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Tonsure

Bear Necessities

Photography Lucas Frisk Bergqvist Words Graham Addinall

The search for an instantly recognisable, covetable and timeless logo is the Holy Grail of the fashion world — particularly in menswear where the desire to belong is reflected in a love for branding and badges. Countless hours are spent in design studios (and board rooms) trying to find a new version of the polo player, the crocodile or the multistripe, usually with results that feel contrived or unconvincing.

It’s reassuring to know then that the little abstracted teddy bear head that has been appearing on sweatshirts and knitwear of some of the better dressed urban guys over the past few seasons was the result of happenstance. Fresh from winning the prestigious Dansk Design Talent award in 2015, Tonsure created a few pieces of outerwear made from a teddy bear fabric from iconic toy makers Steiff. Running with the idea, small bears were attached to the garments and a rather surreal ad campaign featured models wearing full bear head masks, and before long, the ursine creature became the mascot of the brand, popping up as a subtle badge on a cardigan or as an art installation in the showroom.

— We didn’t really intend to do a logo or even think it was necessary but people connected to it and thought it was nice and the teddy became one, remembers Malte Flagstad, the company founder and designer. — Now it feels right to have him on some of the more basic pieces in the collection. The creation of the logo, far from being the result of a corporate branding brainstorm, is perhaps one of the more striking — and indeed charming — examples of Flagstad’s keen ability to go by instinct rather than follow a formula.

The Tonsure bear, photographed at the brand's office in Copenhagen.

”We didn’t really intend to do a logo or even think it was necessary

but people connected to it and thought it was nice and the teddy became one”

That instinct was at the very genesis of Flagstad’s career. Working in Copenhagen providing props for TV advertisements, and despite no knowledge or previous interest in the world of fashion, he decided to join a friend in London and apply to study menswear at the world famous Central Saint Martins college. With a hastily compiled portfolio presented in a backpack, he managed to not only get an interview but then proceeded to be offered a coveted place. A three year bachelors degree was followed by a masters before moving to Paris to work for Maison Margiela, just as the house was reorganising itself following the departure of its eponymous founder. The following two years proved to be a somewhat intense experience that left Flagstad exhausted and on the point of burn-out though also appreciative of the learning experience it afforded him.

— Instead of working on one product group such as shirts or trousers like in many of the bigger houses, at Margiela we had to do everything and that was a real privilege, and it is certainly something that lead to a realisation that I should do something myself. I needed to find my own voice.

After a period travelling, Flagstad returned to Denmark and in 2013 started Tonsure. As well as being the Latin word for trimming or cutting, a tonsure is also the name of the shaved bald spot on monks, something he finds both amusing — ”When people google us, the competition is monks!” — and which also has the connotations of brotherhood and belonging so central to menswear.

The first collection was bought by United Arrows, one of Tokyo’s go-to stores that acts almost as a thermometer of what is hot in retail, and two years later came the Dansk prize. Although this gave the brand much needed publicity and finally drew it to the attention of the domestic market, Flagstad is the first to state that it was a dual-edged sword.

— It meant that people found out who we were and what we were doing but the trouble was that commercially we were far from ready. We couldn’t translate this kind of recognition into actual sales.

”We want to be a consumer darling not an industry darling”, says Tonsure CEO Josef Lützen.

”We don’t want to promise without being able to execute”

An uncompromising approach to design (an ill-advised no-t-shirts policy for example) coupled with a naivety about the working of the market meant that Tonsure failed to capitalise on the early promise and despite producing increasingly mature and wearable collections and garnering a loyal band of followers, the brand looked set to join the legions of once-loved but soon forgotten labels that fizzle out after a few seasons. Then came that little teddy and at the same time an increased understanding of the need for interesting basics that can form a sellable raft on which the more avantgarde or directional pieces stand.

This in turn lead to new financial investors who could see the actual sales potential of Flagstad’s undeniable talent and the appointment as CEO of Josef Lützen, with his background in nurturing brands such as Samsøe Samsøe and Why Red. Declaring an intention to be ”a consumer darling not only an industry darling”, Lützen has outlined a new strategy based on having an actual physical presence (as opposed to a solely digital and online one) and a schedule of ‘Teddy Tours’, pop-up stores and strong presentations all backed by Flagstad’s ever-stronger design work are already pushing the brand forward. It’s a carefully considered plan that Lützen strongly feels will pay off.

— We don’t want to promise without being able to execute it, he states. Now the product is focussed and our visuals are in line — we just need to now increase brand awareness Maybe that means that soon another, more sartorial bear will be joining the likes of Paddington and Rupert in our collective conscience?