The Ghana-born, Bergen-based designer T-Michael is an inspired and inspiring designer who is adept at blurring the boundary between bespoke tailoring and ready to wear. Over the last two decades he has created a distinguished collection of suits, shirts, bags and shoes, and fine accessories such as scarves and cufflinks. As well as running his own eponymous brand, T- Michael is also the co-founder, with Alexander Helle, of Norwegian Rain – award-winning makers of high-tech functional outerwear. A force of creativity, T-Michael has also written, directed and art directed six films. A regular at Pitti Uomo, T-Michael’s 5 Curators/ One Space exhibition is not to be missed.
You’ve been at Pitti Uomo for many years. How important is this fair for you and can you tell us about the exhibitions you curate?
— For the exhibitions, we invite designers to come in and show their products. The reason why I did that is because I felt sometimes at Pitti you lose the reason we started doing this in the first place. I’m inspired to inspire… to take the traditional and turn it into something contemporary. Sometimes the fashion business becomes more business, and less fashion and creativity. I thought this would be a nice platform to put up and regenerate that feeling we all had some time back in the past.
What are your aims for 5 Curators/ One Space?
— I hope when everyone leaves they will leave with a certain… they will feel that tingling in their body, which we had when we were younger and wanted to aspire to something. It’s an inspirational thing… to walk out thinking, ‘Damn, that’s really good, actually.’ Whether you like it or not, it’s something that would set your mind racing.
You prioritise inspiration and also collaboration over boundaries, countries and brands. And your set-up with Norwegian Rain and T-Michael is also very much about inspiration. Is that right?
— Correct. For me, it’s very important to state that for most people that we know in the Western world, we believe the Western world is the default. But it’s not a default of anything. The default is the world. People from Tokyo, people from Freetown, people from Accra, people from Lagos, Cape Town, Bergen… all have the same basis for creativity. My whole idea was to be able to get people in without thinking about any boundaries, basically bringing people that are inspiring, that’s inspiring current collections, and that’s it.
How did your career in fashion begin and then evolve?
— I moved from London to Bergen to make a life there but realised very quickly there’s not much work there to be had. Then I realised that maybe it was the right time for me to spend my time on what I felt was my passion. It was clothing. So, I decided to do a course in tailoring.
— The moment I tuned into that, I realised that I had skills from before that I’d suppressed in a way. I was able to use a sewing machine when I was much younger. When I pulled it out, I realised, ‘Oh, I can actually use this still’. I used to shorten my trousers. Now, it’s a shirt. I could do all that before but I didn’t think of it as a skill but more of a necessity. When you start thinking in more of a passionate way, you realise that all these things are actually assets, not something that’s just there, dormant.
— I found my way as I worked. There was no set way for me to go. I tested everything out. I do this. This worked. I do that. That didn’t work, try again. For me, that’s why my thoughts and my approach to design is slightly different from other people’s. I don’t adhere to one thing. I don’t stick to this plan and say, ‘This is what I’m going to do. That’s it’. I look at the possibilities within my capabilities. If I don’t have the knowledge, I will seek it and I’ll add it to what I have. I’ll just expand my realm as I go on. That’s the basis of creativity. You don’t have a talent for creativity in one thing and it’s locked in other things. It’s a general thing you have in you, looking for solutions because that’s what it’s all about.
— It’s evolved slowly from one shirt, one jacket… now I want to make shoes… I want to make bags as well. Then Alexander came in and we decided to do raincoats, which changed the direction a little bit. It all went on in a very organic way in a way. That’s the essence of the work we still do today. We don’t really plan that much. We sit down, we talk about things, and then within that conversation, he gets excited, I get excited, and it just keeps going. It’s the best way to work.
Is there a need, or room even, for a new sense of masculinity today?
— For me, it’s not about the need or room for a new sense of masculinity, it’s more about reinventing and creating a better version of yourself. We evolve our style and thoughts by being weathered by the expressions and opinions around us. This then sets in motion a dialogue, or monologue, which takes us to the next enhanced level of ourselves. Our style changes organically, albeit usually just a tad. This for me is the new sense of masculinity. And there is always room and the need for that.
Regarding the forthcoming exhibition at Pitti Uomo, why did you choose the particular designers?
— 5 Curators/ One Space, is me trying to keep the idea of creativity fresh and vibrant. By inviting industry people to nominate one or two designers, which I then choose to participate, we get off-the-radar yet hardworking designers that deserve to be noticed. This group of curators and designers represent a small part of all the cool creatives out there not being noticed. It’s me supporting and inspiring and hoping to be reciprocally inspired. Come and check our space out!
What is masculinity to you?
— The essence of being a man. Sensitive, thoughtful, resilient, supportive, poised and gentle. And not giving a fuck about what others expect of me. Stay true to yourself.