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Cutting Right To the Seams

"We are experiencing larger awareness about sustainability matters and people today increasingly reject fast fashion of buying and throwing away clothes. There is a wave of consciousness that possibly will also impact us as emerging designers in the future. Fashion easily comes and will come under scrutiny in this regard", says recent Beckmans graduate Fo Phan, who together with fellow graduate and designer Erik Olsson presented accomplished graduate collections that were delights to see at this year's final-year runway show at the Tessin Palace. We catch up with the two during the last days of school to learn about their respective design aesthetics and future aspirations.

Fo Phan (left), Erik Olsson (right)

C-P: You’re both graduating now from Beckmans College of Design from the fashion department. Looking back at the three years passed, what most notably comes to mind about school and your time here?

E.O: I feel like for me it comes to down to personal growth towards a direction I already knew I wanted to venture towards, prior to starting. Beckmans provided a platform to fine-tune whatever vision I had in mind about my work, both in terms of the physical craftsmanship and artistic process. What sets Beckmans apart is the close ties with the actual industry, what with having access to guest lecturers who pass by school very frequently. There is a scope to present yourself as a designer towards the industry already while at school.

F.P: I think it’s been good to have a time frame to really figure out what you want out of this field and where to position yourself within it. The links that have existed to the industry I think is a favorable thing, but I also think of personal viability and how taxing some classes have been where you felt like you were almost going under due the stress and time restraints. Short time frames in relation to what needed to be accomplished also comes to mind.

Erik Olsson, BOJSKAUT, graduate collection 2019, Beckmans

C-P: As we are talking it’s apparent this closeness to the industry and world outside of the school realm is something that differs from many fine art schools where this is oftentimes an isolation beyond the professors on the premises who may be active artists. It strikes me as crucial all the while at school to have a clear concept of the realities and conditions that await a practioner once the support system of school ceases to exist. It’s still considered dirty to engage your mind too much with commercial queries at art schools.

E.O: One challenge that does actually exist is that there are certain technical facilities and resources that school here lacks which further also prompts a necessity to look beyond the premises here and collaborate externally. For instance, digital printing which is quite common in collections is something you would have to look outside to do in your work. So, while you’re well provided for, you also must learn to work with limitations and find ways to solve challenges like these on your own. It might be frustrating while a student, but it is good to have built your infrastructure this way, once you leave school.

Fo Phan, Beklädnad i (intima) sorgen, graudate collection 2019, Beckmans

C-P: I would imagine a fair share of fashion students aspire to build and launch their own label, at least that this would be something on the bucket list of many. Especially at a school from which many successful designers have emerged over the years, I imagine it appears more tangible and realistic to think along these lines. E.O: It differs a lot, there are those want to embark on secure career paths with positions as employees and then there are those who aspire to start their own businesses. I would like to myself, at least in due time in the future, and this is something I’ve wanted ever since deciding to pursue fashion school. It’s been a goal. F.P: I also had similar thoughts about starting something of my own, but realities also catch up with you when you are exposed to the industry and what it looks like and that does make you reassess what you want to do and how. There are moments where you start rethinking your initial goals.

Erik Olsson, BOJSKAUT, graduate collection 2019, Beckmans

C-P: If you put words to them, what are these realities?

F.P: I think you must look at how businesses are actually doing right now financially. If big houses are suffering in terms of growth, it makes you reasonably question what room there is in a present climate to launch something new. Realities differ obviously where you are and from what platform you operate. Things look different in Copenhagen than here where business are doing much better.

E.O: Stockholm and Sweden are small as platforms; financially it would be hard to limit a scope solely to here. There are designers who successfully emerged from Beckmans but who first started targeting a customer group overseas and then turned here with whatever success gained there in building a brand. It must be said though, nothing is impossible. Also, should point to the Swedish Fashion Council that do great things to promote emerging designers, for instance Swedish Fashion Talents which is a goodwill-project that allows designers to try out the viability of their own brand. I also think the market is slowly shifting towards customers turning to smaller brands that appear more personal to the customer than big brand houses.

Fo Phan, Beklädnad i (intima) sorgen, graudate collection 2019, Beckmans

F.P: We are also experiencing larger awareness about sustainability matters and people increasingly reject fast fashion of buying and throwing away clothes. There is a wave of consciousness that possibly will also impact us as designers in the future. Fashion easily comes and will come under scrutiny in this regard.

E.O: Businesses here in Stockholm are cutting down with personnel, that’s a reality, but I think it’s also in the aftermath of a situation like this you are forced as a designer to really sit down and think how to possibly change things around and think in novel ways. That also in a way creates space, be so by necessity, to ponder on creating something of your own that is viable given conditions that are omnipresent around you.

C-P: Some ten years ago it appeared to be a great time for Swedish Fashion; one spoke of the Swedish fashion wonder, with several designers making a name for themselves, both in a prêt-a-porter and more avant-guardian realm and together prompting ideas about Scandinavian design and clothing aesthetic amid the general public. Where does Swedish fashion stand today?

E.O: I interned in London last summer and realized the references for people were the same today as it probably was then; ACNE and Our Legacy would be mentioned often and an affinity for the idea of the “clean” Swedish aesthetic. I thought people might refer less to that today but people really seem to take to it. But in reality, that is still predominant in Sweden.

F.P: It’s not only fashion, it’s also interior design, even if you look at IKEA, there is an embodiment of the same design philosophies. It’s everywhere in society.

E.O: It’s interesting though, if you look at a younger generation of people in Sweden, you will notice they are in fact not dressing in line with the typical Scandinavian “look”. They are more expressive and less "clean" in their aesthetic. A change I imagine does lie ahead.

Erik Olsson, BOJSKAUT, graduate collection 2019, Beckmans

C-P: I loved both of your presentations at the degree runway show that was held this year at the Tessin Palace. Your presentation Erik struck me especially in so far coming across as very well-tailored, and a craftsmanship in terms of execution really came through at inspection. The boxy silhouettes were lovely. Everything felt very wearable. I’d wear all of it. With Fo, I really loved the theatrical and performative aspects of the show, carried out by the models. It was delectably dramatic and inspiring. Tell me about the ideas that your presentations inform and what you put out there.

F.P: My project is called “Beklädnad I (intima) sorgen” (“Clothing In Intimate Mourning”) which corresponds to clothing that expresses and visualizes mourning and grief, the notions of which are intimate and depart from inner and psychological states of mind. Grief is very charged and almost sacred, something that needs to be treated delicately with the uttermost respect. You can’t ridicule it or be reckless when working around it. What I attempt here is to de- and recode clothing norms when it comes to funerals which manifest mourning, while overlapping the Western and Asian realm. I thought of the village outside of Guangzhou where I have my origins where customs are not really coded in written doctrine; they make part of oral tradition.

There are a lot of metaphorical attributes in the collection that relate, for instance by way of colours used. In Western traditions you move in spectrums of gray and black whereas in a Chinese context it’s white at the fore and later red. There’s also the Iris flower in the collection which is a Chinese symbol for death.

Fo Phan, Beklädnad i (intima) sorgen, graudate collection 2019, Beckmans

E.O: My project is the presented with the name “Boyskaut”. I was initially inspired seeing the documentary “Himlens mörkrum” which is corner stone in my project. The film follows the photographer Jean Hermasson in the ‘60s-‘s70 while he is out shooting and documenting Swedish labour industries. That made me react to and think about safety attire and gear used and worn in labour work. Just think of how safety mouth masks worn in big metropolitan cities in Asia have done a journey from merely being a practical safety measure against exposure of pollution to be a part of an everyday fashion “look”. A proposition I make here is whether the future will require for us to increasingly go in this direction; that is to adapt fashion and clothing to safety and protection needs considering for example pressing environmental realities. Functionality was another aspect that was important to me. The collection needed to be wearable. There attributes that are shiftable, like pockets that can be zipped off.

Erik Olsson, BOJSKAUT, graduate collection 2019, Beckmans

I looked as a specific starting point a lot at the traditional work shirt with mandarin collar that have been worn in labour, as well as the classical patterns that have always existed in men’s fashion. The work shirt is generally longer than a dress shirt and I worked with the dimensions and silhouette of it. I was also inspired by a research study about labour wear where it poetically said that for there to be a sense of comfort and ease for the wearer there needs to be a micro climate between them and the clothing. It has been an aesthetical approach to emphasize the silhouette by extending and magnifying it.

C-P: What’s next for you two?

F.P: The ideas I’ve worked around for my degree project are something I’d like to carry forth later again during a master’s programme. For now, would like to take some time to see where things lead, play by the ear following this degree. I want to be realistic. I think working and gaining experience for some time within at a company appears like a good idea.

E.O: Again, my long-term goal is to develop my own brand. However, I’d like as well to work at a company for a while, whether here or overseas. I also enjoy working with artists and creating customized pieces as a freelance designer which is something I’d like to keep doing and be involved in processes with other creatives.

Fo Phan, Beklädnad i (intima) sorgen, graudate collection 2019, Beckmans

Watch the graduate collection runway show on Beckmans' video channel:


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