Norway finally has a fashion week that works. And the star of the show was Admir Batlak.
The Opera House in Oslo, designed by Snøhetta, served as this years venue for Oslos new fashion week, which debuted last year at Kulturkirken Jakob. The event itself has taken som big leaps in the right direction this second time around. Not least by partnering up with major department stores in Oslo such as Paleet, Steen & Strøm, Aker Brygge and Eger, who all sponsored a designer of their choice. This type of collaboration is probably crucial for Oslo Runway if they are to include even more designers, not all of which are able to afford the cost of a fashion show.
In a way, it feels as though Norwegian fashion has been trying to get up off it´s feet for half a century. This year, I had the feeling that we had finally taken some major steps in the right direction. That was made evident not least by the fact that Culture Minister Linda Hofstad Helleland showed up, signaling that the government is serious about it´s commitment to the industry. The Norwegian people’s relationship with fashion is complicated and ofte ambivalent. In that respect, it wasn’t at all surprising that a lot of what was shown at Oslo Runway was not so much fashion as just plain clothes: practical basics with a small twist that made it just interesting enough. But then the governments policy when it comes to fashion (yes, they have one) is about building a business, not art. Which is probably exactly what is needed to make it grow at this point.
A few favorites at Oslo Runway: Elisabeth Stray Pedersen, Christina Ledang og Veronica B. Vallenes. Photo: Indigitalimages og Tuva Winslöw Dyvik
Nevertheless, an event like Oslo Runway has to have something that has people gasping for breath. The designer that everyone talked about with enthusiasm and desire, was Admir Batlak. He kicked off the second day at the Opera House with a collection full of color, historical references and a strong personal signature. Colorful, figure-hugging dresses, oversized babydoll dresses and tops with cat motifs that looked like they had been flung from the closet of a teenager reminded us that what is shown on the catwalk is not about wearability. It is about presenting new and fresh ideas.
– Creating something new is what I feel fashion is all about, says Admir Batlak when I meet him for a coffee two days after the show.
– That’s what fashion designers are trained for. I always try to move away from things I have seen a lot of and rather create something more rich and complex, where the references are not as obvious.
One such reference is the Yugoslav film Time of the Gypsies by the director Emir Kustirica who won the Palme d’Or twice at The Cannes film festival. Batlak saw the movie at the age of nine in Bosnia, where he grew up, and now recently again. It was the starting point for his autumn/winter collection and the song “Ederlezi” also played during the presentation, a sort of national anthem from the time Batlak lived in the Balkans. The song also features in the movie.
– There is an atmosphere in the film that reminded me of that particular time in my life when the movie came out, he says.
– There was a lot of national pride associated with Kusturica films and the fact that a Yugoslav director could win awards at Cannes.
Then he continues, without any hint of sentimentality.
– But when you work with fashion, you have to learn to treat these things on a more superficial level. You have an entire library in your head that you can pick from. In the collection I showed recently, there are also references to Cristóbal Balenciaga babydoll dresses, the Ivy League, which I always like to include, and also some tacky elements, such as faux fur, leopard and sequins, which I try to transform into something every women would want.
Compared to other, more commercial Norwegian brands like Fall Winter Spring Summer, Tom Wood and Holzweiler it’s as if Admir Batlak insist on working his way into peoples closets through the back door. He showed his first collection at Galleri Riis in Oslo, the next one on the sidewalk outside Kunstnernes Hus. The third was shown at Gallery 1857.
– I find it very rewarding to work with galleries because the conversation tends to revolve around other things than just practicality and profit. Besides, there are plenty of examples from around the world where art and commerce coexist. In fact, I think they depend upon each other.
– This spring, two shops in Oslo are selling your clothes and one in Sandvika?
– Yes, the brand has had a positive development, and I am very keen to work on an even more luxurious level. It’s the only place where you can really experiment and work with ideas. When you have resources, you can allow yourself to think in a bigger way. It’s expensive to run a fashion brand, it’s not like you just need a laptop and a desk, he says with a nod toward me.
– You need to rent a studio, have machines, materials, give presentations. If you don´t have the necessary resources, you just can´t do it.
In addition to working as a designer, Admir Batlak teaches classes at the Academy of Fine Arts in Oslo. Ever since he left the fashion brand Batlak & Selvig that he was part of in the late 2000s, he has also had some loyal customers who has bought clothes from him when the shops were not ready to take them in. To understand why he has achieved such a following, you simply have to try the clothes on. There is something slightly addictive about them, a distinct signature combined with great craftsmanship that make the garments flattering and even forgiving.
– I spend a lot of time improving small things, he says.
– The pencil skirts, for example, are something I have developed over a number of seasons. The collections may change, but what you see is still a woman in a skirt and a top. When it comes to cut, fit and comfort you can’t fool women.
– How long do you spend in a collection?
– I designed this one in four weeks. I’m the first to complain about the lack of time, and yet when I know I have only four weeks I become incredibly clearheaded and efficient. I work in an atelier, which means I don´t have to wait for samples to come from the factory. I don´t actually assemble a garment until I am completely sure of what it´s actually going to be. The last piece for this collection was finished at a quarter past eight the morning of the show. It´s like that every season.
– Some designers clearly think this kind of pressure is hard to endure, but perhaps it has to be this way?
– I think so. You just don´t go to bed at midnight the evening before a show. There are still things that can be improved. I think that if you keep going until the very last second at least you know you gave it your very best.
Admir Batlak is sold at No 9 in Oslo and Mark + Brandy in Oslo and Sandvika