EcoWalk. Interview with “Too Damn Expensive” Designer Elisabeth Vestli
“Break the rules as much as you can, because there is no such thing as fashion prison!”
Elisabeth, can you tell us more about yourself and what were the first steps you took in the world of fashion? How did it turn in to developing your fashion brand? I spent many years trying to figure out what to do with my life in terms of occupation and education, I was restless and rootless and tried a lot of different jobs in different fields. So while trying to figure this out I worked a lot, saved money and traveled (and partied) as much as I could. It was on one of my travels, in Australia while soaking up the sun on Bondi Beach it suddenly hit me: «I am going to be a fashion designer!» And then and there I knew I had finally figured it out, like I had figured out the solution to a very difficult puzzle. It was very strange that I didn’t see this before as fashion has always been one of my biggest passions (I would even buy garments over food sometimes). When I got back I started at the Esmod Design School in Oslo and knew then from the beginning that when I was done, I wanted to start my own brand!
What is it that makes the fashion industry so interesting according to you? What is your favorite part of being a Designer? Even though there is a lot to be said about the fashion industry, both good and bad. The upside is that it is very exciting as you go, anything can happen (there is really no limit) and you never know what opportunities come your way or what kind of people you meet. The favorite part of being a designer is of course creating the garments and to be able to work creatively and see people feel good or pretty in the garments that I have made!
How would you describe your brand conception and aesthetic? Is there anything people find characteristically original about your designs? I focus on interesting and versatile design. A lot of our garments can be worn different ways, so you will have several garments in one. I like for the customer to have that free dom to transform the garment. Our signature color is black, as black is classic and can be combined with anything. Even though black in a way is a strong color, it kind of also acts as a blank canvas that let the design take the focus. The idea is also that the garments can be used day to night. That you can wear them to work, but also feel dressed up enough to go straight out in the evening. Quality is very important to me, both in fabrics, fit and craft. I want to deliver something I can be proud of and stand by and that the customer have for many years.
What people usually find original about our brand is the transformative design and the fact that the clothes are pretty timeless.
How do you want wearers to feel when they put on your clothes? What sort of person wears your clothes? My goal is to make people feel good about themselves when wearing our clothes. Because I think if you feel better, you will do better! I think a lot of different people wear out clothes as they are classic black they can be combined with pretty much anything and get a lot of different expressions. Mostly I think a person with a strong sense of self, who has appreciation for design wear our clothes.
How do you approach a new collection? Where do your ideas evolve from? After designing a collection I often feel kind of empty and out of ideas and wonders how I am going to be able to make a new one. But as time passes I slowly start to get new ideas. It can be different things, everything from a detail I want to use or a particular fit and the concept starts to shape. Where the ideas evolve from is hard to say. I think they are just an result of all the impressions and thoughts over a period of time. Aside from that I usually like to work the same way, or at least I have done it so far. Which is to work with different geometrical shapes, and place and wrap them around the body. I like the contrast of taking something so strict as a square and make it organic and fluid.
Describe your design process from mood boards to picking out fabrics to production please. What captures your attention when looking for the materials you use in your designs? Do you have any fashion rules when putting an outfit together? When I have the idea and concept I start sketching, when I have done that for a little while I start playing with fabric on a dummy and sketch some more. Then I choose fabrics and accessories and choose the final garments. When that is done, I need to draw something that we call flat drawings and figure out all the measurements to send to the factory to make samples. Then it comes to materials, I like to use natural materials as much as I can, because they breathe and are better to wear and they are better for the environment as the nature can break them down. And the touch and feel of it and weight and thickness needs to correspond with the design. I like to use the same fabric for the entire collection if possible. It makes it easy to layer the garments together if you want an monochrome look. I don’t think I have any fashion rules when putting an outfit together, at least not that I am aware of.
What are you fascinated by at the moment and how does it feed into your work? There are so many things up there (in my brain), a delightful mess, so it is hard to pinpoint one specific thing actually. But I often do think that it translates into my work somehow, probably more than I think.
How is your work received internationally? What kind of feedback do you usually get on your designs? We have gotten a lot of good feedback and support so far and we are very grateful for that. The feedback we usually get is that people like that the garments are so versatile, flowy and comfortable and also reasonable priced for the quality.
If “Too Damn Expensive” could have any celebrity spokes-model, who would it be? I am not that concerned about celebrities really as they are usually just regular people, with the difference that a lot of people know who they are. But off course because of that fact they have the attention and can get the word out there faster. I would like the cool and confident everyday girls/women out there to be our spokes-models!
What do you wish people knew about the fashion industry? What do you think is the most common misconception? Wow, that question! I don’t even know where to start, there is so much to be said here. I mentioned some of the upsides of this industry earlier, but there also is a lot of downsides and it is a though business. Even more so if you want to stay real and have your integrity intact in the end of the day. I met someone who had been in the industry for a few years while I went to fashion school and I remember she told me: ” If you can do anything else, do that, unless you really want this” I think this industry is hard to understand if you are not in it, it can even be hard to understand if you are in it, because there is a lot of things that doesn’t really make sense. I think the biggest misconception is that people think it is a lot glamour and champagne, but the truth is that this industry is full of people that work very hard and often also has invested everything they own. Some succeed, and many don’t. So it is an industry with a lot of broken dreams. And the saddest thing about this I think is that I don’t think people realize how much talented people the world never get to see.
How would you define style? What does style mean to you? I think style is personal, to me style is the different aspects of your personality combined together. I think it is cool when people have an distinct style that suits their personality.
What three style habits should every woman break? I think too often people get caught up in trends, which kind of are rules. And understandable so, because it is easy to get influenced by it. It is kind of how trends work. But don’t get caught up in the current trend, because not all people look good in all trends or feel comfortable in them. Rather take out elements that suit you and combine it with your own taste or twist. And in general it is funnier to break the rules, isn’t it? Break the rules as much as you can, because there is no such thing as fashion prison!
Who are some of your personal favorite fashion icons? The first one that comes to mind is Lady Gaga. I mean when you show up in a dress made entirely of raw meat, you really have broken all the rules right? I think she in general influenced us all to dare a little bit more!
In your opinion, what new idea or innovation is having the most significant impact on fashion design? I think I would say social media and online stores. Because of that brands can reach their customers directly instead of having to go through physical stores or traditional media.
What are your thoughts do you think of eco-fashion? I think it is important that we all take our share of the responsibility, and we also need help from the consumers to buy more consciously. In our company we are all for the slow-fashion movement, creating timeless, non season, versatile and quality clothes that lasts. And also for the last two seasons we have only used 100% tencel/lyocell fabric in our garments. It is an incredible silky and soft fabric which is sustainable, regenerated from wood cellulose and is one of the most environment friendly regenerated fabrics.
How do you go about getting yourself known? Any advice on how businesses can use social media to promote themselves? When we started out we didn’t have the benefit of an huge marketing budget, or in the position to hire a PR firm or anything like that and we still don’t. For us it have been word of mouth and recently we also have had some great support from a lot of bloggers and influencers. I do think the best marketing anyway is happy customers who tell their friends! When it comes to how business can use social media to promote themselves, I am really not the right person to ask as I have never myself been in any social media. We only recently started an Instagram.
What is the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started your company? What I would say in general is that a lot of the time, things are not as they seem, few people nowadays are in the business of keeping it real. And don’t assume that people are smarter than you just because they try to tell you that they are. And remember that people usually don’t have your best interest at heart, they have theirs. And last but not least is a phrase that is somewhat cliché but very important: Stay true to yourself;)
Do you have any social media channels where we can stay up to date with your designs? Yes! You can follow us at @chrlieblck on Instagram! And check out www.toodamnexpensive.com
From your point of view, what is most challenging about a career in fashion design? As rewarding as a career in fashion design can be, it is equally challenging and there is a lot of pitfalls on the way. I think the most challenging is that the industry is hard to break into. Talent alone is not enough, you have to be prepared to work very hard.
One thing that bugs you about humans is that…? That is a lot unfortunately. I kind of have an love/hate relationship with the human race. On one hand I love to get to know new people, NICE people. However the human race must be the stupidest race alive. The biggest threat to humans are humans, we are the only ones who just messes it up for ourselves. Imagine how great we could be! So if I have to boil it down to one thing it will be selfishness. People don’t seem to understand that everything is connected and everything has consequences, eventually for everybody.
What superpower you wish you had and why? It is so hard to choose! But I think I would like to be like the purple-haired girl in the movie Kick-ass. Just to be able to kick ass (laughing)!
Please tell one surprising fact about yourself. Even though I am an fashion designer, who loves to dress up and has a big closet, I usually spend my days in my home office wearing the same attire as Hugh Hefner.