What’s happened to Norwegian fashion?

Once the largest fashion event in Norway, Oslo Fashion Week faced sudden cancellation this year

Photo: Oslo Fashion Week / Facebook 2013’s Oslo Fashion Week opened with a lavish affair at the Astrup Fearnley Museum.

Photo: Oslo Fashion Week / Facebook
2013’s Oslo Fashion Week opened with a lavish affair at the Astrup Fearnley Museum.

Molly Jones
Norwegian American Weekly

Pål Vasbotten first arranged Oslo Fashion Week (OFW) in February 2004 to provide Norwegian designers with a common venue to display their collections. But dwindling participation, criticism in the media, international competition, and a lost sponsorship led Vasbotten to cancel the event after ten years of dedication.

“Oslo Fashion Week will not produce an OFW venue or an OFW show in February 2014. These activities are cancelled for multiple reasons. First and foremost due to the quality and missing collaboration and participation in the industry,” explained Vasbotten of his decision in a press release.

Although Vasbotten has given up on organizing Oslo Fashion Week, he hopes someone will take over his role and revitalize the once-successful event. According to NRK, Vasbotten gave himself ten years to fight for the cause of a Norwegian fashion week; now it is up to other industry leaders to take the reins.

But there’s not much support for the Oslo Fashion Week anymore after a slew of criticism in the media. In the past few years, the fashion week has been criticized for focusing too much on celebrities and not enough on the designers themselves and their collections. Many designers are upset that celebrities such as TV-personality Pia Haraldsen and snowboarder Daniel Franck presented their collections at OFW. “It’s becoming more and more of a freak show,” claimed editor of Norwegian Cosmopolitan Elisa Røtterud in regards to Haraldsen’s dramatic presentation.

OFW once again took a hit when main sponsor L’Oréal withdrew their sponsorship in January 2013. The number of participants continued to shrink to single digits as participants were required to provide more beauty services with their own resources.

Vasbotten recognizes that the Norwegian fashion industry will need to grow in order to support a fashion week and compete with international fashion events. “An Oslo Fashion Week based on Norwegian designers is too small of a foundation. Too few designers see the value of or have the resources for their own presentation of their collections in the media,” admits Vasbotten to fashion source MinMote.

It doesn’t help that Norway is competing with the better-organized fashion industries in Sweden and Denmark. In fact, several top Norwegian designers present their work in Copenhagen instead.

“We are a small market. In Norway, fashion is viewed as culture. In Sweden and Denmark, it is an industry. The Norwegian designers that do well travel out of the country to seek a bigger market than Norway, and I completely understand that,” commented Petra Middelthon, fashion editor for Elle.

Despite the reasons, many of Norway’s designers are disappointed with Vasbotten’s decision to cancel Oslo Fashion Week.

“It’s a shame. Myself and many others would not be where we are today without the initiative Oslo Fashion Week has taken,” said the well-known designer Leila Hafzi to NRK. She is optimistic that Oslo Fashion Week will eventually return, while others in the industry are more skeptical.

Sissel Hoffengh, fashion journalist for Dagsavisen, thinks that the system behind OFW has become obsolete, but worries that the lack of a central arena will hinder collaboration.

There’s certainly not as much support for the fashion industry as Pål Vasbotten would like, but there are still individuals committed to the growth of fashion design in Norway.

The same week Oslo Fashion Week was scheduled to take place—February 2 through 9—the new Oslo Trend started up. This event hosted fashion shows, concerts, and movies, and similarly hopes to expand the platform for the Norwegian fashion industry.

Another organization, called Up, started up last year to support up-and-coming designers. Up is determined to avoid the pitfalls of OFW by focusing on the design and the designer’s handiwork and avoiding the glamor factor.

There’s no way to know yet if one of these startups will take the place as Norway’s primary fashion week, or if Oslo Fashion Week will return to the runway. Some are optimistic, while others think Norway has a long way to go.

The Norwegian fashion industry must meet three goals in order to be successful, according to costume designer Kjell Nordström: “The designers need money; no one can survive the startup phase without support. One also needs a venue to present oneself, like a fashion week. And then the media must take its responsibility to write about what happens in the fashion industry, not only on the celebrities who populate it.”

We’ll have to watch the evolution of Norwegian fashion over the next few years to see if Norway is able to meet these goals and earn a spot in the international fashion industry. Although it is feasible, it will certainly take a lot of dedication and collaboration among leaders of the industry.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 3, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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