With stripped-down, expertly rendered silhouettes, Tonsure flexes sartorial muscle through an imaginative use of prints and materials. The brand balances a strong sense of design with imaginative flair, channeling Scandinavian sensibilities whilst gunning for a global audience. And it works — the brand recently won the coveted Woolmark Prize for 2016-2017. Ahead of Copenhagen Fashion Week 2016, we catch up with Malte Flagstad, the creative mind behind Danish label Tonsure, to discuss gender, teddy bears, and why Scandinavian designers won’t shed that minimalist aesthetic.
Before setting up your own label you worked at Maison Margiela — what was your experience of working for a major luxury house?
Working for Maison Martin Margiela was a great experience and in many ways very different to working for any other luxury fashion house. Everything was very democratic and non-pretentious. The best ideas were in focus and ruled over any form of hierarchy. I think it is quite unique to have such a flat structure in a fashion house.
How did you find setting up your own label in comparison? Why did you decide to set your own label?
I decided to leave Margiela at a time when a lot of changes where happening. A few months later and a lot of my old colleagues had left too, so I think the timing was right. In the end it would only satisfy me working this hard if it was on “my own” thing. Little did I know that it was a lot more demanding and a lot more hard work to set up your own thing!
When did you start becoming interested in fashion? Can you remember the first thing you ever made?
I guess I have always been interested in fashion, or at least how I dressed, even as a small boy. But I didn’t actively pursue fashion until quite late. I wanted to be an architect or an industrial designer and then out of nowhere came “fashion designer” which is when I started at Central Saint Martins.
I love the idiosyncratic details in your clothes — what are your influences and how did you develop your aesthetic?
I can’t point to one source of influence or one subculture. To me, fashion design is an edited view of the world and all that is happening around us. Everything I am exposed to inspires me. Old books, art exhibitions, a person on the street, music, friends, politics. If you are curious by heart, you automatically search for the unfamiliar, things you have not seen. I like to think that Tonsure is an expression of all of this.
I’m intrigued by the teddy bear heads in your AW15 collection, can you tell me a bit more about that?
We were doing some pieces for AW15 in real teddy bear fur from Steiff (the oldest teddy bear manufacturer in the world) and thought we would do something visually to underline what we were doing, that’s how the teddy head came about. We did it in a collaboration with visual artist Molly Kyhl and it all came about quite naturally but ended up getting a lot of attention.
Why did you focus on menswear?
To me menswear felt natural for obvious reasons: I wear it myself. Having said that, I do think menswear is more interesting and challenging as you need to work within defined “codes” yet try to figure out how to alter and change these codes, without alienating the clothes.
Is there a particularly type of man that you’re designing for?
Not really, the Tonsure man is an independent man that defines his own style. He is not part of one particular subculture but edits his own eclectic mix of style.
Do you think that gender even matters in fashion any more?
The borders are definitely blurred at the moment, and we do get many requests from women on our menswear pieces, so the answer would be no. On the other hand, historically, when something is really talked about, there is always rebellion. So we may see the the exact opposite in a little while: super masculine clothes and super feminine clothes.
What are your favorite materials to work with?
Wool has endless opportunities for development and treatment, so this would be my favorite material. Even better when it’s combined with other fibers, natural as well as synthetic.
What’s been your biggest learning experience in fashion? Are there any designs in previous collections that you wish you hadn’t done?
Yes, of course there [are]. If everything was on autopilot and done safely, you would never end up with anything satisfying, but obviously there are bound to be mistakes as a result. These can then be drafted out at toile stage or when final salesmans’ samples arrive.
Scandinavian designers have a reputation for minimalist designs. Do you think it’s a fair reflection of the talent out there?
I think it’s very hard to argue that there isn’t a minimalist approach to Scandinavian design, it’s somehow part of our DNA. The difference now is that designers have a much wider outlook, so everything becomes more global. The whole world is referenced but it’s seen through minimalist glasses you could say.
What are you excited about this Copenhagen Fashion Week, and what’s in store for the rest of 2016?
For 2016 we’ve got a few things to work on: our main collection, collaborations for AW17, and also a capsule collection for the final of the International Woolmark Prize, which is held in January 2017. For Copenhagen Fashion Week, I have been too busy to know what will be exciting — I just hope the weather will be good, Copenhagen is lovely in the summer!!
First published on The Culture Trip, 2 August 2016