Green Screens & Skate Scenes: Soulland

When I first met Silas and Jacob from Soulland back in 2013, everything felt like it was on the interim. Gradually growing out of their Copenhagen base, the label was making waves in the UK with a solid network of supporters and stockists as well as a growing international fanbase. In the light of how refined and self-assured the Soulland brand was, it was really surprising how laidback and fluid the two founders were and that interview stuck with me as an ideal way that an interview could play out, cutting through some of the pretense and performing that comes with the fashion industry and uncovering the heart of the people behind the brand.

When I was asked if I was up for meeting back up with Silas and Jacob last week it was a total no-brainer. With the rapidly growing London Collections Men season about to begin in under two weeks, the guys had swung through the city to make their last few preparations and get ready to present their FW15 collections. I went along to catch back up with them and find out how things were going and talk about how things have been going with Soulland since we last spoke. It’s fair to say that Soulland has only gone from strength to strength in each passing season, but I was reassured to see the pair have remained light-hearted and laidback as ever. Having caught half an hour with the guys in between a busy schedule of meetings and an evening flight back to Copenhagen, we covered a pretty crazy amount of ground. Here’s what Silas and Jacob had to say about skateboarding, LCM, growing as a business and London’s non-stop culture.

It’s been a while since we last spoke. How have things been going since then?

Silas Adler: I think we met September two years ago. It feels like nothing has happened and everything has happened at the same time. That was when we’d decided we wanted to try and push Soulland onto an international platform, and instead of raising awareness of Soulland as a brand from Copenhagen, trying to establish it as part of the international scene. London was our focus for starting that and still is. It feels like it was the right decision, we put a lot of work into it and for us there will always be a desire to go further and expand things but now when we go out and travel with the brand it feels less like we’re one of those nice little Danish menswear brands. It’s much more like they know Soulland and we’ve found our little spot in the scene.

Jacob Kampp Berliner: Also when we started applying for LC:M we had already decided that, whatever amount of time it would take, we were here for the long haul. There’s a lot of brands who want to show abroad from Scandinavia etc. This has felt like we were gaining new ground in an artistic sense, for the brand and for ourselves.

SA: I think that one of our strengths is that we’re not the kind of brand where everything will happen really quickly. We’ll always be slowly building up, but we’re patient. That’s really important—when we’re shifting the ship in a different direction we have the patience to wait for the wind instead of constantly switching and trying to be something we’re not.

Last time you were working on opening a flagship store out in Thailand and I see recently you’ve been giving heads up to the US skate scene on the bulletin—Fucking Awesome, Quartersnacks, Leo Fitzpatrick etc. Where have your travels taken you recently?

SA: We both told our girlfriends we wouldn’t travel so much this year, so obviously we’ve been travelling more than ever before! We actually got back from New York a few weeks ago and guest-edited a magazine while we were out there. But there’s two reasons for all the skate stuff at the moment; firstly there’s so much interesting stuff happening in the skate world at the moment, and being from that scene it’s something we want to communicate; on a personal level, my son is now at the age where I have time to skate again so I’ve been skating more now than I have since I started Soulland. There’s a skate park just by his nursery so a lot of the time I’ll go and drop him off at the nursery and then go and skate for an hour or two, and I’m so happy to be able to do that again.

What are your thoughts on Alex Olson and Bianca Chandôn?

SA: I like it! Because it fucks with the skateboard world. I worked in skateboarding for about three years in shops and distribution and one of the reasons I wanted to take Soulland out of that scene was because the core skate scene is too conservative. For me that core scene doesn’t reflect the philosophy of skateboarding at all. Until maybe two, three years ago, all brands were owned by distribution companies that owned more brands. Even the brands we grew up with—girl, chocolate, those brands that defined our culture toward the end of the ‘90s—they became the same as all the wet brands, element etc.

I got so tired of that world, it was narrow-minded. For me the most interesting thing in skateboarding right now is Polar because they’re like a core skateboard brand in a different way, and the skating and skateboarders that they represent are fucking amazing. From Aaron Herrington, Hjalte Halberg, Pontus Alv, they all skate so fucking well, and it feels like a skate team from the 90s where you can see they all know each other and click.

As for Bianca, it’s fucking with the core skateboard understanding of what a brand should be and it’s playing with those taboo things that the conservative skate world finds unspeakable, like homosexuality and drag culture. For a culture as rebellious as skateboarding to be so traditionally masculine, it’s weird, and now we’re at a time where it almost feels like Southern Hip-Hop from Atlanta is more liberal and progressive in that sense than skateboarding, which genuinely makes so fucking sense to me at all.

JK-B: A lot of those things that we grew up with that inspired us eventually came into Soulland anyway—rebellion, the outsider, the alternative—and in the late 90s it just seemed to get so boring!

SA: The millennium years were so stuck up, particularly in skateboarding and hip-hop. That model was created in the 90s and then you were just following those rules and formulas. It didn’t evolve, and that’s when I started looking into fashion and listening to house music and techno and all these other scenes where there was real freedom again. Hopefully that will come back to skateboarding as well.

I was at the Vans Propeller premier a couple of weeks ago in Copenhagen. The Copenhagen scene right now is quite coloured by what Polar have achieved in Malmö. It’s crazy to see all these people that have been waiting for this video for such a long time. I talked to Rune Glifberg about it and he was like, ‘It’s fantastically filmed, high production, amazing tricks, come on!’ And I said, ‘Yes, but you don’t get any sense of the culture.’ When Flip did Sorry, that scene wasn’t really my thing but every time you re-watch it you get an understanding of skateboarding culture. It shows the personality and energy. The Vans video, everyone is basically made into one guy. Just a bunch of different tricks, no culture, and Rune stopped and was like, ‘Fuck, you’re right.’

I was talking to someone the other day about punk and rebellion and how it seems to have become a packaged part of the product. At least with Bianca Chandôn, Bronze 56k, Palace, Polar, rebellion is almost being taken out of that context and redefined. They’re taking the culture out of the package and redefining it again.

JK-B: Which is all about finding new inspiration and new energy.

SA: And Bronze are totally embracing skate culture from their environment. The Quartersnacks clips for me, I can just relate to it. It’s a crew of friends that skate and I can relate to that so much. That inspires me. I’ve watched more or less every clip online, even some of the whack stuff, and I think it was Jerry Hsu that said skateboarding is a bit like porn—before it was high quality production and people put a lot of heart and soul into it, and now it’s just like reels of shit getting churned out on the internet. And isn’t that it? It’s so true.

Last time we talked about the importance of themes in your collections. Recently there’s been a strong use of floral imagery and what look like navigational symbols. Could you talk me through your recent inspirations?

SA: It’s quite funny really. Last time we were really inspiration and theme-focused. That’s still a big aspect, using knowledge and inspiration as a tool for creating, but the last three seasons have redefined our process. We’ve taken a much more random and liberal approach. It’s less theme-based but there are inspirations that we work with in a more random way. Personally I feel much more confident as a designer now, so I’m more able to take a garment-by-garment approach, and then when I have doubts I can return to those stories and reassess.

JK-B: But I think there’s a stronger element of storytelling to the inspiration now. It’s woven together.

SA: When we present at LC:M in a couple of weeks we have three or four stories that have been put into a bowl, mixed together and picked up. The collection is so big now as well, so if everything is about space or architecture or whatever then it’s dull or too thin. If we blend little aspects of culture and inspiration into single garments then it can all be exciting. Before, the theme-based approach was perfect; it was necessary because we were inexperienced and we needed tools that could help focus our process. Now we’re strengthened; we have a design team that makes it easier for me to focus on garments; we do a lot of textiles from scratch as well. For this upcoming collection we designed I think seven or eight textiles from scratch so now the process is not just going to a fabric factory, choosing a fabric. Now it’s like, “Okay, nylon… with a wool, and then this weave or that weave?” And now we have mills that we partner with and have built relationships with.

JK-B: Our production set-up is getting so much stronger. It’s a big part of having partners, you can trust them and go back to them and work together. We produce almost everything in Europe. The only stuff that’s outside of Europe is the stuff that we physically cannot do, like the silk.

I was going to ask about all the crazy silk garments I’ve seen lately!

SA: Yeah, the silk is made in China because they do it better. But having that capacity to start from the very beginning with the fabric becomes a completely different layer of the creative process. Now I can stand back and look at my work and say, “I seriously made this. Maybe YKK made the zipper, but everything else is completely mine. We did the fabric. We chose the thread colours for the jacquard weave. It’s us.” That’s due to the fact that we have that team now, four people working on collections. Time to make the fabric, design the collection, produce each piece.

It’s the difference between creating from materials and creating the materials.

SA: Exactly! You start with a truly blank canvas.

The one thing I seem to hear from every designer I read about or talk to is how challenging footwear is for fashion labels. It seems like footwear has expanded a lot for you guys recently, how has it been?

SA: I’ll be perfectly honest, it’s still the biggest challenge we have in the collection. It’s just really fucking hard.

JK-B: We decided from the beginning that if were going to do shoes, we couldn’t do really cheap shoes. We’ll use the best material and we won’t have any margins, so then it doesn’t matter how they sell because we won’t make money anyway! [Laughs] No, seriously, it’s true.

SA: Also, it’s difficult when you’re in this environment. The people that collect sneakers, that’s one world, but the rest of us that really wear shoes, the mentality is one of it just being something we wear. You buy a pair of slip-ons, you wear them for a month and then you buy a new pair. We have an unhealthy way of consuming footwear because it’s so cheap, so it’s really hard to come from a side angle, creating a shoe that’s well-made and high quality and it’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah, but I’d rather have a new pair of Vans every other month.’ So it’s very hard. All the other groups have been growing steadily but footwear is a challenge.

JK-B: And when you’re a contemporary label you don’t really fit into the shoe chain, it’s department stores and independent retailers. It’s easier if you have a clear concept with one shoe, but we wanted to stay true to the brand. Our shoes are somewhere between skate shoes and classic leather.

Too fashion for the sneaker stores and too casual for the fashion stores.

JK-B: Exactly, but now people are wearing more casual shoes and that element of fashion is growing and we’re selling a lot from our website, but it’s difficult to find the right distribution to take that further. So that’s it, keep going, develop the models and see where it takes us.

I remember before we talked about that epic promotional video you shot deep in the forest. Your last Erotic & Exotic presentation at LCM was pretty extravagant too with the green screen projections and the app. Can you talk a bit about that?

SA: We’ve done three shows where we used tech as part of the concept; a live stream where you could buy direct from the stream; one with QR codes that you could activate during the show, scanning the models. The whole idea came from a desire to make something where the phone was a direct tool, an interface that altered the physical space. So it’s not just, “See; get something on the phone”. How can you combine the physical world with the technical world? My first idea was augmented reality because it was an interesting concept and nobody had succeeded in achieving something there. Everything was just super nerdy stuff for other nerds to enjoy. That’s a big problem with tech. It’s alienating and the people that make it either make it for advertising or for information.

JK-B: Super techy and overdone… So many meetings!

SA: So many fucking meetings and we’re sitting there going, ‘Guys—we do not want information.’ They’re like, ‘Yeah, but then you can do prices that pop up!’ People start talking about the “virtual changing room”. Fuck the virtual changing room! When you go to a store and you’re holding up a jacket to see how it looks on, you might as well put the jacket on and feel it! I wanted to put in inspiration and creativity, so for technical reasons the augmented reality wasn’t up to the standard that we wanted. Eventually an agency said, ‘Well, there’s green screen technology but I guess you’re not interested in that…’ and I was like, ‘Fuck, that’s perfect!’ You don’t have any delay, no loading; it’s simple and instant. So we worked from that concept and it was the perfect way to enter LC:M. We knew that nobody else would be doing that. Technically it was a nightmare and we didn’t sleep for three months—Internet in the church was a major issue—but it couldn’t have gone better in the end.

JK-B: That feeling of taking a simple piece of technology and just tweaking it a bit into something really creative.

It’s crazy to be in an age where you’ve got the Internet, YouTube, Spotify, the iPod, all of Apple’s products, and for a discussion about tech to still revolve around information as opposed to entertainment and providing an experience.

SA: Exactly! They had this Heineken bottle where you point your phone at the bottle and the label opens up and inside you could see how they brew the beer. I don’t want information about beer! I want culture! I want experience! I’d prefer if the label opened up and it showed me one of those compilation videos of drunk Russians fighting and trying to ride bicycles that don’t have any wheels! That would be cool because that’s the culture of drinking!

We talked a little bit about life back in Denmark last time. I’ve been seeing quite a few events at the Soulland store in Copenhagen over the past few months, it seems like the Copenhagen community is really buzzing.

SA: We’ve always been quite clear that when we take focus away from Denmark in the broader scheme that we should bring back some focus on the grassroots of Copenhagen’s culture. Do things that aren’t about selling anything. Give people an opportunity to come in.

JK-B: We wanted to create space for people who’ve been working with us for a long time because we’ve been making all these decisions and then everything is what we want, but it’s good to support a younger person with a different perspective and see if they can push us in a different direction. We can’t be too rigid in our attitude to how things should be.

SA: The Soulland Sound project with the in-store concert literally started giving some of the younger people in the company the opportunity to start their own project. We want them to develop and grow and it’s working really well. The people that come to the concerts are new and exciting. It’s a great way to open up the store, not so much about selling products.

JK-B: I think it comes down to the DNA of Soulland also. We want our people to be creating and developing in some way and if they move on you want them to succeed. It’s a good way to look at your company. Remember the one good teacher you had at school and the rest was bullshit? You could be that one good teacher that gives someone direction and makes the experience better.

You’ve just started the Curated interview series and that seems to have been a really big success. The people I’m seeing on there—Shaun Powers, Mike Skinner, Gary Warnett—it’s been really consistent and strong.

SA: We have more stuff in the pipeline. It’s really one of those projects where the more you do it, the bigger names you can bring in. If you read them the whole idea is that we start by assuming that the reader already knows who the person is. This is not about introductions. It’s about starting at step two, talking about their opinions related to what they do. It’s not that I’m not interested in where Gary grew up, but we only have so much space and I know he has really interesting things to say. I’d much rather focus on letting him speak about that. The other stuff is done.

JK-B: And we don’t want to make it about some Soulland-directed thing. It’s about letting that person speak for themselves and creating something a bit different.

SA: Leo Fitzpatrick’s story about how he met Larry Clark at the Brooklyn Banks is crazy. It’s like we’ve come to this point where there’s all these people who defined a scene in one way or another and we had the opportunity to document it and it’s really exciting.

And what’s the general plan for Soulland over the next few months, and what’s your perspective on how LC:M has developed in the scene in recent years?

JK-B: With LC:M, if you’re not from here, it’s really impressed people. It’s succeeded in bringing a lot of focus on London. If you go to Italy it’s tired, there’s nothing new popping up. London manifested as the place to be for talent. Also, as you get bigger names here it’s not just talent, it’s proper business. That makes it even more interesting. You don’t want a bunch of kids just out of school. You want a mixture and that’s what LC:M is becoming.

SA: As a mens’ week with menswear as a focus it’s the best in the world right now for me. You still have a very focused vibe here. People are working. It’s not just G-Star branding a hotel and getting wasted. People have come to work. You have the best buyers, the best editors, the best teams coming from all over and people are hungry for inspiration. The fact that it’s the very first stop of the season is brilliant because people come to get an overview and really get inspired.

JK-B: It helped to push us as well. Everything a month faster.

SA: Definitely. Having to have everything ready so early. Normally Paris starts things off, and that’s three weeks after LC:M, and you need time to style and prepare, so it’s crazy early but it motivates. As for us, right now we’re focusing on internal Soulland stuff and just grinding. We have a collaboration next season with the artist Charlie Roberts which we’ll be showing in a couple of weeks, and we’re still working on expanding the retail concept. We want more stores.

Space for shoes.

SA: Hahaha yeah, t-shirts in the front, shoes in the back. But seriously, since last time there’s been a tremendous focus on LC:M and that brand-building toward something ready for the international platform. Internal set-up and external development. More professionalism, shipping systems, back-end algorithms. We have an algorithm for the store now so whenever we get an order on the store our logistics manager’s computer starts playing ‘C.R.E.A.M.’

It feels like Soulland has really settled in now. Last time it was really breaking through and contending, but now it’s much more solid and defined.

JK-B: I think we really discovered London also. The music scene and culture. Before it was much more US and Paris and now it’s London. We’re here more than anywhere else.

SA: I really think I get it now. You’re not thinking about how you get around anymore. Now you know, so we can just go with it.

JK-B: Grime, too.

SA: Yeah, I’m really getting into Grime music as well.

Which means we now have to have another interview in the future to talk about Grime. We’ll talk.

Photos: James Clothier
Words: GregK

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