Two years ago, Vogue hailed designer Tonje Plur’s debut collection, Life as It Happens, as one of the highlights at Oslo Runway. An impressive feat for someone who graduated from Oslo’s National Academy of the Arts just one year prior. The sparkling collection promised an exciting future for Plur, and with her sophomore effort at Fusion last year, she cemented her position as a leading designer in the cross-section of fashion and art. Following is my conversation with Plur about our first meeting backstage at her debut show, what she learned from Admir Batlak and what the future of Norweigan fashion holds.
When you presented your debut collection at Oslo Runway two years ago, I tagged along with my friend who was styling the collection and I watched you work from backstage. What struck me at that time was a strong sense of protection and care - not only for the young models but for your craft and your vision. As if every single look was an extension of you. Has the craftsmanship and design process always been personal and precious for you?
Yes, that is the whole reason why I work with textiles. It is the work I do with the materials and the visual communication of concepts through clothing and textile that drives me. And when you have put absolutely all your time and money into a job, over a very long period of time, the jobs become very personal and are almost experienced as a part of you.
Since that show two years ago, has your work process or relationship to the fashion industry changed?
I have become more and more interested in the artistic expression of textile. I still work with clothes, in addition to other textiles, but it is no longer as important to me that it should be perceived as fashion. The most important thing for me is good craftsmanship and the visual experience of the work.
This sound very familiar to another Norwegian designer, with whom I know you worked closely for years; Admir Batlak. Both of you share a great love for fashion as art, rather than just clothing. What did you learn from your time with him?
When it comes to working with textile art presented on the human body, the time at Admir has been very important to me. During this period, it became clear to me that one can work with clothes and textiles in the form of craft, textile art and visual art. It has helped to make my plans for the future much clearer.
It did not take much time from you graduated from KHiO until you debuted your first collection. Looking back, did you expect this level of exposure so early?
I only work with what I think is important and right and do not have high expectations, so it is very nice when others like what I do. I appreciate that!
What are you working on now?
This year I have chosen to only make a series of earrings and a few simple garments. The earrings are made of glass beads and silver hooks. They are all a bit different and are limited edition. Everything will be available in my online store, and a smaller selection of earrings will be available at Ekko Grünerløkka. The clothes are made of different wool fabrics and are made to order.
You speak a lot about working with textile as art. Is this where you see your brand going in the future?
First of all, I do not see it as a brand. I'm just me doing what I want. I am interested in what you can tell and read through signals in clothing and it can be both conceptual clothing and practical clothing. At the same time, I also work in the textile art field with concepts that are not necessarily clothing. What I focus on depends on what is most interesting to work with at the moment. But yes, I will probably work more clearly with textile art in the future.
I would say your design has a clear Norwegian DNA, especially motives and influences from northern Norway. How important is it for you to represent your country and upbringing?
It's actually not important at all. I do not really care about representing such things. But I get inspiration from what surrounds me, and then it just ends up like that.
Speaking of what surrounds us, it is difficult to not be affected by industry-wide issues of diversity and inclusion. I find that this trickles down into all conversations about not only fashion but all culture in this day and age. How are you relating to these issues? Do you feel pressure to be political?
This has always been important to me. Communicating a wide diversity should be a completely natural thing for everyone. If it feels like pressure, you have to work on your basic attitudes. It is good that there has been a clear focus on this now. It was about time!
Another important conversation is sustainability. Are you doing anything to be more sustainable?
Yes, as far as I can get. I do everything myself, and only produce to order so there will never be any items left over. The materials I have either made myself from wool and leftover yarn or it can be fabrics I find in fabric stores in Oslo and elsewhere. At the moment, I don't always know where all the raw materials originally come from, but I am working to get a full overview of this in the end. It just takes a little more time when you are working on your own.
Where do you see the future of Norwegian fashion? Do you believe we are on the right track?
Good question. I don’t know. I am a bit on the side of it all, and work in the borderland between textile art and clothing and am therefore on a slightly different path than the commercial fashion industry. Many Norwegian brands are probably on the right track. I have faith in those who are not too big. But when it comes to the largest commercial players, I have a feeling that there is a lot of double standards and greenwashing, hidden behind great formulations about sustainability and the environment. It's difficult to believe that the production methods used and the focus on profit go hand in hand with good green and ethical choices.
I agree with what you say about big commercial brands being prone to greenwashing and using sustainability as a marketing tool. Where do you believe the change towards a more sustainable fashion industry beings; with the producer or the consumer?
With the producer. I know that this is not so easily done and that there are many nuances to concider. But if you think about it in simpler and more idealistic terms, all manufacturers should just stop making so much excessive, cheap and bad clothing. And the rest is only made as needed and of high-quality materials, under good working conditions. When something is available, someone will always want it. So, if this option is removed, you will not have the opportunity to buy it either. It would also hopefully create a change in attitude among consumers and make us value our clothes more and make it more common to repair garments or make our own. I think that would be good.