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Style, innovation & equality

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Jeppe Ugelvig

The 24-year-old curator and cultural critic launched his career when he was only 13, now he has worked with leading fashion magazines, such as i-D, Purple, Another, and Dansk Magazine. He has also written exhibition catalogs and curated exhibitions, most recently at the Hessel Museum of Art in New York.

Edited by Robin Douglas Westling Photography Robert Lindholm

Where did you grow up, and what was your childhood like?

– I grew up in a rural village in Southern Denmark – where I spent my formative years doing theatre and dreaming about a more glamorous life. The Internet became my gateway to a more exciting aesthetic and social environment – MySpace was my life. I was very adventurous, and had so much to do, and, honestly, there wasn’t much I could do from home!

Have you always been interested in arts and fashion?

– I have always been very creative, but I think my attraction to art and fashion inherently has something to do with my perceived potential of the aesthetic. Aesthetics is a place of fun and dreams, socially, sexually and politically. It can really take you places, and I decided to keep it at the center of my life. At the age of 12, I bought my first fashion magazine; it was the old COVER Magazine, published out of Copenhagen. I decided right there that fashion was my future.

How did you get involved in the fashion industry?

– Rather cockily, I contacted the editor-in-chief of COVER and asked if I could intern there. Incredibly, he agreed. I spent a few weeks there that summer, age 13. I assisted stylists, ate lunch with Danish mini-celebs; I had a panic attack when I couldn’t spell Louis Vuitton. I would go on to become involved with the online fashion community in Denmark and eventually would spend my following summer at the avant-garde fashion brand MoonSpoon Saloon as well as the agency and store ArtRebels.

Tell us about your education at Central Saint Martins and at Bard Center for Curatorial Studies.

– I pursued studio art, which led to a stronger interest in research and art history; and all of this culminated in me enrolling at CSM, first doing a Foundation, and later, to do a BA in Criticism and Curation. CSM gave me a community of peers across the disciplines of fashion, art, and nightlife; we all knew each other and would work, study, and party together. There’s a charged energy there, and being a writer enabled me to put words to of the things that my peers weren’t able to articulate; visions, social and political preoccupations.

You became successful at an early age. Which job was most important for your career?

– I started writing for DIS Magazine at the age of 18 – we got in touch over e-mail, they took a chance on me, and suddenly I was overseeing most of their coverage in London and Europe. It was crucial to be given a space for critical and interdisciplinary thinking, with like-minded people as readers.

Have you experienced any problems with your young age?

– All the time. Despite fashion’s obsession with youth, fashion is very ageist. In both art and fashion, there’s a fiercely established hierarchy of power that is reinforced through years of interning, assisting, and working for free. Opportunities often circulate amongst those in power, making it hard for young talents to get a footing.

What is, right now, most interesting in fashion?

– For me, it is fashion that tries to break out of a retail economy and exist elsewhere; in galleries, online, in communities, or as a fleeting experience of style. Fashion is a very particular kind of cultural production because it’s linked so intensely to globalised mass-production, and this is a deeply unsustainable model – one that stretches authorship far into capital revenue, with serious environmental impacts.

What has to change in the fashion industry?

– The biggest issue is the deeply unsustainable system that fashion runs on. Making ’political fashion’ sourced from Bangladeshi sweatshops is not just unethical, but perverse. More people should try to find space outside a luxury retail logic – more people should understand that production is also political.

What’s your thoughts on the Scandinavian menswear scene?

– It is still in some kind of hangover after the Utilitarian/Street 2000s, which saw the image of the straight Nordic hipster proliferate across the globe through particular brands. I think it’s a tired look. If minimalism and simplicity is indeed ’our thing’, It should be pushed into new, more intellectual, directions, and challenge wearability. Scandinavian fashion is obsessed with accessibility, and that’s very unhealthy. Having said that, I appreciate Acne Studios for having matured and defined their own definition of Scandinavian luxury Ready-To-Wear. Beyond that, I always find the graduates from Sweden’s and Denmark’s schools exciting.

Do you have main goal with your career?

– I’m looking forward to opening my thesis show at the Hessel Museum in New York, entitled ’Fashion Work, Fashion Workers’. It’s been a year in the making. My thesis will be published as a book, and the show will hopefully travel. After that, a return to Europe is in the works. Regardless, I want to be happy; and that entails lots of art, love, travelling, and fun – that’s how I want to live my life.