by Malte Flagstad, Founder and Designer at Tonsure
Words by Monique Schröder. Illustration by Sine Jensen.
After getting bored of the fashion industry, former Martin Margiela Designer and MA Central Saint Martins Graduate Malte Flagstad was toying with the idea of opening his own butcher. Though, he found his passion for clothes again after a short break of six months and founded his own menswear brand Tonsure in 2013. We met him at his studio to find out about his influences from London, Paris as well as Scandinavia and if he was ever called a pervert for the teddy bear images in his latest collection.
Since you started working in the industry it’s probably one of the most asked questions but how did you actually get into fashion, both as an interest and profession?
Since back in the days I’ve been into clothes, not consciously but I always had an opinion on what I wanted to wear. It was not until I was 19 or 20 years old that I realized fashion is something you can do as a profession. I have always been interested in architecture or design but didn’t know that designing clothes is something where you can combine these things. I used to work as a prop guy with commercials and feature films for a long time but when a friend of mine moved to London to study menswear I was encouraged to do the same. It was perfect timing as I wanted to explore something new so I decided to give it a go. I just sent off some things to London and got accepted at Central Saint Martins.
If you started being into fashion from an early age, does that mean you changed your style a lot over the years?
I guess so. I remember I had these ideas of what would be nice. There was a silk shirt with ruffles in the front that really caught my eye but I never found one my size. In high school, my friend and me had a fascination for the 70s and the whole disco vibe connected to it. That’s probably why I wanted a shirt like that. I still don’t have one and that’s probably for the best (laughs).
As a designer you go through many stages to get to the final look of a collection. How do you get inspired?
I can’t deny the fact that I was born in Denmark, for I have this minimalist starting point but I always want to push for something I haven't seen before. That’s doesn’t really describe a certain style, it’s a way of thinking. At the end of the day it’s clothes and you have to be able to wear it. I like to do things that are a little more extreme but still wearable. There are always 2-3 pieces in the collection that are more out there but there always has to be some kind of recognizable element to it. I’m not afraid of color; although I’m from Denmark I am not a minimalist black kind of person. My inspiration comes from different things happening all around, here and globally.
Connected to what you just said, how does your design process look like?
It’s difficult to put into words because it’s a very intense process. I usually gather images and ideas that evolve into a little bubble where I can experiment and play around with different elements; though I have an idea how the whole look should be when I dive into the design process. I think about how my grandfather would wear something today if he were into fashion or how it would look like if I had the opportunity to create an outfit of his clothes. It sometimes feels a bit like working as a stylist because you have a vision or mood before you start. That can of course change throughout the process because it also depends on what atmosphere you are in.
Do you ever feel stressed to be creative?
Often I feel too stressed to be creative. You end up designing for 10% of the time; the rest consists of practical emails or production. If I can find the time, I work on the weekend. I enjoy being alone at the studio listening to loud music.
How does London play a role in the way you design and the aesthetics you choose to implement in your collections?
In London I experienced that people are a lot more loose and try to mix up things when it comes to fashion. A couple of years back you would see funky kids walking around in East London and they would look like no one else. They were not trying to pretend that they didn’t spend time on their outfits, instead they were going for it and totally believed in what they put together. That’s what I loved about London. I feel like in Copenhagen it can quickly become this uniform that you can spot everywhere. It’s chic and fashionable but it gets boring very quickly because everybody looks like each other. You don’t have these “Wtf-did-I-just-see-moments” so often here.
If you were to compare all cities you lived and worked in – Copenhagen, London and Paris – how do they differ in terms of fashion and the way things seem to work?
The crowd definitely differs from city to city but I also connect different experiences due to what I was involved in at a specific place. London, the place where I committed to the fashion industry, I learned that I need to be a hard worker, even more than I was before I moved there. It’s good if you can handle it but it was the most intense experience I ever tried. You really have to work hard if you want to try to do something. To me, there is no point in working if you don’t do it full on. You might as well be asleep somewhere or be in a kindergarten. That sounds really harsh but you should always give 100% and more. But most of my London experience is shaped by my studies at Central Saint Martins. In Paris, I quickly learned that the real world looks different, as opposed to what I learned in school. My team was small but great; I had a lot of fun and we all complemented each other perfectly, we had no other choice, as the schedule was so intense.
With Tonsure, you created your own universe. What does the name of your brand actually stand for?
It’s always really difficult to find a name because it has to look and sound right, and there has to be some kind of meaning connected to it. I had this idea of using Tonsure because the name is Latin for cutting or trimming, which is quite fitting for clothes. At the same time it is a description for a monk's or priest's scalp left bare on top by shaving off the hair as a sign of religious devotion or humility. This feeling for community was interesting because it stands for worldly fashion and esteem, which also plays a part in the clothes I design. I would like to do menswear for men that are not being defined by any trend but like to define their own style connected to what they stand for as a person. Someone who has the confidence to search out its own identity and is not too influenced by trends is whom I want to reach with Tonsure. I think when people are after trends too much then it’s not fashion anymore. To me fashion is something that surprises you because you hadn’t thought about it before or would have never put it together that way. That also includes horrible things because it makes you react and think about why you didn’t like it. If you just see things you like the whole time then you don’t go anywhere; it would be a disaster, really. I’d rather see disaster than having people pass me looking fantastic and flawless all the time.
Can you also imagine doing womenswear?
I would love to. I think it would be a lot of fun. For now I only focus on men because it would be too crazy doing both. There are more (practical) rules in menswear. For example, a coat is a coat and it has to have certain elements to it. In general, I like to experiment with how I can flip the rules or create something that makes it different to the standard fashion item. It can be even just making a coat from teddy bear fabric. In womenswear however, there aren’t really any rules. It depends on whom you ask or what kind of style you are aiming for but it is totally different. I feel as a woman you can do a lot more without people going “Why did you do that?” If you look thirty years back, men would dress crazy; in the 60s or 70s they would dress as much as a women in that time. I don’t know why that changed over the years but maybe one day it will be like that again. Who knows?
You mentioned the teddy bear fabric as an example for breaking rules. Tell me more about your collaboration with Steiff?
I thought it would be fun to build a story around the teddy bear fabric and it started from there. That’s how I work with all my collections. Like I mentioned before, I have an idea and it gradually becomes something. I really love fabrics, I wish there was more time to discover them. I am very much into details, if it’s not an obvious thing like a crazy fabric, it can also be a subtle thing, for example a detail that is done differently. I thought making a coat with this kind of fabric would be playful and interesting at the same time, I hadn’t seen it before and I fell in love with the idea.
Do you know if somebody ever thought you were a perv for using teddy bear fabrics in your collection?
If people think that it’s fine by me, I wouldn’t mind that at all to be honest (laughs). I haven’t heard anything like that up until now. Nobody ever commented weirdly about it. People shouldn’t take fashion too serious in general. To me it’s a joke; I like to do clothes that are not up your own ass. I try to have a little bit of fun.
Do you ever get sick of talking about fashion, or thinking about it?
Yes, all the time. I prefer not to. If my friends ask me, I don’t feel comfortable unless it’s friends in the same business because then we can discuss all the details. I miss those days where you had time to meet friends for more than just one coffee. There was a period in my life that felt like an endless summer, just like the movie. It was before I moved to London, that’s ages ago now (laughs). We would do spontaneous road trips to Berlin or to a summerhouse on an island. That doesn’t happen anymore and I really miss that. I guess that’s just part of life at a certain age.
Where do you see yourself with Tonsure?
I don’t want to sound like a jerk but obviously I want it to grow big and do womenswear one day. I have always been impressed with the brand Acne because they have a clear vision and have done so for 15 years. Although they have become big and more commercial now, they managed to keep the allure about their brand and still impress or push the “standard”. That’s very impressive. We wouldn’t do the same but if we could do something similar, I wouldn’t say no to that (laughs).