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Style, innovation & equality


Oslo National Academy of the Arts (KHiO) is a specialist art university in Norway. The academy has departments for dance, opera, theatre, design, arts and crafts and fine art. KHiO was formed in 1996 through the merger of five national schools specialising in these disciplines.

Photography Sara Abraham
Vaida Voraite, a third-year fashion and costume design student at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts, is driven by social issues. Her inspiration comes from being in between cultures and countries, and she explores cultural misunderstandings and similarities.

What were, and are, your expectations of studying fashion?

— I started my education with a very open mind. On some level I expected more weight on technical subjects. I wish that fashion education would simulate and focus more on collaboration as it seems to me that this is how we have to work. I wish school would push harder and be more engaged in forming a fashion education to what is happening in the world. This should be a clear part of the schools vision of the future.

Do you feel that your education has been lacking relevance in terms of today's society?

— I think in terms of artistic development, my studies were relevant, but it is difficult to say if it was relevant for the age we live in. I guess I will know more when I am looking for a job. I think maybe I am missing schools engagement in issues like sustainable design or design ethics.

In the end of each course at KHiO, the students get to give feedback to the school and in that way partake in shaping the education system. Voraite also likes the fact that her studies are in fashion and costume, and during her three years she’s designed costumes for both film and dance.

— Costume design, most of the time, starts with a narrative, a place, a time, a character and that persons actions etc. This way, a costume can also feel limiting. As in fashion for example, costume aspect can be just one layer of the design process.

Has the school helped you develop in the direction you want?

— Yes. Honestly, I did not have a specific direction when I began my studies, but I had a goal to find that. I applied for the Oslo National Academy of the Arts because I had heard that it was experimental and open-minded. The school gave me a lot of freedom to explore what fashion is for me, and I’m grateful for that.

Sondre Engesæth is also a fashion and costume design student at KHiO and will completes his bachelors’ degree this spring. Before applying for fashion studies as KHiO, he was studying to be a classical pianist, and he uses music as a reference when designing clothes. Engesæth is interested in the similarities between music and fashion, which both have two sides to experiencing them. In music, it’s the recorded form versus live performance, and in fashion it’s the visual object versus the physical garment.

— To me, that’s the most interesting, the friction between the controlled and the immediate. I think fashion is the most abstract and the most concrete art form at the same time. Its definitions change everyday, yet it is just clothes that we wear.

How would you define your work so far? Is there a risk of limiting yourself by defining your work to early on?

— I have been experimenting with different formats and starting points, ranging from opera and one colour to film and digital glitching. I guess I’ve been trying to map out my fields of interest yet be playful and sincere in my approach. I’m still figuring things out. Any body of work can be over-explained to the point where there is nothing left for people to experience. At the same time, I think many are too afraid of categorising their work, wanting to break free from the system the fashion is still very much based on. If your work is ”menswear with a twist” or ”drapery and deconstruction”, then maybe that’s what it is and you still work to redefine what that means every single day.

The idea of pursuing a fashion career seemed unattainable for Engsæt for a long time. It was different from what he already knew, but he was drawn to it subconsciously for some time. His expectations of fashion studies have changed from having a lot to do with technical skills and producing garments, to expecting education that is at the forefront of what fashion should be.

Is KHiO one of the schools that are in the forefront of fashion?

— The model they use, where a lot of fields are grouped in one institution, gives the students space and has great potential. The school’s strength lies in its broad understanding of clothes and I have gotten to explore clothes in a lot of different contexts, in contrary to more traditional fashion schools. That being said, they could be better at marketing the school, both to attract a more diverse group of applicants and in terms of communicating what skills they look for in prospective students.

Peter Løchstøer is the head of fashion and costume design at the Oslo Academy of the Arts. He’s worked as a guest teacher and external examiner at KHiO since 2004, but it wasn’t until 2013 that he realised he should use his experience to influence the education and make a difference from within. Prior to that, he believed his practice in the ”real world” was the most important asset and was fairly sure he would never go all in to education.

How did you enter fashion?

— As a teenager I was determined to become a dancer, but many injuries at an early age made me reconsider. At 19, in 1995, I moved to England and took a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at the University of Central England in Birmingham, discovering that I could work with dance through designing costumes. This led me to seek knowledge about creating and designing clothes, and I got admitted to the Middlesex University’s BA Honour Degree in Fashion. After graduating from Middlesex in 1999, I did a lot of work-placements in London for designers such as Vivienne Westwood and Preen, and collaborated with dance-choreographers. In the fall of 2000 I moved back to Norway, and slowly built up my own studio and small-scale label, where I developed my own collections alongside collaborating on costumes for stage, and editorial work for music, advertising and private tailoring commissions.

I read that KHiO offers smaller classes to give the students more individual help. Tell us about your concept.

— We admit about 12 students to our BA-studies each year. Each student get their own workspace at the school and the size of the classes allows for all students to be properly seen as creative individuals and to be part of a hands-on discourse within the group, within the department and also KHiO. The name of our study and curriculum reflects that we are balancing aspects of clothing design and costume design throughout. Historically, the emphasis on either of these professions has shifted with time. As course director, I have decided to embrace and emphasize this duality to the advantage of the school and our students. This is a balancing act and it requires careful selection and arrangement of learning outcomes in the curriculum, without compromising the students’ individual freedom to define themselves and how they want to work as designers.

Løchstøer wants the education to become more extrovert than it previously has been, in dialogue with the outside world. The faculty is continually trying things to find new ways of collaborating with the industry.

— Last term, some of our BA3 students did a project where they were to suggest a new collection and new directions for the well-established Oslo brand Cathrine Hammel. They had to research the brand and its customers themselves, but they also got valuable input and feedback from the head designer and the brand manager.