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Mjolk and Moccasins: Lars Stoten in New York

Lars Stoten knows there's nothing like a big glass of Mjolk to comfort and relax...

Lars Stoten is the 32-year-old designer behind the menswear label Mjolk. Mjolk is the Swedish word for milk, which alludes both to the designer’s Scandinavian heritage as well as his desire to create clothing that is comforting, practical, and refreshing.  Stoten’s background in classic men’s tailoring shines through in collections of carefully considered and well proportioned clothing, where personality is expressed in playful deviations from normative tailoring techniques, interesting luxury knits, splashes of colour, and the effortlessness with which Stoten’s designs can be worn.

For the AW 2009 season, Mjolk staged its first presentation during Paris Fashion Week. Entitled 'Cameras for Eyes and Horses for Hearts,' it was an ode to American Civil War style and the paintings of Andrew Wyeth: a nostalgic journey through the past to provide comfort and warmth for the modern urbanite. Dazed Digital met up with Stoten to discuss his background, his research, and his first presentation in Paris…
Dazed Digital: Tell me a bit about your background. I understand that you are originally from Denmark, grew up in London, schooled in Japan, began your label in Australia, are now based in Brooklyn, but show in Paris?
Lars Stoten: When it’s put that way I certainly feel like a motley mix. My father’s business took my family all over the world growing up so I guess the nomadic rhythms have continued into my adult life.

DD: Why did you choose New York as your new home; what does it offer to you, personally and professionally?
LS: I fell for NYC the first time I visited by myself in my teens. I think it is a city where you can choose anonymity or identity on a daily basis. The village feels like home, which is strange for me to admit. Professionally, I certainly feel some external creative impulse here that excites and motivates me to be better.

DD: How did you get your start in fashion?   
LS: My Grandfather and family were all wool pleaters, dressmakers, button makers and machinists- although none of my other 4 siblings are in the industry, it seemed very natural to me. I graduated in Design, Men’s Tailoring & went onto further garment engineering studies in Japan. I was working in costumery and bespoke suiting there until I decided to create full seasonal ranges under the name Mjölk.

DD: Can you describe your inspiration for your AW 09 collection 'Cameras for Eyes and Horses for Hearts?'  What references where you looking at?
LS: I looked at the uniforms and attire during and post civil war America. A visit to the Gettysburg museum particularly prompted me to research the textiles and manufacturing processes from that time. It didn't inspire a military aesthetic though.  It was more a mix of the fabrications with the stories: the young man who lies about his age and enlists in his fathers oversized uniform, or the awkward stage in a boys life where he is between a child and a young man. I pictured him watching the somber and proud soldiers marching in post war ceremony and then going home to try on his father’s old uniforms.

There is something beautiful about a garment that doesn’t quite fit right but is somehow part of who you are.  I think this is what makes clothes meaningful at all. Not just how you feel in them but how they make you feel. My mother knitted me an Aran raw wool jumper when I left home- I can't wear it because it gives me allergies but it is my most precious garment. I think the art world calls it provenance. I wanted each garment to try and capture this sense of nostalgia. I didn’t even consider until recently the parallel to modern America- battered and bruised and humbly coming of age (...we hope!).  A bit of an obtuse comparison, but perhaps interesting.

DD: What is your favorite piece(s) from the collection? What elements stand out most to you?
LS: I think the overall texture of the range works quite nicely. Tweeds & herringbones boiled and melton wools with enzymed super soft chambray cotton shirting; rib knitted marle leggings with waffled jersey and waterproofed memory fabric macs; heavy knits paired with waffled jersey cut n sew. That contrast of texture is also reflected in each individual garment, such as the multi-patterned knits and the piece dyed cotton shirting which is fused with sackcloth. Each piece has unique construction details and a story that gives the collection a real sense of intimacy.

DD: How would you describe your signature work: your real strengths and enduring obsessions? How has this evolved since the inception of your label?
LS: I hope I have allowed my "product" to evolve and mature with me. Having said that, my real concerns remain the same: achieving an intended "look" or idea by deliberate technique-drape, cut and fabrication. It’s so hard when so many hands are involved to remain true to an original concept, but I enjoy the challenge most of the time. Also, growth and experience permit a greater understanding of that fine line between wearability and originality, between self-expression and sales. It is a precarious balance and a constant adventure.

DD: Can you tell me a bit about your presentation in Paris?
LS: It was a successful experience. The casting was particularly interesting as we sampled the garments to a very particular body shape so as to expose a key aesthetic in the wide necklines, extended sleeves, body lengths, off shoulder cuts etc. So I appreciated everyone’s patience there. I wanted the actual presentation to be really relaxed and focused on the kit. I learnt a lot and look forward to doing it all again only better in spring.

DD: What do you consider to be the greatest challenge for fashion designers working in the industry today?
LS: I think the assiduous balance I mentioned above. Remaining buyable without necessarily fitting the buyer’s frame. That challenge has always existed though, challenges specific to today? I think there is an obvious answer to that, but I just am so sick of hearing mention of it.

DD: What do you find to be the most promising?
LS: I am happy to see that the craft is really returning to menswear by way of innately talented, well studied and well trained young designers with strong voices and an unstinting desire for it to be heard.

DD: What can we expect to see from you in the future?
LS: More collaboration, some grey hair, a few wrinkles, maybe a couple more kids, a bigger apartment, and definitely more moccasins.