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Soulland AW14

Revealing the collection and mixtapes of the Danish duo who use fashion for political commentary

Fashion and politics make interesting bedfellows. For anyone not following Danish politics (the actual kind, not Borgen), Denmark is currently mid-government meltdown due to a controversial sale of shares in Danish energy giant Dong to Goldman Sachs. And on Thursday this week – as The Socialist People’s Party caused major drama by walking out on the coalition government – MP Uffe Elbæk, a former culture minister who recently launched a new party titled The Alternative, took to the parliament podium in an aptly emblazoned Soulland SS14 ‘Katastrophe’ sweatshirt. Sometimes fashion is the best political commentary.

Incidentally, a subtle political thread also ran through this week’s Soulland AW14 presentation at Copenhagen Fashion Week. Forgoing the runway, the Danish cult label held an intimate presentation at their head offices in snowy Frederiksberg, Copenhagen, where the studio had been transformed into a lo-fi tin foil spaceship as designer Silas Adler looked to outer space. Clever wording like ‘Space for Everyone’ was embroidered on sweatshirts, while a white shirt had a Heal the World-esque print of Earth on the back. “Print is a central part of Soulland and I like to keep it as analogue as possible. This season I’ve mixed photocopies of space with aluminium foil scans and watercolours. I always put a ton of secret codes in there, like my birthday and 420,” Silas Adler explained.

While Adler’s roots are in the Danish skateboarding scene, he and co-owner Jacob Kampp Berliner are increasingly turning their attention to translating formal menswear codes into Soulland’s contemporary and streetwise vocabulary. For AW14, this meant bringing suiting into a much more youthful sphere and using a beautiful Limonta jacquard emulating planetary formations on a bomber jacket. We caught up with Silas Adler to talk space metaphors and soundtracks, using fashion as a platform for voicing a bigger message and epic Copenhagen beer.

DD: Where did the whole space idea come from?

Silas Adler: The last nine collections have all been inspired by a country and a story from that country. We did Japanese baseball and the French bourgeoisie and Moscow architecture. With this collection we wanted to go somewhere a bit more mysterious so space was perfect. We found this book about space travel and living in space that was written in 1928. A lot of the ideas in that book actually inspired Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is a continuous inspiration for me. I find the relationship between Earth and space in that movie really interesting. That’s why there’s Earth and the computer and everything between in the collection. As a human being, space is like this unknown mysterious thing that I think is super, super inspiring.

DD: There’s obviously more than one meaning to Space for Everyone.

Silas Adler: Exactly. Actually, the title comes from this children’s schoolbook about space that I bought at a flea market. It’s called ‘Space for Everyone’, meaning everyone can understand it. But it’s also in relation to the world that we live in now. We spend a lot of time focusing on what’s ours and there’s a lot of unfriendliness in the world.

“I think that for a lot of designers, and myself included, we realised we have a voice.”

DD: Looking at the AW14 menswear collections, there’s a lot of political commentary and designers are exploring topics like racism, gender and sexuality.

Silas Adler: I think that for a lot of designers, and myself included, we realised we have a voice. I didn’t understand that a couple of years ago when I first started doing this. We’ve started working with this mentoring project for kids with foreign backgrounds in the ghettos here in Denmark. You mentor them in setting up their own small company. It doesn’t have to be clothing – they can invent something or do an event. A lot of these 17 or 18-year-old kids are in a really hard place because society and their own community have sort of given up on them. A lot of the girls with foreign backgrounds are doing super well in school and at university and are getting jobs, but then you have these kids who aren’t necessarily bad kids but they just grew up in an environment where it’s easier for boys to hang out in gangs. I don’t see myself as an activist but if I can use what I’m doing in a positive way I think that’s a good thing. And I can relate – I dropped out of high school because I couldn’t find my place in it and then basically started this label when I was 17. In the beginning it was just printed t-shirts, but it’s about creating your own thing and understanding that you can make your own universe and create your own path.

DD: It’s pretty amazing how you started out so young.

Silas Adler: During the first three to five years it was just crashing and standing up again and crashing and standing up again. And then all of a sudden I started to get the hang of it. The Soulland that you see now is definitely the work that Jacob and I did together since he joined the company five or six years ago.

DD: Looking at the suiting this season, it feels like it’s grown up a bit more.

Silas Adler: Yeah, definitely. Jacob and I speak a lot about our vision for the company but also about our vision for menswear in general. Like what do we feel we’re missing? Lately we’ve been talking about how there’s a gap in suiting. You have all this very formal stuff, but for my generation that grew up with skateboard culture and these different subcultures I feel like I often want to wear a suit for an un-formal occasion, so it’s trying to crack that – how can we make a suit that our generation would wear on a daily basis. So we have the softer tailoring in a more special fabric and the more classic tailoring in a fabric that’s a bit heavier. And you can wear the jacket on its own so it’s a bit more casual.

DD: How do you feel about people labelling your work streetwear?

Silas Adler: Five or six years ago you started to hear the expression ‘street’ and it was often used by commercial ad agencies and businesses to label things that revolved around youth culture or were targeted at young people. It was that feeling that all subcultures were one. I’ve stopped caring whether people call Soulland streetwear. Before, I thought if it’s called streetwear then I can’t sell to the shops I want to sell to or communicate to the press I want to communicate with. But I think a lot of buyers and press nowadays grew up with subculture so they know how to filter it. It’s a shame, though, when you just put one label on things.

“I’ve asked some of my favourite DJs from around the world to put together a mixtape. Some of it is super easy listening and then you have Tim Sweeney’s mix, which is like weirdo vinyl.”

DD: What were you listening to while you were working on this season?

Silas Adler: Since we didn’t do a show this time I wanted to make a concept for the music as well. So I’ve asked some of my favourite DJs from around the world to put together a mixtape. It’s people like Tim Sweeney from New York who I’m a huge fan of, and Djuna Barnes from Copenhagen, Sound Pellegrino from Paris and Rollerboys (Yourhighness) from Sweden. So that’s what I’ve been listening to. We also had the privilege to get unpublished demos from Ed Droste, the lead singer of Grizzly Bear. I told them you can do whatever you want but it has to be inspired by space. Some of it is super easy listening and then you have Tim Sweeney’s mix, which is like weirdo vinyl. Listen to Soulland mixes from Djuna Barnes and Yourhighness below.

DD: What’s your favourite Copenhagen hangout?

Silas Adler: This area we’re in, where we have the shop and the office. And we have the best bar in Copenhagen, the 90. They serve a beer that takes 20 minutes to pour. It’s like you’re drinking a cloud. It’s fantastic. 

Silas Adler shares below the mixtapes created exclusively for Soulland by Djuna Barnes and Yourhighness.