April 4th, 2009


Fashion notes from Oslo

Visiting-lecturing at Oslo's art school last week I had a chance to check out the city's fashion memes. It seemed to me that the garment language in the vicinity of art school buildings was fairly close to what you'd see in creative areas of cities like Berlin, Copenhagen, Stockholm, London: skinny jeans, Converse All Star plimsolls, a checked shirt or witty tee, a brightly-coloured keffiyeh scarf folded at the neck to make a point at the front, some chunky, brightly-coloured 80s-retro sunglasses or Rayban Wayfarer-type specs, hair rather neatly-trimmed at the sides and side-parted (in men) to evoke the 80s, neat beards.

Oslo -- you can peep the city yourself via Streetpeeper -- did seem slightly more formulaic than Berlin, though, slightly more "correct" in its approximation of this standard hipster outfit, as if the kids there were working a bit harder or more self-consciously to get the look "right", and perhaps spending more money than Berliners would. In that sense, Oslo felt a teensy bit more conformist and provincial than Berlin; a city with a small and intense creative scene where everyone is "on the same page", rather than Berlin's interlocking multitudes, its different looks on different tribes: deliberately-sinister suedeheaded gays, Terries on the music scene rocking Terry moustaches and Terry frames, students without enough cash to shop at Adidas or American Apparel, fashion people in fashion person sempiternal black, eccentric artists doing eccentric things.

I suppose I'd have to fit that last category; I've never invested in a pair of skinny jeans or a keffiyeh; I like the way they bring colour to an outfit, but I suppose I feel they're like old school ties or something -- they signal membership of a club I'm not really part of, a twentysomething tribe whose language I'm too old to speak. Here are some keffiyeh kids spotted at a recent Peres Projects opening in Berlin, for instance:

In Oslo I sported, instead, my usual homeless eccentric look, buying a cheap purple blanket and draping it over my shoulders. It was warm enough for me to leave the house without a jacket or a coat, just my little Tibetan monk's bag slung over a shoulder, holding the "cape" on. A pair of Chinese drawstring trousers blurred the shape of too-tight tights beneath -- tights which could almost look like the skinniest pair of Levis ever, if you wore them with Converse and a keffiyeh. Which I don't, and won't.

I think my look is probably closer to the eccentricities of the Gay Kids we looked at the other day. I seem to want to be a middle-aged trapper-pirate version of the goofy kids in the Start-Rite poster. Oh, you don't remember the Start-Rite poster? Of course. You weren't around in the sixties.

Out of all the students I spent time with over the past week, the two coolest, in terms of their visual self-presentation, were men. Rickard was a bearded Swede with the most amazingly big pale blue eyes, Mauro a Colombian with straggly Jesus hair, clear caramel skin and an elegantly-hooked nose. I asked Mauro where he got his spectacles (Ray Bans with a clear section at the bottom of the frame), and he told me he'd bought them for 100 yen (about a dollar) off a street vendor in Shinjuku just two weeks ago. It was sort of ironic, because we'd been talking about whether Colombian artists get their ideas from art magazines in London and New York -- whether, in other words, Bogota is culturally "provincial". But not only does Mauro do his fashion shopping in Tokyo, when we got down to art specifics -- discussing, for instance, a Colombian artist whose work reminded me of Jake and Dinos Chapman's Chapman Family Collection, or a Colombian rap video that made me think of Buraka Som Sistema -- it turned out that the Colombian versions had been done before their Western equivalents. It may be New York and London which are "provincial".