A. A SPECTRUM
Designed in Copenhagen and produced in Beijing, A.A.Spectrum is the utilitarian uniform for the global youth, whose creativity and curiosity can’t be contained by borders. We spoke to the designer behind the brand, Elisabet Stamm, about how she brings her cross-cultural vision to life.
Cara Lerchl Tell us about how A.A.Spectrum came together and the creative team behind it.
Elisabet Stamm I lived in Beijing for two years and have worked and travelled in China for the past 8 years. After moving back to Copenhagen I reached out to a contact in China and we decided to start up this cross-cultural collaboration that is now A.A.Spectrum. I am the sole creator of the brand. This means I am responsible for the direction, the design and the communication. The past year has been extremely fruitful in terms of how people reacted to what we do, so the team has expanded – I have design assistants in both Beijing and Copenhagen. Nevertheless I oversee most of what needs to be done and for various projects I work with and bring in collaborators. I have been working with graphic designer Johan Thermaenius on the brand’s visual identity, the photographer Polina Vinogradova, Thora Valdimars who has styled our past four seasons and since the FW17 season we have been working with Mwanga Sinkolongo and Tine Kozjak of the Paris-based showroom BERG.
CL Your label shows influences from cultural forces from China and Denmark. Can you tell us about you, the founders – and your personal backgrounds?
ES My business partner in Beijing owns and runs manufacturing facilities. We worked together when I lived in China as I was designing for foreign clients and teaching their production team.
CL You are designing in Copenhagen with a specialised Chinese manufacturer. How do your designs benefit from this constellation?
ES I have discovered that there can be what I like to call “perfect mistakes” in working as we do. I give specific directions and sometimes these directions and guidelines are misinterpreted. I find these mistakes interesting. It is hard to design a mistake, but when they work, they add value to my ideas. I am using this as a creative tool. This is one of the benefits of the cross-cultural collaboration. I honour the craftsmanship in our studio in Beijing and their technical skills.
CL How important is being environmentally responsible to you? How do you achieve it?
ES I work with resources that are already settled for production, we use stock fabrics whenever we can, meaning that they are pre-produced. Having a strong focus is, in my opinion, one step towards being environmentally friendly. Working with high quality materials also makes the garments last longer. I think of the multi-functionality of each piece – most of the collection is designed to give each style multiple ways of wearing – and we focus on jackets and coats that are made for both men and women. I have experimented with designing functional jackets in recycled polyester made from plastic bottles. We also use responsible, certified down fillings, and the fact that we can track our down all through the process is very special.
CL Can you explain in detail the special materials you use for your designs?
ES Our Beijing-based production is specialised in jackets and mainly functional nylon or polyester jackets, which became a starting point in my approach to the materials. I think it’s interesting to either blend the man-made and the natural, to make the natural functional, or adding a natural appearance to the man-made fibre. When working with man-made materials, which are often quite stiff, I want to let them ‘live’ a little. This means giving them room, flexibility and volume. For instance, we made nylon into what we call “smashed-yarn” which made it very soft with a silky glow. So the more love you put into the man-made fabrics, the more natural they can appear. I also work with a local silk market in Beijing. We bound the silk and added down filling. This is an experiment of using a natural fibre in modern production. We made a coat in a mix of light organic indigo dyed cotton on one side and silk on the other side filled with down. We are also experimenting with recycled polyester made from plastic bottles. Expression, form and function always come first for us.
CL Which are your main inspirations and references for the brand?
ES I embrace the fact that I am making a puzzle or a painting when I am making a collection. I have to analyse, to feel something or question something in order to create. It has also come quite natural to use my interest for other cultures as a creative force in the collections. I have worked with Chinese elements, both everyday elements and historical references. I do not pretend or have any interest in acting like I am Chinese, but I embrace the impulse I get from what I come across and I let it meet other inputs. Scandinavian sense of form and function probably is a reference too as that is my background.
CL Which are your favourite artists?
ES I have many, but to mention a few: Rembrandt for his early portraits made with such honesty and contrast. His way of creating darkness and light and his once controlled and spontaneous work; Yoko Ono for her simple form of work, her imagination and her commitment to share that with the world; David Lynch for his edge and his ability to leave things for a minute or two, where most would want to make it make sense – the nerve and the tone in his voice and his work; David Bowie for ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and ‘The Spiders from Mars’; David Byrne for ‘Psycho Killer’ and his expressive, yet controlled energy and artistic intelligence.
CL Also, can you tell us about the inspiration of your latest collection?
ES FW19 is our latest collection. We worked with expressive silhouettes, lots of volume and comfort. I wanted the silhouettes to have an organic and soft appearance. Functionality in a new form. I wanted a balance of some pieces being loud and expressive and other pieces more quiet. This is where colours play a big part in my work. The collection has a foundation in earth tones as dark brown and golden sand colours. Another part is light purple and white. I was inspired by ‘a space in-between’ – an imaginary destination. We all seem to be quite taken by either saving the planet or moving on to outer space. I find it calming that there always are other places to go in your mind. A cosmic sky, something between earth and space. As an example of the collection, we made a tie-dye fluid print on fleece. We scaled up an original artwork and made it into a tie-dye technique that will make each piece unique. No piece will have the exact same pattern, yet they will all come from the same artwork. The artwork is originally a painting made by Berlin based illustrator Chau Luong. All of this represents an extended reality or travelling.
CL Which people or brands would you like to collaborate with?
ES I would like to work with colourful minds. People with ambitions bigger than themselves. I send out energy into the world and I would like the physical energy of working with people to be bigger. To work with bigger and more economically-established set-ups that could help channel creative ideas. I want to strengthen the foundation we have built and create a platform of cross-cultural teams working creatively.
CLWhich person would you like to see wearing A.A.Spectrum?
ES Anybody who feels good in my designs should wear them. I designed a coat in one of the first collections while thinking of Kool Moe Dee. At the time I needed some of that old school free and extravagant street vibe, as I wanted things in our tight manufacturing set-up to loosen up a little bit. So I designed this long, layered yellow trench coat and it was a ‘full circle’ feeling when a young hip hop artist made requests on the coat. I would like to see someone who really has a vibe wearing my collection. It is creatively uplifting when artists support each other and it is nice to see when someone with a huge influence on current events inside and out of fashion, art and music supports lesser known designers.
CL What are the future ambitions of the brand?
ES To keep questioning conventions about gender and challenge stereotypical perceptions of how things are made and done. To keep creating functional, expressive designs. To keep the cross-cultural collaboration running and to get more people to exchange, embrace and evolve. We would like to strengthen what we have already established and reach more people.
Interview CARA LERCHL