Interview with Andreas Melbostad
Portrait Stefano Guindani
Runway Photographer Menswear SS17 Luca Tombolini | Indigital.tv
Runway Photographer Womenswear SS17 Kim Weston Arnold | Indigital.tv
Name: Andreas Melbostad
Born: 1972, Bærum, Norway
Lives: New York City, USA
Education: Royal College of Art, London
Profession: Creative Director at Diesel Black Gold
Andreas Melbostad is the Overall Creative Director at Diesel Black Gold, an industry leader and above all, an immense inspiration to all of us jeans-wearing and leather-strutting mortals. Ever since he took the reigns of the eponymous line four years ago, business has been growing steadily for Diesel’s younger sibling, as the brand has successfully made itself known for executing lineups of wardrobe staples season after season. By tapping into contemporary style with a relatable young edge and military aesthetic, Andreas has taken its counterpart brand’s irreverent attitude and innovative techniques to new heights of quality and refinement, thus developing Diesel Black Gold’s own signature voice. The 44-year-old Norwegian designer talked to us about his artistic journey, finding profound inspiration in photography, and why he will never be the ‘poster boy’ for Diesel Black Gold.
Mr. Melbostad, do you think true invention in fashion is still something that’s possible?
I understand why you would ask this, as it can feel like everything has already been done at this point, in one way or another. If you look at today’s fashion, it’s all about revisiting older ideas. At Diesel Black Gold, we intentionally work with the things that are somewhat recognizable, pieces that carry the same emotion from the moment they originated. Having said that, I do believe it’s possible to play with the fashion vocabulary and the kind of clothes we are all familiar with – we just have to constantly find new ways to approach it and new techniques of fabricating things. Taking familiar items and giving them a new mood, putting them in a different context in ways that still feel authentic and iconic is what Diesel Black Gold does best. It may not always be something groundbreaking, but in my opinion it’s that subtlety that draws people in.
Based on your archive of rock ‘n’ roll refinement, do you feel invested in keeping fashion utilitarian and practical for the brand? I just love the attitude the utility spirit has! I love the attitude of super iconic pieces, which everyone have in their wardrobe, like a biker jacket or bomber jacket, a good pair of jeans… It’s a vocabulary that I’m always inspired by and try to implement in Diesel Black Gold as well. Fundamentally, it’s what really connects me to this brand and I am dedicated to the mission of what Renzo [Rosso] focused on when building Diesel Black Gold, and I hope it translates into our latest collections.
Growing up in Bærum, Norway, there must not have been a lot of fashion around. Was it an advantage for you to start your career in fashion with such a clean slate? It’s safe to say there was no fashion where I grew up, and definitely not high fashion! Norway has a very casual approach to dressing, as there isn’t much runway fashion around. Especially back in those days, more than twenty years ago, there was no Internet whatsoever; even getting your hands on a fashion magazine was no easy feat. But I was very hungry for information and to try to see something different from the world. So my stand on fashion is that I never take it for granted. I’m very happy and enthusiastic to be part of this industry precisely because it’s so different from what I knew growing up.
So you don’t have any creative background in your family that may have influenced you on some level? Well, my nearest family, such as my parents for instance, they are much more academic. But my aunt from my mother’s side was a fashion and interior photographer living in Paris. You could say she was my glamorous aunt serving as my muse while growing up. I remember how everything of hers was so exotic and exciting to me. But that was the closest to a family member that has had a link to the kind of life and profession I had always hoped to enter.
Speaking of inspiration, I understood that Irving Penn’s photography was the pillar on which you’ve build the SS17 Menswear collection for Diesel Black Gold. What steered this source of inspiration? I have always been in love with Irving’s work, back to when I first discovered it in a college library in Norway, and even today it’s something that I look up at. I love his study of ‘Small Trades’ and how it speaks to the heritage of denim; I immediately felt connected to the spirit of workwear that Italy was pretty much built on. His pictures captured a nobility to it, characters wearing normal workwear from types of trade work that are not necessarily considered noble, but he managed to elevate that look in a very real way. For me that was very inspiring to look at.
Do you think Penn’s austere style and effective simplicity of shooting transferred stylistically into the collection? What I appreciate most about his photography it’s the purity of it. Even when we work on pieces that are quite charged in terms of detailing or content, I always try to look at the purity of the message. That austerity you mentioned has to do with bringing the focus in a very clear message. There’s so much fashion around and each with so many stories, that the only way of keep doing this is to have a very contoured and defined voice of the brand, and to tie an even clearer message with every coming season.
How has the tone of voice of this collection shifted from previous seasons? Is it the same customer you are designing for? I think in some ways, yes. Leading up to the Menswear SS17 show however, as we were working with the latest collection, hair & makeup, casting etc., we shifted the character of the guy a little bit. While in the past we did a lot of street casting on the streets of London in order to find interesting characters, we now have a bit more of an alternative character lined up. When we worked on the spring show, we wanted to have a different sort of purity, a sense of elevation, a different type of classic beauty to it. We still held strong to that alternative beauty and edge, but has become a bit more classic, clean and precise – the general attitude altered a bit. Every season brings on new fabrications, silhouettes, colors etc., but if you break down the clothes from Diesel Black Gold, they are all very consistent. The key is to never lose their appeal.
In your opinion, does the latest Womenswear SS17 collection hold the same attitude as the Menswear? Our women’s attitude has always been more polished. We haven’t done the street attitude or casting either, as we have always envisioned the Diesel Black Gold woman a little bit more refined and with quite of an urban aesthetic – our spring/summer show included. If you take a closer look, the woman has consistently been a little bit ahead of the man. With every season we try to build an even stronger identity and bring something that will keep the audience and clients invested in us, and that will challenge the perception of who we are. For our recent SS17 women’s show, we felt very inspired by David Hamilton – another phenomenal photographer – with a completely different expression, much more ethereal and feminine, so the departure in style is palpable. The duality of this tougher girl that plays on the softer side is where the surprise is coming from.
I also want to touch base on your bold move of relocating the brand to Milan. Was it as favorable as you had hoped for? It was actually very favorable and we are very happy with moving to Milan! It’s true that the brand identity and positioning matched New York perfectly, and as a New Yorker myself it was very comfortable to spend that much time there. But while studying the logistics, we realized how important it was that Diesel Black Gold comes out of this as a global and international brand. You wouldn’t think that the international aspiration could get any higher than hosting the show of an Italian brand in New York, but upon studying the situation in terms of the audience we get from buyers and press, we realized Milan’s numbers were more in our favor. Our first show back here even proved that! Plus, having the company based just a couple of hours outside Milan has been so much more convenient for us logistically speaking. Previously, a lot of our focus went into preparing and producing the show, bringing the entire team to New York etc., whereas now the number one focus are the clothes. This move has allowed us to care more for the product and put more emphasis on what we want to show and the way we want to show it.
In today’s fashion landscape, where so many try to stay afloat, what are other important ingredients in building an enduring brand, aside from the garment? The protean landscape of fashion has obviously changed a lot in the way people buy and communicate with fashion, and I’m sure it will continue to do so. Heck, there are new tools developing as we speak! But for me the product has ultimately been at the heart of what we’ve been doing. Most of our time is dedicated to the design and development of the garment, the way the clothes are perceived and conceptualized. The approach we defined was to create contemporary fashion with straightforward quality and high-end aspirations, where the intellectual content prevails above anything else. Beyond that, of course, there’s an entire modern world we have to address, from how people buy and market the clothes, to how you can have a dialogue with the consumer. It’s quite challenging even if we are coming out of a massive company, so we definitely put a lot of energy in marketing tools. Nevertheless, the product will always remain our number one focus.
Phi, the fashion house for which you previously served as Creative Director, closed down in 2010, as it was too niche for shops to sell and customers to buy. What role does the commercial aspect play for you now at Diesel Black Gold? It’s all super important! Coming out from a giant family like Diesel, people are eager to buy into its heritage and expertise. We have a very solid foundation of denim and leather, and for catering products we have great credibility in. When we work on the collections, there is a very strong component of commercial consideration, but in a way that never kills creativity. Since there are so many other brands in the world that do quite similar jobs, the uniqueness of the Diesel Black Gold product is what drives the sales. We study the smart ways to make a statement that everyone could buy into from both function and budget; a product that is highly editorialized could be what’s most interesting commercially as well. Diesel Black Gold is not a luxury brand, not too highbrow, it does have a certain price point but much more democratic from what I’ve previously worked with.
Are there any significant trends in society today that you feel will play a major role for Diesel Black Gold in the following years, for e.g. renaming the fashion seasons? Having a show tomorrow and displaying the clothes in stores six months later may not be the winning recipe anymore. The same way the audience stopped going to physical stores when online shopping became the next best thing, now there is a burning desire of immediate access to new collections. Waiting six months at a time has become a burden and it all makes very good sense, but in reality it’s not an easy [fashion] cycle to break out of. Clothes take time to make, producing a show equals to months of hard work; even production delivery necessitates enough time. But we are definitely looking into it and considering how we would make the transition ourselves. Diesel Black Gold is still at a start-up phase and we want to conquer by doing well what is right in front of us.
Fashion may have changed, but even larger press and retailers need the lead-time. It’s that disconnect between the ends of the industry that seems to be the dilemma. Sure, even the press needs time to cover the collections, to go see the actual products, and then if they need to write about it or to photograph it, it’s a long process as well. It’s an interesting time of industry experimentation and I guess the moment has come to start finding solutions for this present matter.
I’m curious to know… Do you personally wear the things you design for Diesel Black Gold?
Hmm… Funny that you ask, because menswear is actually very new to me. I’ve never done menswear before coming to Diesel Black Gold. When Renzo asked me to join the team I realized what a big opportunity this was for me, to bring the woman and the man together, two sides of the same voice. But for me it was really important when I started working for menswear to not get too personal about it. As a women’s designer, of course I could identify with the attitude and the character, but it’s an abstract thing for me, so I wanted my approach to menswear to be sort of the same. I didn’t want to suddenly start to think: “Oh, this is what I want to wear, or this is what is comfortable in my life”. I wanted to have the same distance. It’s definitely very personal as an artistic expression, but not in terms of what I wear. I don’t want my personal take on life to affect the collection as much as I absolutely identify with the personality of the clothes. Sure you’ll find me wearing denim and leather jackets – which Diesel Black Gold is all about – but my wardrobe is super simple and uniformed. I’m not an exciting fashion movement haha!