An emigrant journey in fashion
A Venezuelan-Norwegian fashionista in NY
Born in Venezuela and raised in Norway, Jhan-Carlo David Herrera Ferrando studied fashion design at the prestigious Central Saint Martins in London and ESMOD in Paris. He has worn many hats in the rag trade, including strutting down the runway as a top fashion model. But his career has not stopped there, as he now expands his horizons into new, innovative branches of the industry.
Seven years ago, recognizing a lack of marketing opportunities and the under-the-under-the-radar status that Norwegian fashion designers faced in promoting their creations, he created the Fashion Conventions International, an annual event held in Oslo. The FCI is “an international fashion show with a focus on exclusivity, quality, and creativity in every aspect of the show” and binds fashion, music, and art together. “We don’t put on fashion shows for celebrities. We create a fashion show from the fashion brand’s perspective, to market it and to find out which stores are interested,” the designer adds.
Now Ferrando is turning his attention to designing a new Norwegian line for women, Sørli Walin’s AW19/20. With an eye on Norway’s past, he was last seen in NYC hunting through emigrant photos to see how earlier Norwegians who landed at Castle Garden and Ellis Island dressed. His work may be placed in the context of an emerging trend in Norwegian and Scandinavian fashion that bears an air of the past.
Looking to an even earlier Nordic past, Sørli Walin’s AW19/20 logo features Odin’s two ravens, Huginn and Muninn. The clothing line is geared for “the independent, the bold, and the determined.” It sounds like the company has hit the essence of the Scandinavian female, whether in Viking times, as emigrants, or in contemporary Norway.
But perhaps it is best to let this fashion innovator tell his own story.
Victoria Hofmo: You have an interesting name. Tell me about your background.
Jhan-Carlo David Herrera Ferrando: I’ll take that as a compliment! My full name is Jhan-Carlo David Herrera Ferrando, and the last time I checked, I was the only one in the world carrying that name. I was born near the coast of Venezuela, but my DNA test traces me back to Peru, Ukraine, Italy, and Spain.
VH: You moved to Norway when you were young. What was that transition like?
JCDHF: We moved to Norway when I was 6 years old, and I soon grew to love everything about the country. In the beginning,, it was hard. We spent the first three years in Kirkenes on the border to Russia, at the northern tip of Norway. It could reach to -40°C [ed: also -40°F, weirdly]. So I went from 40+ to -40; my face literally burned from the cold when I took my first breath of Norwegian air at the airport. But with time, I learned to love the wintertime too.
VH: Can you speak about your younger years growing up in Norway? Where did you live and what it was like?
JCDHF: I have lived all around Norway, from the rural and harsh nature in the north of Norway to the urban environment of the capital, Oslo. Growing up in Norway wasn’t always easy, and it started off kind of rough. We were only two pupils with a non-Norwegian ethnicity at my school, and the first three years, I felt bullied and left out. I didn’t feel like I could ever fit in, but I was determined to assimilate.
My big break came when hormones started to kick in and the girls at school started to flirt with me. When the most popular girl in my class started to play footsie with me, one thing led to another, and shortly thereafter she would give me my first kiss. Filled with a newfound self-confidence, I found ways to cope with everyday struggles, and at the age of 12, I was thriving and finally felt fully integrated into Norwegian life. I loved sweet brunost cheese, I skied and snowboarded like the others, and I played in the snow at all hours until my mother called me in for supper. I loved lying in bed and watching the northern lights dance in the sky, as I fantasized about the future.
Norwegians may be misunderstood as being a cold people, but in reality they are just shy and very considerate about others’ privacy. I have traveled and lived all over the world, but I always long for the beauty of Norway and the warmth of the people there. I want to be a catalyst for the Norwegian mindset and share it with the world.
VH: When did your interest in fashion begin?
JCDHF: When I was 11, my great-grandmother visited us, and I used to sit for hours and watch how she mended and re-purposed our old clothes. She was educated in fashion design in London. She noticed that I was very interested and took time to share some of her skills with me. The seed was planted, and I started to deconstruct old clothes and make alterations on new clothes. This was the beginning of my working life: I became a fashion designer and tailor for schoolmates. I earned money, and I felt useful and unique. I had a skill that was in demand, and I dressed to impress.
VH: After studying in London, what made you return to Norway after college?
JCDHF: During the last eight years, Norway has been crowned the best country to live in according to the United Nation’s Human Development Index: it’s fairly self-explanatory.
VH: Can you talk about your current fashion project in NYC?
JCDHF: I’m in New York to meet the industry and to get inspirations for our new collection for Sørli Walin’s AW19/20. New York is the perfect place for us to do research. Between the years of 1825 and 1880, a large number of Norwegians emigrated to the USA and landed in Manhattan. There are more Norwegian Americans living in North America today than there are Norwegians in Norway.
We have researched the theme in collaboration with the Norwegian Emigration Museum, and have a good idea of who left, why they left, what they did when they arrived, how they were accepted in the USA, and how they contributed to the USA. Our fashion collection will be about more than clothes: it will mean something. Our clothes will make a statement: they will be something that connects us all together.
We are trying to tell the story of immigrants all over the world at any time in history. There is no difference between Norwegians coming to America in the past and Sudanese people leaving for Europe or Mexicans trying their luck in the U.S. today. Norway is now a very prosperous country, and immigrants from Africa and Asia come there seeking their fortune. They all have a dream.
VH: What are you aspirations for this new brand?
JCDHF: Sørli Walin will be a new and exciting brand that merges the functional and the sporty, Scandinavian design with playful urban influences. Sørli Walin is creating fashion that is unique and beautiful, and speaks directly to your “must-have” muscle.
We want to be the first Scandinavian fashion house to leave a truly big footprint. We want to share the typical Scandinavian mindset, as well as our unique blend of fashion. We want to be a major player in the industry worldwide, and for this, everything starts with making it in the United States. Moods of Norway had a large presence in New York and even participated in a local fashion show in Brooklyn a few years ago, but unfortunately, the company could not be sustained. In hindsight, we can look at what worked and what didn’t work for that company; we can learn from them.
VH: What will you do differently to ensure your brand’s survival?
JCDHF: To survive you have to constantly innovate. We will never be satisfied with what we have accomplished, but will always strive for more: to make better fashion and to make everyone around us feel great. In every style we provide, you will notice a detail or a major innovation. We are trying to bring genuine innovation to every aspect of the way we do business or in the clothing itself.
There is no innovation in re-circulating old colors and patterns every few years. The core of running a fashion brand is basing the focus on the fitting and construction. A customer has to recognize your brand for both its fit and innovation for it to last. The business model that Moods of Norway had could not sustain itself due to the fierce competition in the segment of the fashion industry in which the company was engaged.
This article originally appeared in the October 19, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.