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Fashion talks

In Conversation with Celine Aagaard of Envelope1976

Oslo Runway Fashion Talks by Anna Skavlan

It’s difficult to imagine Norwegian fashion without Celine Aagaard. As a journalist, an editor, stylist, blogger, and now designer, she has dipped her toe into every pond of our local industry. Now her brand Envelope1976, which she created with brand manager Pia Nordskaug, has proven to be a testament of a golden fashion touch. But how does she do it?

Tell me about Envelope1976. Why did you create the brand?  

The journey started many years ago, with an idea to create a versatile, minimalistic, seasonless brand with a sustainable approach. Pia Nordskaug was working as a brand manager and head of sales for several commercial brands, and I was the Editor-in-Chief of a Norwegian magazine. Both of us were very aware of the fashion industry’s environmental impact. It’s not sustainable at all to produce clothes, but there are so many ways to create clothes with more sustainable material, make greener choices and rethink seasons and production. We were not in a hurry and did a lot of research before we finally decided to go further with our concept. With a common goal for a more transparent and sustainable industry, we created Envelope1976 two years ago.  

What about the name, ‘Envelope’?

The Envelope became a symbol of our DNA and vision, as a timeless, clean, minimalistic object. It is sharp and made to last. All our garments are designed to be versatile, and there are multiple ways to wear all the pieces. In that way, you have countless options with a smaller wardrobe, and that is more sustainable. For us, sustainability is not only about fabrics and production. The greener choices we took when we were younger – I’ve been a vegetarian for 24 years, I don’t drive a car, I always reuse garments – makes this a way of living for us. So when it comes to Envelope, sustainability is always on our mind and becomes a natural way of doing business.  

What is your approach to design when making clothing that is not meant to be repurchased every season?

We try to be as seasonless as possible. You can swim all year round, so why shouldn't you sell swimsuits all year round? You can wear it under your blazer or paired with shorts. We try to give the consumer multiple ways of wearing all Enevlope1976 pieces. Layering is key, all year round!  We also focus on more local production. Our cape, for example, is handmade in our studio in Oslo, our latest tank-top is redesigned here, and our new kaftan is made at the studio in Drøbak. We hope we can make more of our production at home to assure an even shorter and more sustainable journey for the garments.

Your brand has seen tremendous international success, notably being carried by Net-A-Porter and presenting collections in Paris. Now you are back in Norway and part of Oslo Runway. What does Oslo Runway mean to you?

As a journalist and show-goer at several fashion weeks in Norway for the past 20 years, this is the very first digital fashion week I’ve experienced. It’s great that it can reach out to a wider audience and give a bigger platform to the smaller brands who cannot afford expensive and exclusive shows. It's also a great way to include everyone - because as we know, shows in the past have only been for a closed, limited audience and circle. I think this goes to show that we have so much to look forward to in the future. Who says we can only do fashion week the traditional way?

In your long career, you have managed to explore almost every single aspect of the fashion industry. Is there any distinct part of your career you can single out as most helpful in creating your brand?  

It's difficult to pinpoint just one thing, but I think age, knowledge and experience have helped a lot. I’ve gotten a lot of insight in the industry, and not naïvely assumed that this would be a walk in the park from day one. When I dared to throw myself into a new venture after almost 20 years in the magazine business, there was no guarantee that we would succeed. But if you want to get ahead in life you have to take chances. I felt that we had a sustainable and viable concept and that we would regret not giving it a shot. I have been a professional potato for almost my entire career, and have not been afraid of getting my hands dirty. I think that is crucial when you build something from scratch. You don't work in this industry to get rich. You have to live and breathe for this and not be too impatient. And hopefully, one day, your idea will bear fruit. Nothing comes to you for free, although it may look like it sometimes.

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When I was young, Topp, where you were the editor, served as an entrance into a world of fashion and publishing and a potential future career. And now, almost a decade later, I am interviewing you about your brand. You have been a constant presence in my coming of age in Norwegian fashion, and I am sure I'm not the only one considering you a defining figure of our local industry. What does it mean to you to inspire new voices?

First of all, thank you so much for kind words, that is a huge compliment! Being the editor of Topp felt in many ways like being the big sister of 80,000 readers. This was a time before social media, so we were directly involved in defining trends and forming attitudes. For me, and now for us as a brand, it's very important to inspire greener choices, and to be good role models. Already at Topp, where the audience was young and few could afford exclusive designer garments, we were early to communicate that it was cool to DIY, and you could make your version of a Balmain scarf with some needle, thread and fringe from an old jacket. And you could reuse, rethink and wear garments you already had. And that is one of the core values of Envelope1976 today.  

What is the most significant development you have seen in the industry over the past decade?

There has been an enormous development, and the biggest being the digital revolution and how social media has opened the doors to a whole new way of viewing fashion. It's amazing to see how many creative people have managed to realize their projects in this way. But the digital has also changed how fashion houses and other players communicate their brand, and it's clear that it has generated even more consumption. People are now tired of trends before they even hit the stores because they've been shared so much on social media. We also see that the big fashion houses realize the issue of overconsumption. People are also realizing that there are too many seasons. I hope and believe this calls for a change in the industry.

How important is inclusivity and diversity to you at Envelope1976?

It has never been more important to include, and we must all take responsibility here. Racism and exclusion do not belong anywhere and as a player in the Norwegian fashion industry, we must take this seriously and continuously work towards an even more inclusive platform. Envelope1976 is a politically independent, gender-neutral brand, and we want to promote diversity in society, across national borders, independently of identity, background and skin colour. We want to include, not exclude with our design.

And how are you navigating the ongoing pandemic?

We are moving forward, but due to the current situation, this is happening a bit more calculated and slow than before the pandemic. We had some stressful months, but at the same time we had meetings every day and became very creative about how to move on with the business. Net-A-Porter closed down their office and the online store, and a lot of our retailers in Europe shut down, so we had to make moves to make sure the clothing could be delivered to costumers in different ways. We had a successful pop-up store in Drøbak this summer and did online sales for domestic customers in March. We have learned a lot from this, and become more open with our customers. We have also thought a lot about who we want to collaborate with in the future. It's in a crisis you see how truly supports you and who doesn't. Is all about finding solutions, and helping each other.

What is next for Envelope1976?

We are launching Volume 6 in October - an even more seasonless collection - and this time we are also making an effort to be more genderless. But most importantly, we are aiming to be more transparent when it comes to production than we already are. That is very important nowadays and is a big part of our success. We take all feedback seriously. If we all can be more transparent, open and share better ways to produce, that would be fantastic. Reduce your volume, and create clothes that don't go out of fashion. Let your consumers take part in your journey!