HOPE Is The Swedish Label Serving Up Androgynous Style Authority
In 2001, Sweden’s Anna Ringstrand and Stefan Söderberg set out to create a women’s label that would slowly but surely blend gender lines. At first, HOPE’S nods to menswear were slight, as the focus remained primarily on creating high-quality fashion that was both contemporary and timeless. In 2005, however, they began releasing men’s clothes. That said, every garment coming out of HOPE features sizes for both men and women, regardless of whoever was in mind during the piece’s creation. Essentially, it seems that the idea is to remain realistic about the literal differences amongst bodies dependent on sex, while opening things up when it comes to gender.
Just a couple of weeks after the brand’s show during Stockholm Fashion Week, we sat down to talk with Creative Director Frida Barb about the brand’s approach to gender, fighting against fashion’s exclusivity, and what they’re working on next.
I missed Stockholm fashion week this season. How was your show?
It was good. Last year we were quite unorganized. Everything was a bit of a mess, but this season was calmer, we had everything in order. It was a great experience. We did a simple setting with clean benches and lots of flowers.
How many seasons have you done so far?
And when you’re doing the shows, how do they come together in terms of the music, the clothes, and all the various elements?
I prefer to call them presentations rather than shows, because we’re not really a “show” brand. We do pants and shirts [Laughs]. The first time we did it, it was more like an installation—we were working with two guys from Copenhagen who do interiors and installations. We had these big wooden platforms that the models were standing on, more of a presentation. They were standing together in one large group, like they were hanging out. The second season, we had people both sitting and standing, which was better compared to the first season when everyone were standing so no one could see anything.
Nobody apart from the front row. This season we decided to seat everybody instead so that all guests got front row. We do our presentations here at the office because we want to invite people to our home. I wish to keep it as honest and true to what it really is. We empty the space as much as we feel we need to and create an atmosphere that works for the season.
It’s a really big space, there’s a lot to do with it.
We emptied the whole central area of the office including our design space and removed all of the desks. Afterwards, we had a party, and since we were the last on the schedule, we had a lot of people here. In a way, the moments after a show are more interesting than the actual show.
We decided to do, as you would do at home when you have people over for dinner, to buy lots of flowers to make it look nice. We had flowers everywhere which was beautiful.
Yeah, I saw a lot of pictures of it, I was having really bad FOMO by not being there.
It was simple and nice.
It kind of sounds like you did away with a lot of the less fun aspects of fashion week, which are also the less fun aspects of fashion. I think, like a lot of the shows when I was in Milan and Paris, were really front row oriented and…. I don’t know the right word, not unwelcoming, but it kind of feels stiff.
Yeah, absolutely. This whole show business is so bizarre to me, like who sits next to who, who can and cannot stand, everything like that. Who is pictured together with whom. Yeah, I don’t know who thinks that’s fun actually.
Maybe not anyone.
I don’t know how we’ll do presentations in the future. I just feel that I don’t want to do shows anymore but rather present the collection in some other way.
Would you show somewhere else?
We’ll see, maybe in the future. We’re looking at more global markets now than we’ve done before.
Can you talk about the beginning of the brand, and how it started and what the vision was initially?
You want to talk about what it was when it started? Like way back?
Kind of. What it is now too, and the in between.
When HOPE was founded, it started as a womenswear brand. The initiative was to create garments, a female wardrobe, inspired by the men’s wardrobe. Using fabrics and cuts that you would usually find in menswear, and that was in the beginning of 2000. Back then, Swedish fashion was very influenced by Denmark, by boho, hippie-chic, sequins and stuff. Very romantic. The founders of HOPE wanted to create something harsh and black and grey, and much more Belgium kind of style. So they did that, and they had a big success with it from the start, and it was appealing to both men and women. From the beginning, the womenswear line was selling to both men and women so after a while, they started to do a specific men’s line as well. I think that in Sweden, many have thought that we’ve been bigger in the men’s section, but we’ve always been bigger on women’s. Myself, I thought that it was 75 percent men’s maybe, but it wasn’t at all.
Where do you think that comes from? The visibility of who’s wearing it?
Perhaps. I think it stood out thanks to its’ masculine influences. The other pieces that were more traditionally feminine, weren’t so eye catching. So you weren’t really thinking about them. The vision was to do a masculine wardrobe for women, and they did think about a gender-perspective from the beginning. When I decided to join Hope for 2 and a half years ago, and I looked at it from my side, that aspect was the thing that I thought was interesting, and thinking about how I could translate it for today? How you dress affects how you act. I think that this discussion is so relevant, and has been all the time. I feel that we need to look at it with fresh eyes today.
When you’re talking about the brand, do words like androgyny or gender fluid still come up a lot? How do you choose the terminology that you like to think about it?
In Swedish it’s really hard. In Swedish, you would say könsneutralt, and that’s not so sexy [Laughs].
It doesn’t sound great to be honest [Laughs].
I think that that’s maybe why even in Swedish, people use the English words anyway. We don’t do a unisex collection as we still design one womenswear collection and one menswear collection but many people still try to pull it into the unisex.
I remember a friend of mine was talking to me about HOPE, and I think he was saying that on the inside, when you’re looking at the sizing, it says both men’s and women’s. Was that just one line?
No, that double labeling is on everything. Men’s and women’s bodies look quite different physically so we still do a menswear collection and a womenswear collection, but they’re labeled with both respective sizes—a womenswear shirt is also marked with the respective menswear size and vice versa. For me, what I would want to achieve with this is not to say that I don’t want people to be feminine or masculine, I would say it doesn’t matter who is what. It doesn’t matter if I’m masculine and you’re feminine, that’s what’s important.
I see how people could want to pull that into unisex because you’re putting sizing for both, but it’s kind of a realistic approach to androgyny, because people’s bodies are different, and the way clothes are measured, it’s just different.
It is different. Sometimes you want to wear garments that actually fit your body and other times you want another silhouette. But there’s also a challenge if you only want to do one line as you’d need to adjust after the bigger body. Then we would only have to adjust our clothing to men which would mean that all women would just find clothes that’d been adjusted to men’s bodies, and that just doesn’t feel right either.
It’s hard to cater to everybody in that way. In the same subject, how do you see androgyny at large fitting into the bigger picture at large in fashion? For me, it feels like there’s more and more space for it every year, but you could find people in the industry that disagree with that.
Absolutely. As you say, it feels like it gets a bigger space and a space that is more natural and not something that you necessarily would write about or even talk about in the future, it would just be natural. That’s where I would like it to go, that it grows organically, and becomes a no-brainer. I think that that’s the same discussion with ethnicity as well. Having a diverse casting should be a given for everyone
How do you guys as a brand gauge your success? I mean there’s things like sales, obviously, numbers that any company has to look at, but beyond that, how do you put out a collection and say whether you thought it was good or not? Whether you’re happy with it or not?
For me as a designer, it basically goes back to if I think it’s beautiful or not. And that the collection can stand on its’ own, that the clothes are strong enough without needing a bigger story as well. From a bigger perspective, I always love seeing our clothes on people that inspire me. If I see someone that I think is a great person and if he or she really likes it, that’s when I feel successful. Especially if it’s someone who just discovered the brand and is like, “Wow this is so good!”
It’s kind of like a stamp of approval.
That’s the approval for me. That means like, “Okay, good.”
Do you find it hard when you’re putting together a collection to walk away and say, “This is done.” I feel like often times people are wanting to maybe do one last edit, and it can be really hard to just step away from something.
Since we don’t have an in house atelier, it’s always difficult not to see the complete picture until all the clothes are actually here and it’s all done. But I’m used to work until the very end, so I don’t really see the bad or challenge in not letting go. I think it’s good to continue, to continue, to continue, to continue. The good stuff doesn’t come at the beginning, it comes later.
That’s ok! Just keep pushing until you just can’t anymore.
Basically just keep pushing until you’re actually going to show it.
In the beginning stages, where things weren’t quite there yet, how does it work in terms of finding inspiration, and looking at other brands and lines of the past, something I see that happens more often in fashion than in anything else where it’s creative, because everywhere you’re selling products, but so often there are people who love to purchase things and say, “Oh well, this person did this 50 or 60 years ago.” But it’s so crazy because people are like obsessing over this, it’s already been done, but it’s because of visibility now that people can easily see two images, and not that I’ve seen anything with Hope, but I think it’s something funny happening in fashion right now. Does that ever make you afraid to look at an old shirt, and say, “I really love this thing!”
No, I don’t care [Laughs]. I think it’s about the context. I mean, look at Phoebe Philo, she just picks and chooses and puts stuff together again. It doesn’t matter if it’s been done by Helmut or whoever, which basically everything has, but it’s about the context.
It’s just such a weird thing that’s going on.
I think it’s like, “Ok. You shouldn’t steal from your neighbor.”
So what are you guys working on now?
Now, we work on spring/summer 2019 primarily. Also, a little bit on the pre-spring 2019.
So how many collections come out each year?
Four collections each year. It’s kind of a lot. I can only imagine just finishing something, and immediately having to dive into what’s next, which is exhausting.
We try to find the rhythm. We have a really small, tight design team. Everyone is involved in everything. We try to squeeze in some kind of inspiration in-between seasons to get a little bit of energy [Laughs].
It’s a fast-paced industry, I mean it’s kind of the nature of it.
Since we are not focusing on fast-paced trends, we work very much with our silhouette, and the silhouette is kind of the same all the time, or at least for more than one season. We have an idea of what we like, and we hold on to that and we work around it. With a twist and a turn of course but it’s not that we change every season.
So you have a foundation you can kind of work on.
We have a foundation that we like, and we work around it.
Maybe that makes it a little easier to at least start.
For the spring/summer 2018, we chose to have a season-neutral approach, because when we discussed the looks in our wardrobes, we discovered that we dress pretty much the same all year round. Maybe we throw on a heavy coat, or have on shorts in the countryside, but not too much different than that. We decided to kind of do the same garments as we did in the fall collection, but changing the wool to linen and so on.
It sounds like you have a really realistic approach.
[Laughs] I’m kind of fascinated by this whole realistic approach, but you always need it to be a little elevated, otherwise it’s too boring. At the end of the day, I’m a lazy mama, I have like five minutes in the morning to dress myself, and the rest is for the kids. And then, you just want to throw something on, and I can’t bear when it takes my energy or too much focus because that needs to go to somewhere else. It needs to be simple and it needs to work together, but I still want to look good [Laughs].
It’s a balance.
At the end of the day, it’s not that interesting to do new designs all the time. We work with what we have in our treasured wardrobe archetypes that we keep on working around and working with, and taking new turns with. I mean, how would my perfect wool coat—I really like to be in a wool coat—how would it be perfect? How would it make me feel a little bit more cool than in other wool coats? For us, it’s more a discussion around those kind of questions rather than about a new type of design or a new crazy silhouette.
How does your team approach price points?
I think it’s important that we are offering a price that’s valid for that specific product. We can’t be too cheap because our clothes are made out of a good quality but at the same time it’s not all cashmere. We do have more expensive pieces as well as we use very particular fabrics. Many brands are already delivering great garments for a high price but there’s not as much to choose from in the mid sector. We spend a lot of time on each garment, to make sure that it becomes elevated and perfect rather than not doing as much as possible. More quality than quantity.
So there’s a scale. But even if something is at a lower price point, you guys have put enough time into it that it’s really unique still. You’re not churning things out.
We want people to feel like if they spend 600 euros on us, you will get something really, really, really good. And then you can spend like 100 euros, and you get something good still, but obviously that’s a large difference. It’s a fine line, and I think it’s so much more difficult today, because you have the competition from all these designers and fast fashion as well. When I started with Acne like 15 years ago, it was easier because nobody was doing fashion for a mid-level price point. Either it was Prada or Balenciaga, or it was H&M. There was nothing in between. But today, you have the whole scale.
Images courtesy of HOPE
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