Over the last couple of years, many practitioners of screen-printed sweats and tees have made a switch into the loftier realm of denim, shirting and pieces that bridge a gap between all-out casual looks and quasi-formality. Most have failed, because it takes more than mere entrepreneurial spirit and gift-of-the-gab to make that leap. Plus their product is mostly corny.
Denmark seems to hold the majority of the talent for simplicity, quality and design, and Norse Projects are key players in the wave of great Danes who use collective backgrounds misspent in graffiti and skating for the forces of good, giving us exactly what we want in our wardrobes. Scandinavia's interpretation of streetwear is serious. Over the last couple of years, we've seen the Norse Projects patch as the signoff on a substantial amount of hats, shirts, knitwear, jackets and the t-shirts we've owned in a long, long time.
There's collaborations too-our favourites are the Elka coats and gloves, but their appreciation for the sneaker side of things is deep. We're assuming that Norse get approaches to join half-baked collaborative "programs" on the regular, but their footwear output at time-of-writing has been fairly frugal-an excellent New Balance 670 and a very good Kopenhagen for adidas. We suspect that there's more on the way in the not-too-distant future. Our man in Denmark, Mads Therkildsen spoke to Norse's Mikkel GrÃ¸nnebÃ¦k to get some extra insight on the brand.
Could you break down what Norse Projects actually is?
Norse Projects is a collective, which was started in 2002 by Tobia Sloth from Street Machine, Anton Juul, a Copenhagen skater and myself-Mikkel GrÃ¸nnebÃ¦k. We had an idea that Copenhagen needed a store for streetwear. I lived in London from 1999-2001 and watched what happened over there with The Hideout and Bond International and all the stores over there that had a lot of interesting brands, that you couldn't get in Denmark. So when I moved back, Anton and I started a brand called Castle, which made caps and t-shirts-a lot of graphic stuff. Afterwards we got the idea to create our own store. And because Anton skated for Street Machine there was a natural connection to Tobia, who thought it was a great idea. So we started as a store and then it's taken us four years to build our own clothing brand.
How has the experience been with creating your own brand in some difficult times for retail?
It's been really great. Things have gone extremely fast over the past seasons and the company have grown to a full on business of its own. Not just a store brand. I'm really pleased that so many great stores and people like what we are doing.
Norse started as a retail space. How come you decided to make the transition to have your clothing collection?
Well, we have always been interested in clothes I guess, and Tobia was running a distribution company for many years, so it felt natural to start woriking on our own products when we already had the distribution part set up. We didn't have that much experience, but it's been very interesting to just jump into it. My dream was never to be behind the counter in a shop -it was to be creative and get the chance to make some clothes that you yourself want to wear.
Do you have a certain retail strategy for Norse Projects?
We take one thing at the time and put our feelers out there. It's not like we want to be super exclusive, but on the hand we don't want to sell out -it's a fine balance. We want to be a democratic brand and we want to reach out to people in all worlds, So our strategy is that if a shop is good and the buyers and sales people in the shop understand our products and concept and can convey it, then we are open for a discussion.
How did the market welcome you?
Super-people have been able to sell our products and that's been very positive. Our products are being sold in shops that I feel is some of the best in the world like The Hideout, Dover Street Market, Colette, United Arrows etc. But it's just as important that other shops do well with our products.
Where do you seek inspiration for your designs?
A lot of vintage shopping! Old men's wear in general. We find inspiration in a lot of stuff-nature, music, art, different materials, Scandinavian culture-you name it...
What brands do you respect?
There's many brands that I personally respect, both for their innovation and quality. But also others for what they've done for the culture in general...really too many to mention.
It seemed like 2010 was the year when Norse Projects blew the fuck up. Do you have a specific consumer in mind?
No, we're four people who work with the collection and we're four totally different types, so we all make something that we ourselves like and that means that the collection is very mixed. But we don't have a "muse" or specific customer in mind. Our customers range from 15-year olds to 60-year olds. It's hard to relate to just one specific customer. But to see two different persons in each side of the age scale or with different style wearing our products is very dope.
With your products are you trying to fill a gap in the market for a certain consumer looking for wearable pieces that aren't fussy or stuck in the past either?
I like our idea about the products being timeless and long lasting. I don't think we're trying to fill a gap in the market, because there a so many brands out there, we try to keep things simple and wearable with a twist and give the people value for money.
Do you have a perfect sweatshirt, t-shirt, denim and sneaker in mind when you prepare a collection?
No, not really. We just try to make some clothing that we ourselves would like to wear that we find perfect. The most important thing is that we really try to make the best product when it comes to quality and price.
How did the whole patch branding come about?
Functionality. Patch branding derives from the military. I really think it works well, when you take an element from the military and mix it with casual wear.
Sourcing the right materials globally seems to be a focal point for Norse-does that involve a lot of travel?
Yes. We go to 2-3 textile shows a year as well as constantly going to fleamarkets and vintage shops. It can be hectic, but you have to go to find the best materials. I would say that material sourcing is about 50% of the work for the collection.
What kind of music would you say "fits" your brand, if any?
I listen to a lot of music and we also do at the Norse office. We listen to a lot of English music such as Ian Brown and the Stone Roses. Also old psychedelic rock, folk country & some Biggie Smalls & Wu Tang - but we're really open to a lot of music. Music is a great inspiration source for Norse.
Will you continue with the store now that the clothing brand takes up so much of your time?
Definitely. The store is an important part of the Norse as a brand in general. It's the heart of the body and where we started from.
Do you have any favourite t-shirt designs? Something you regard as a classic?
A white t-shirt is always good.
Where does your passion for streetwear come from?
My background comes from graffiti, design and art, but mainly skateboarding. I think that skateboarders always have been early adaptors of fashion and they've created a lot of trends. I've been part of this culture for 20 years, so the interest comes from skateboarding. And when it became natural for skateboarders to wear other brands than skate-brands, I also started to become interested in Nike or StÃ¼ssy and stuff like that.
What was the brands you rocked or respected back then?
Back then it was all about Vision, Airwalk, Gordon & Smith, StÃ¼ssy. Later it was Carhartt workwear we got our parents and friends to bring back from the States. Generally a lot of American brands. But we also skated in PUMA Suedes, Converse, adidas Campus and Jordans back then.
What's your relationship with sneakers?
I think of sneakers as a tool. You walk on your feet all day, so it's important to have some nice footwear. I won't call myself a sneakerhead or collector, but I have always liked shoes. And I don't like when shoes get too old, so I always have new sneakers-and many of them. We also stock a lot of sneakers in the store, and it's always been part of culture I come from to wear fresh new sneakers.
Running shoes are big in Europe, but in places like Denmark especially, they're huge - did you grow up wearing running models?
No, I actually grew up wearing Vans, Airwalk and Converse, because I skated a lot. But in around 1990 I started wearing runners. I've never been into running, but to me Nike made some technical runners in the '90s, which made it interesting for me to wear runners.
What are some of your favorite sneaker silhouettes?
I could go on, but these are some of them: Air Max 1s, Rod Lavers, Jack Purcells, Vans Authentics, and New Balance 670 & 576. In recent years I've been really into old school simple stuff with vulcanized soles. But I also really like the "hamsters" that Hideout made with Nike.
So far you've done two sneaker collaborations-one with adidas and one with New Balance. Could you tell a little about the inspiration behind them?
With the adidas project, we were invited to represent Copenhagen in the City Series. There were some restrictions on the design-like we had to use yellow and black, because the original Kopenhagen model had those colors -and you could only use one extra colour. But we really wanted to use navy, so the black was left out, because we wanted a white sole. We really like the outcome. It's simple and casual, which is something I think represents Norse well.
With the New Balance 670, I went back into their archives and researched. Again we wanted to make something which was timeless, and therefore I think it worked well with navy. The mesh we used was the original. And we added the mint green to update it a little and make it fresh. We wanted the buyers to want to rock them also in three years and still feel fresh in them.
You seem to show a lot of restraint with pieces like your collaborations last year with Elka. On the New Balance and adidas designs, the execution is clean-no daft logos or fussy details. Is there an overall Norse Projects aesthetic?
Our aesthetic is that we're from Scandinavia-we're normal people, who want to make long lasting products. We try to keep it classic, with some technical updates or contemporary updates.
How come you still haven't been to the New Balance factory in Flimby?
We haven't been invited-haha! We only had one week to make our New Balance 670. So we didn't have the time. But I have to stress that it's important to meet your producers. If we're lucky enough to get the chance to make another one-I would love to go there.
Is there any specific sneaker you would like to collaborate on?
I would love to work with more footwear brands. As a long time fan of Nike I would love to do something with them-maybe a real technical Nike sneaker that fits the harsh weather in the cold north.
Any more plans on the sneaker side of things for the future?
Yes-there are a few new things in the mix...