and we thought it would be fun to return to our point of departure. We will be launching a series of co-labs with some of the most influential graphic designers, fashion designers and artists right now.
The T-shirt as an object is still an important element in our collections and plays a crucial role for our brand. The first shipment will arrive in our stores next month and features P.A.M. and Eric Elms among others. We are focusing on artists that we can identify with and who contribute with a unique expression.
In addition to the t-shirt collections, we are planning a huge party in some of Carlsberg’s closed-down facilities here in Copenhagen. Other interesting launches this year that are not a part of our anniversary include a co-lab with Eastpak and with a classic English sports brand.
Cycling is a big component of WW. Do you feel that the current fashion landscape can benefit from an injection of good ol’ fashioned sporting fun as opposed to the usual late nights spent in the club or bar?
Many of the non-WOOD WOOD products available in our WOOD WOOD stores are related to sports in some way or another. Examples include the Nike Gyakusou and various Tier 0 products.
Apart from the obvious relation these products have to sports, the WOOD WOOD collections always carry a sporting twist and I prefer to describe the men’s collection as “sophisticated sportswear.”
In many ways, sports are an integral part of WOOD WOOD with a cycling team and a recently established urban running club, NBRO Running. Both help to re-enforce the WOOD WOOD concept and are fueled y a real and inner passion for – and respect of all aspects of sports.
I believe that, being true to yourself will have a longer lasting effect and other people will respect you for being genuine in all walks of life.
Is it easy to jump from fashion to architectural/interior design (for the stores)?
In reality, I think it is and to me it’s more about the process rather than the technical know-how. Nonetheless, some talent and a level of understanding are required and fortunately I seem to fit the bill.
WOOD WOOD seems to operate within a high-street environment between streetwear and high fashion. Would you agree with this?
Is this positioning easier to reside in/sell now rather than in the past when the realms were more segregated and had less overlap?
It is, times have changed and our concept is probably more relevant today than it was 5 years ago. At the same time, we are also constantly evolving as a brand and it helps create a positive
awareness of our style.
Thanks for your time Karl and looking forward to your 10th anniversary collections.