Copenhagen, Denmark — After having trained at prestigious places such as Central Saint Martins and Maison Margiela, designer Malte Flagstad founded Tonsure in 2014 together with business partner Adam El-Zayat Hjorth. With contemporary designs executed at a world-class level, the duo’s use of luxurious, innovative materials and high-end European manufacturing has caught the interest of an impressive roster of retailers around the world. Being awarded prestigious prizes such as the DANSK Design Talent and the Woolmark Prize in Europe puts them in position as one of the most promising menswear brands to emerge from Copenhagen.
You have an MA degree from the prestigious school Central Saint Martins. What were your most important lessons of your time there?
— My biggest lesson from CSM would be the hard work and persistence you need to put in your work. If you’re super talented but lazy as hell, you won’t get anywhere. I think that’s what it comes down to, to never stop questioning your work. Ask yourself: How can I improve? How can I make it better? And on the other hand; know when something is good enough so you can move on.
After graduating, you started working for Maison Margiela. How has that influenced you as a designer?
— It was an invaluable experience that I would not have gained from another, bigger house where categories or even seasons are split and divided among the design team. But it was very stressful as we were such a small team doing everything but knitwear. Also, the ethos of the house has stuck with me, that even the most mundane idea or detail, can become something of great beauty if it is re-worked and processed in the right way.
After your years at Margiela, you decided to start Tonsure, why?
— When I quit at Margiela, I had the thought to try and do something on my own. I decided to develop a collection and see where it would take me. I decided to do menswear because I could not find clothes I would wear myself and I thought it would make sense to design it myself. It’s just easier relating to menswear design being a man but ironically, quite a few women wear pieces from tonsure, so at one point, we need to be thinking of a women’s collection too. You would think that working on my own terms was easier, but obviously the production part of getting a collection ready is a very big task. On top of that, you have sales, marketing and PR to deal with, so the pressure is still constant.
What are your influences and how do you develop your collections?
— I like to go away from Copenhagen as it forces you to look at things differently, everything is unfamiliar and you are more alert. My aesthetic is a mix of something super clean, something off-beat and some longevity, both in terms of quality and expression. I don’t like to do things that are ”right now” that will be gone and forgotten next season. I like to develop things that can take on new life season after season. A/W 2017, for example, has a hunter/gatherer theme, featuring design details and fabrics throughout that reference this without being too obvious. I do not like being too literal, so everything in the collection is there to be investigated and ”opened up”. I like working with interesting fabrics; rubber-coated structured wools that reveal the colour of the wool as it is being worn through. Wool checks that vanish and are only apparent up close and unique double-weave corduroy with checks on the reverse side which only show through slightly on the front. Before I started the collection, I had the opportunity to go to Greenland which definitely influenced it on many levels. Together with Great Greenland we developed ”worn denim trousers” made from certified Inuit sealskin. Dyed in various blue and grey tones, we patchworked them together to resemble worn out, faded jeans. A beautiful piece which I think expressed the mood and the collection quite well.
Adam, Tonsure have won both the DANSK Design Talent and the Woolmark Prize. What have these prizes meant for your business?
— So much! First of all, the financial investments have been very important to us. Secondly, the brand exposure from winning both prizes has been quite phenomenal. Exposure that was seen by leading buyers and stockists. After winning the European Woolmark Prize, we suddenly went from 20 to 35 retailers in one season.
Who do you create your clothes for?
Malte: It is very important to me, that the brand isn’t ”personal”, that my name is not connected to tonsure as I think it messes with people’s perception. I design clothes that I would like to wear or dream of wearing myself, but at the end of the day, it’s clothes and they should be worn by real people in a real world.
What challenges do you face as a new menswear brand?
Adam: Besides dealing with the usual challenges such as financing, then our toughest challenge is to navigate the marketing of Tonsure in the designer menswear category. Marketing in the fashion business changes so rapidly. Malte and I have a clear vision of what Tonsure is and how we would like to market the brand. But because digital and social media suddenly became a major platform, we need to rethink our marketing strategy seasonally.
What’s it like running a fashion brand in Scandinavia?
Adam: Scandinavia is a good place to be, business-wise, as it is easy to set up a company, the whole structure is very straightforward. In the ideal world, I think we should be looking towards LFW and gaining experience from them. They have been supporting talent for years and the result is there to see.