Interview with fashion design student Hanna Björklund Olsson

She’s young, she’s talented and above all, passionate. Fashion design student Hanna Björklund Olsson loves contrasts and manages to find the balance between sheer elegance and a worn roughness in her design. She plays with maximalism in details and a minimalistic silhouette.

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It’s a sunny Wednesday afternoon in the city centre of Stockholm when I meet 22 year-old fashion student Hanna Björklund Olsson, originally from Leksand, Dalarna, who studies her second year at Beckmans College of Design, for some fashion talk. It’s been almost a month since she got to showcase her first collection ”The Forcing of Nature” at the ”Other Perspectives” fashion show at Beckmans and since we got to discuss fashion design studies, environmental aspects, Nordic fashion and what’ll happen next in the life of a designer-to-be.

Tell me a bit about yourself, how did you end up studying fashion design?

I’ve always been into the arts and I’m from a very creative family. When I was ten years old my dream was to study at Konstfack but since the age of fourteen my ultimate goal was to be where I am today: studying fashion at Beckmans. I went to an open house day when I was only fifteen and went to see different showcases and presentations. I was sold. I had found my dream! When I started upper secondary school I was convinced to study the natural science program which maybe isn’t the ideal if you want to become a fashion designer. Already in my first year I announced to the teachers that my final project would be a fashion collection!

Wow, that must have been a really different approach compared to your peers. How did the final project go in the end?

Yes, most of the other students wanted to become doctors or engineers and I wanted to work with clothes, so I was kind of the odd one out. I went on to do the collection and focused a lot on the environmental aspect. I used different recycled materials such as paper, old soda cans and garbage bags to create the clothes. In addition to the collection I also finished a report on the cotton industry. Then, I showcased my collection at my school which was also very different from the others’ final projects which were mostly reports on environmental stuff.

Sounds amazing, how did you continue after upper secondary school?

I applied to different schools and programs and was accepted to Stenebyskolan in Dals Långed to study the clothing program. I studied there for a year and I loved it. It’s a quite remote place so it felt like a second family at the school and all the teachers were amazing. I learned a lot that year, everything from sewing to constructing to researching and expressing oneself. At the end of my year we did work samples which I went on to use for my application to Beckmans. I worked night and day for three months and gave it my all, it was a tough but giving time. Then, one day I got a call to an interview at Beckmans and I remember being very nervous but I got in as one of the youngest and now, 1,5 years later I still love it.

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Do fashion design studies feel as competitive as they seem?

There’s of course pressure and it goes up and down like a roller coaster but at the end of the day you love every second of it. Among us students I don’t feel that it’s that competitive, we support each other and we’re all good friends but of course you feel a little competition since everyone is so good – but not in a comparing kind of way. I think it only makes everyone want to create even better things from their own point of view so it’s a positive thing, it keeps the standard high.

How would you describe yourself as a designer and what do you think of when you design?

It’s a process which we work with a lot. As for me, I think of the wearability but that does not necessarily mean function. I like the overall simplicity but with structure and interesting details. I adore different materials and surfaces. The balance between elegance and roughness. The relationship between the body and the clothing is something that fascinates me.

Is the environmental aspect something you think of?

Yes, it’s an important aspect and something I’d really want to evolve but it’s also a very complex. It’s a hard question. The industry today is so huge, you can never really know where all the garments are from originally and the process they’ve been through. But it’s absolutely something that should be discussed and developed!

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I saw your amazing three-piece collection ”The Forcing of Nature” at Beckmans fashion show ”Other Perspectives” in mid-January, tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind it!

I’m so glad you liked it! It was about how humans see nature as a lower form of life, we force nature to fit into our patterns. To put it simply, it’s about the relationship between human and nature and how the latter has to adapt into our structures. It also embodies my idea of a balancing between classic silhouettes and elegance with rough and worn elements.

What materials did you use? How did the production process go, was it easy? I loved the ”wooden” jacket!

I used real flowers and plastic to create that ”forced” feeling and then I used denim for the clothing. Thank you, it wasn’t actually real wood but fake wood made out of plastic floor! The whole process of this collection took about three months and it’s my first real collection. When I sew together the denim clothing, which consists of about six layers of thick denim fabric, I remember having sore muscles from running back and forth from the sewing machine with all the fabric, it was so heavy!

You used elements from nature in your collection, is that something you’d want to do in the future?

I love working with elements that remind me of nature because I love the matte colors and simplicity you experience at first glance, mixed with complex structures when going into details. It’s an expression that feels genuine for me. Sort of a mix of minimalism and maximalism. I’m a lot about contrasts and I like using elements from nature like stones or wood.

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How do you view Nordic fashion design? Is there something particular you like or dislike?

Sometimes I think the bigger brands think too much about ”what sells” as the market isn’t that big in Sweden or the Nordic countries overall. If it’s too wearable and minimalistic it usually falls flat, there needs to be dimension! I feel that smaller brands who need to think in different ways and really be original to be noticed on a bigger scale can create more interesting and unconventional pieces. They dare take more risks. I still like the Nordic simplicity fundamentally but there needs to be work behind it. A few years ago Altewaisaome created these beautiful emroidered skirts that were minimalistic when seen far away but when you looked closely there was so much work behind every little detail.

How do you think Nordic fashion stands on the global market?

There’s absolutely a global market for Nordic fashion and I think we’re already able to see the expansion when big brands like Acne and Rodebjer show in Paris and New York. The question remains if this takes away attention from the smaller fashion weeks in Stockholm and Copenhagen, when the media usually follows the bigger brands. I feel that the Nordic market in itself is very concentrated to the bigger cities and even there the market is quite small today.

How do you see your future as a designer, what are your plans for the future?

This spring we have some smaller projects and we’ll focus on developing ourselves as designers. I look forward to studying everything that has to do with the graphic identity you have as a designer. It’s about everything from discovering who you are to planning logos, bags and the interior of a shop if you want to establish your own brand some day. And you get to dream big!

Next year, my last year here at Beckmans, we have a collaboration collection which we get to showcase at the A/W fashion week in the beginning of 2015. We’ll also create our own collection as a degree project. Then, I will sadly have to leave Beckmans. My plans for the future include working and getting hands-on experience, maybe as a design assistant at a fashion brand, and I dream of achieving a masters degree at Central St. Martins in London. Someday I’d like to establish my own brand but I want to work in the industry before that so I get to know how the whole business actually works – there’s so much more than designing clothes involved.

What is it that makes the fashion industry so interesting according to you?

When I was about 10 years old I was more into architecture and crafts but then I got into fashion more and more and I think it’s partly because the relationship between body and garment is something that fascinates me so much. The clothing is more than just a product when it’s on a human being and that’s a concept I love having in mind when working with fashion design. It affects much more deeply and there are so many different elements to it. The huge possibilities for interpretation of other people is also something that makes the fashion industry so special.

When we part ways after our little chat I can’t help but smile. This is one driven and very talented designer-to-be and if we are to believe what we hear, there’s lots more to expect from this young talent.