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Interviews

A day in Nørrebro with Wood Wood

END. spends a day at Wood Wood HQ with co-founder and creative director Karl-Oskar Olsen talking graffiti, travel, and Brexit from a Dane's perspective

As a relatively frequent flyer - often travelling alone - I prefer to sit for as long as possible, full of quiet contempt for those who feel the need to start queuing aeons before the gate is scheduled to open. Long-since having resigned myself to the fact that flying is pretty uncomfortable no matter where you're sitting, I relish the additional legroom in the departure lounge for as long as I can and take whatever seat is left vacant when I get on board. Flying out to Copenhagen, however, I was adamant on copping a window seat for the journey.

A self-confessed Scandi-virgin, I wanted to take in the Western world's idyll for contemporary living from above. As if watching the patchwork of colour gradually come into focus would send me into a state of perpetual hygge; a cultural hypnosis cast as the Danish landscape came up to meet me. Sadly, the mid-April mist was so dense that the plane battled through cloud and turbulence directly onto the tarmac and my hopes of absorbing the fabled Scandinavian zen from the sky were left unrealised.

Outside the airport, I jump in a taxi to Wood Wood's base in Nørrebro. Arthur - a native Dane in his mid-fifties - asks me if it's my first time in Copenhagen. I nod and he tells me not to worry about the weather. "It's morning," he says. "The sun will be out by noon." Looking out across the ashen landscape - where anything more than 50 metres away seems to exist only in silhouette - I'm not convinced.

But Arthur is right. Even during the course of the 25-minute car ride from the airport, Copenhagen seems to emerge from behind the fog into a welcoming springtime glow. I comment on the number of bikes, which noticeably outnumber the cars and decorate every pavement, pavilion, and storefront we pass. "Copenhagen wasn't built for cars," Arthur says. "After the war, city planners wanted to redesign Copenhagen to help economic growth. They wanted to put motorways and tunnels everywhere, but that's not Copenhagen. We are a city built for people, not profit."

We arrive in Nørrebro - a multi-cultural enclave of new-urban energy and style, and the living quarters of choice among Copenhagen's emerging and established creative talents - and I set off down Nørrebrogade in search of Wood Wood HQ.

Tucked neatly behind the street's bustling facade, Wood Wood's centre of operations is spread across two red-brick tenement buildings with bottle-green-paned windows looking out over a soothing courtyard. The building was once a joinery workshop which designed and manufactured wooden furniture and homeware. An ironic coincidence not lost on the team that works there. I meet Morten - the brand's PR and Marketing Manager - and he offers me a coffee and takes me on a tour.

Spread across 5 floors - with a separate press showroom in the adjacent building - the space feels light and airy with white walls, hardwood floors, and an abundance of greenery and natural light throughout. The top floor is reserved for the label's creative studio and is home to the brand's co-founders Brian SS Jensen and Karl-Oskar Olsen. The walls are littered with mood boards, sketches, and CAD designs - all embellished with tactile fabric swatches which flutter subtly with the wind and give the space a sense of being alive; catching your attention and drawing your eyes across the walls from A to B. Against one wall at least 100 old magazines are stacked neatly, an endless source of ideas and inspiration.

Morten introduces me to Karl-Oskar, a stoic Dane standing well above 6ft wearing Mizuno sneakers and a calico workwear jacket which looks like it might be a new Wood Wood sample in development. Karl grabs a coffee himself and we sit down to talk.

END.: Your background is in spatial design, talk to us a bit about what spatial design means to you and how much of that do you bring to the table at Wood Wood?

Karl: Spatial design, architecture, art, design - it all means a lot to me. I always try to implement my spatial design background when we’re opening new locations or when looking at how we merch things within the spaces we have. The education I got is really about learning a process: the process of getting an idea, defining it and creating a product. Whether it’s a house, or a room, or a jacket, the process of design is always the same. I try to reflect that idea in everything we do - from our stores to events to runway shows - I want to create spaces that set the best framework for Wood Wood to exist upon.

END.: With so much of what we do now online, why do you think it’s still important for brands to have physical touch points?

Karl: I think it’s really important. It provides that platform, almost like a museum, where you can show where you are as a brand beyond just the product. Even as the business moves more online, I think if you have the ability to showcase your product face to face you should. It’s about more than just the store itself. It’s about the cast of people you have working there; the type of service you provide; the music you play. All of these elements build your brand, and you can’t do all of that online. The signal of a strong brand is a brand that can translate their identity in a bricks and mortar space because there’s a lot to consider.

END.: What made you decide to make the transition from pure-play design brand to a retailer in your own right? And what do you look for in the brands you stock?

Karl: It’s about curating a world for your customer and picking up the external brands is about selecting ones that feel like an extension of our own in a way. It has to be different, of course, but it has to work on the same rail. We look for brands that complement our way of thinking, that are run by nice people, that have an original idea of concept to them, and are good quality. It’s getting more and more difficult to find new brands, but really the mission is to create a well-curated mix of things that work for our customers.

Whether it’s a house, or a room, or a jacket, the process of design is always the same.

END.: So much of the initial concept for Wood Wood came from subcultures that were really influential in the 90s – particularly graffiti and skateboarding – how central are these movements to the brand’s output now?

Karl: It’s still there. It’s changed a bit because we’re getting a bit older, but our core elements are still drawn from those subculture movements. We still speak to an untamed youth, and the energy that inspires those subcultures is still present in Wood Wood’s collections today.

END.: What inspired you to get into graffiti art, and what do you think of the criminalisation of the art form we see around the world?

Karl: I was drawn towards it from seeing it while riding trains as a kid and it immediately caught my interest. My mother gave me some markers and the book ‘Subway Art’ in 1986 and I started painting from then. I think criminalisation is a big part of it, and it must be part of it. I don’t like ‘legal' graffiti too much – it is what it is. Whenever I see graffiti when I’m travelling, I look at it as a signal that I’ve arrived somewhere that subculture exists, and I know the trip is going to be good.

END.: You have a physical presence in Berlin and Copenhagen; where next?

Karl: I think that when the time comes, and the right opportunity arises I think we will definitely grab the chance to move further abroad. We’re working on it quite heavily at the moment, so I think in the near future you’ll see more Wood Wood stores.

Whenever I see graffiti when I’m travelling, I look at it as a signal that I’ve arrived somewhere that subculture exists, and I know the trip is going to be good.

END.: You’ve said previously that you like to think of Wood Wood as a global brand more than something intrinsically Danish, talk to us a bit about that and why it’s important to you?

Karl: From the beginning, I think me and Brian have both been very focused on thinking internationally rather than focusing too much on telling the story of coming from Scandinavia. Our influences are very global and the network we’ve built the brand upon is people from all around the world. Even though there are very Danish elements to the brand – the humour, the sarcasm, some of the design – I think we’re global at our core. Denmark only has 5 million inhabitants, so when you live here you have an opportunity to see the world a little differently from people who come from bigger countries. I think that inspired us to want to establish something international from the outset.

END.: For AW18 Wood Wood moved its presentation from Milan to London. Talk to us a bit about the motivation behind the move?

Karl: We felt as though we’d done a few seasons in Milan and it was the right time to go somewhere new. We didn’t want to feel handcuffed to one city all the time, and London and the UK have always been a constant source of inspiration. The people; the youth; the graffiti culture; the music culture; the football culture; the club culture. It felt like a natural move to go to London and build deeper connections and support that market. It also gave us the opportunity to really show that we’re an international brand and we can use multiple platforms. London is a hub for this kind of fashion and it felt more natural for us to be there than in Milan.

END.: Do you think the implications of Brexit might impact your decision to move?

Karl: No, we didn’t really speak about Brexit at all. It’s never been an issue for us; London will always be London. I don’t think Brexit will really impact the heritage and legacy of influence that London has. There’s so much creativity coming from the city, so Brexit never felt like an issue to us.

END.: Wood Wood has always felt really on the ball with the wider cultural zeitgeist - and has always felt reflective of the socio-political environment around it – what are your thoughts on the future of Europe?

Karl: It’s a tough question. You’re right – Wood Wood has always been about commenting on what’s happening in the world, but adding some humour or sarcasm to it. Our ‘Utopia’ collection had a ‘Post Europe’ tee because it was at the time when the Greek economy was falling apart, and everyone was sort of scared of what was going to happen. I think we’ve been there and commented on Europe, so I don’t think there’s much to say on the Brexit thing. Wood Wood is a reflection of the times and the society we live in, so we like to play with those ideas but not be too pretentious about.

I don’t think Brexit will really impact the heritage and legacy of influence that London has.

END.: What was the focus for the END. x Wood Wood capsule collection?

Karl: The capsule is built around our Double A range which is a new sub-label we’ve started which focuses on our journey towards 100% sustainability. I think we wanted to do the collab with END. to use the platform to tell the beginning of that sustainability story and to draw attention to the idea that we all need to take responsibility for what we’re doing. This is just the beginning of our 2025 plan where we hope to be 100% sustainable in everything we do. The designs were about simplicity and trusting our intuition. The capsule feels current and fun and easy to wear.

END.: There’s been a serious wave of Scandi-fever across the western world for the past decade or so, with everyone fetishising the Scandinavian way of life as something idyllic. Why do you think that is?

Karl: It’s a good question. I can only really comment on Copenhagen, but I think we owe a lot to the restaurant Noma which had two Michelin stars and was considered one of the best restaurants in the world. I think when they opened ten years ago, the ambition to create something that was so high-end brought a lot of intention to Denmark. All of a sudden, a lot of people were flying to Copenhagen for a weekend to go for dinner at Noma. I think it inspired the city and people took advantage of it. We’re a creative country, and we’re good at telling stories. Noma told stories with food, Wood Wood tries to reflect that with stories in our graphics etc. I think it’s about storytelling and the rest of the world is interested in our stories.

After our interview, we head downstairs for something to eat. Every day Wood Wood's team of 30 breaks for lunch and congregates in the kitchen to eat together. A closely knit group, there is a feeling of togetherness that permeates the atmosphere and even though the conversation is in Danish, I can tell that the people working here are close friends as well as colleagues. The spread of food was non-GMO, fairtrade, and organic; a culinary echo of the brand's commitment to sustainability and conscious living.

"We've been in this building for 12 years," Karl tells me. "In fact, my girlfriend and I lived on the second floor for a while with our first child, so it feels like home."

Later, while visiting the Wood Wood store on Grønnegade, I remember my conversation with Karl and think about what he said in the context of the space. Everything from the staff to the interiors to the music is a perfect representation of Wood Wood's position as a Nordic gatekeeper of international style. Masterfully curated rails of new season Wood Wood are interspersed with the latest drops from Comme des Garcons, Aimé Leon Dore, and Cav Empt. Concrete slab flooring and DIY industrial fittings are counterbalanced with irreverent pops of colour.

As I head back to the airport I'm struck by something my taxi driver, Arthur, said to me that morning: "Copenhagen is a city built for people, not profit."

I think this is a great descriptor for Wood Wood, too. Built with a resolve to do what's right, not what's easy, the brand has committed itself to a journey of sustainability. Inspired to work exclusively with external brands that share their passion for ethical business principles, quality, and an innate 'goodness' of character. Committed to building a team of talented creatives and to fostering close relationships between them. Not afraid to provide accessible commentary on real-world issues. Even fairtrade catering! This is a brand that wants to give back to the people and cultures that helped create it. In order to survive, businesses will always need to turn a profit. But maybe the secret to Wood Wood's longevity lies in their focus on people, too.

The latest collection from Wood Wood is now available to shop at END.

writerEuan Smart
|photographerSarah Stenfeldt
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