Interview with Anna Österlund of Ravishing Mad
As you know, I’ve been on and off the hunt for the perfect pair of jeans, as the selection available to me has been quite disappointing. And so, I instantly fell in love with the high waisted draped pocket pair by Swedish label Ravishing Mad. After perusing the RM website, I became quite intrigued with the designer behind the label, Anna Österlund. Anna’s vision behind the label is to empower both men and women to have individual style, to escape reality, and to be free to dream – all the things which I personally look for in my own wardrobe. Ravishing Mad has slowly been taking the fashion world by storm, as it’s now carried in shops both in Europe and the US. So I feel quite honoured that Anna took a few minutes to answer my questions. And, I must admit, the result is quite a good read.
What is the very first piece you remember designing?
I was sewing clothes for my doll together with my grandma a lot when I was about 7 years old. I also remember a horrible long sand coloured linen dress that I made when I was about 13 or so, and I sent it to a design competition run by the fashion designer Gunilla Pontén. I wasn’t even placed, so I guess she didn’t like it either!
Do you wear your own designs?
Yes, all the time, they fit so well…!
What is your most treasured piece of clothing?
It must be my satin leopard bomber jacket that I bought a couple of years ago. I have worn it almost every day since: in the summer it’s perfect over a tank top, and in the winter I use it as lining in my leather jacket.
How did the Ravishing Mad label come about?
That was actually also the name of my graduation collection at the Swedish School of Textiles in 2006. I used to design female, elegant collections when I first started out and one day I was just fed up with it and with myself. I decided to not try to be so perfect and please everyone else anymore. So for my graduation collection I only allowed myself to buy cheap fabric and do ugly experiments. I went to IKEA to buy their cheapest black fabric and I used glue as starch in some garments and I just loved this new way of working. Ravishing Mad was an allusion of the new concept of my new way of working. It referred to the expression raving mad and to the contrasts I love: being outrageous and yet stunning, clean but not strict, dirty and oh so powerful.
As the founder and designer of Ravishing Mad, what exactly do you do?
I own the label together with my husband and he helps me out a lot. We always discuss the look and concept of the collections and he has written some of the texts that describes my work, but otherwise I do everything myself. I design everything from the collections to the hang tags, neck labels, washing advice labels and catalogs. I make the order instructions to the factories and sew the sales samples and sometimes part of the production, and I also travel a lot to visit factories, fabric suppliers and so on. The collections are still kept pretty small since I do it all myself, but I like being in control…! However, I do look forward to the day I can employ an assistant so I can concentrate more on the creative process instead of all the paper work.
You know that I love your high waisted jeans, and it seems that many other people do as well. Are you surprised at the response to this piece? Do you think they’ll be around in your future collections for a while, or will they disappear when the high-waisted trend dies down a bit?
The first season I showed my label, in the beginning of 2008, lots of labels made high waisted jeans with extremely wide legs. A major fashion magazine came up to me at the showroom and asked me surprised: “Are you still making skinny jeans, why?” There are so many fast trends that come and go and that particular trend of wide jeans lasted for a year or so and suddenly boot cut re-entered the fashion scene instead. I don’t mind those trends at all, but I don’t follow them either. I follow my instinct. I just like skinny jeans and high waists even though some may say it’s out from time to time. That first season I also made those big pocket jeans that you like so much, but there weren’t any shops that wanted them. I wasn’t sure if they looked good or if they were just weird, but I decided to give them one more chance. When I started to show at international fashion weeks, I brought them back into the collection, and people loved them! That just thrills me and it’s so inspirational. I assure you that I won’t cut the high-waisted styles unless I simply don’t like them anymore!!!
Who do you have in mind when you design RM pieces?
My husband once said: “If you are going to be different, be so different that it matters!”. The feeling of independence and individuality is what I want people to feel when they wear Ravishing Mad. I want them to match and mismatch my clothes as a part of their own style, rather than wearing RM as a label. I don’t have a special person in mind and not even the gender. Many styles in the collections can be worn unisex and I leave it up to you to decide what you’d like to wear. I have received e-mails from lots of different customers that say I have inspired them to be more daring or more confident in looking apart from the mainstream. Quiet little mice that suddenly start to scream at the top of their lungs are constantly on my mind.
Your collections are produced in very small quantities. Do you think you’ll continue this way even when the label gains more international attention?
I do know that I’d like to get a salary every month, hehe! I need to increase the production a bit at least, because I can’t always reach the minimums from my suppliers and in those cases I have to sew some things myself. It would be so good to just leave the production to the factories so I can concentrate on the creative process and develop a more experimental line too. I keep all of my production within the EU in order to be able to visit the producers and to keep the high quality. That is much more important to me than a big and cheap production elsewhere.
What are your main sources of inspiration for your work, life, etc.?
Stereotype characters in stories that I find in music, films and literature inspire me a lot. I make up little stories in my head when I’m sketching and I collect characters all the time that I later visualize in the garments. The Struggling Musician, for example (pictured to the left), was a very dejected man who played at clubs in the film Downtown 81. He rarely received the attention he so longed for. He always showed up early at the night clubs so that no one would see that he carried all of his instruments himself. I made him a long brown/grey cardigan with sagging pockets and a sad silhouette in one collection.
Does being from Sweden affect your style/inspirations at all?
My style is not always recognized as Swedish. Black, grey and depressed has been the ruling style within Swedish labels for a while now, and I do think my design is a bit of a reaction to that.
Do you listen to music while you work, and what are your favorites?
I can’t work without music! Right now I listen a lot to The XX, Muse, The Cure, Cold War Kids, Marilyn Manson, The Dead Weather, and The Kills.
What’s a typical outfit for you while out running errands, grabbing a coffee, etc.?
I wear my low Getta Grip steel toe shoes to almost anything, anytime. I love the funny clumsy silhouette I get when I wear them to the High Rise skinny jeans. With that I often wear a black leather jacket and off course the satin leopard jacket underneath. I love ties and bow ties and I always look for them in second hand shops, so it’s not unusual that I wear that with some kind of a collar shirt. My heart shaped sunglasses are always with me and some funny earrings like a plastic cherry on a branch or a star or so.
If you weren’t a designer, what do you see yourself doing for a career?
I studied political science and sociology for a couple or years, but I can’t see myself in any kind of job connected to that. I’d probably lose it working in an office. Maybe photographer would suit me, or psychologist. I think a lot….But I believe that if I weren’t a designer, I’d have most fun at work if I got to organize some kind of events. I love to fix stuff!
And finally, what is your favorite piece from the S/S 10 collection?
It has to be the Big Pocket Villain (pictured above to the right), the black riding style pants with big draped pockets in the front.
Make sure you stop by Ravishing Mad tomorrow (Monday) to witness the unveiling of the new online shop! Perhaps the best news to rival that fact that you can get your own pair of RM high waisted jeans is the fact that Anna is offering international shipping for free! Oh, and visit Anna’s blog for some fun updates too.
Edit (late Sunday night): The Ravishing Mad webshop is now open and has not only some fantastic pieces, but some extremely reasonable prices. It would be a crime to not pick something up for yourself…