linus leonardsson's debut collection is inspired by forest raves
The Swedish designer tells i-D about his influences and the significance of showing his vibrant, gender-fluid collection at MBFW Russia.
One of the most exciting moments of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia was without a doubt when Swedish designer Linus Leonardsson sent his vibrant quilted jackets and shape-shifting, iridescent gowns down the runway. “I wanted people to notice it. I think often people are afraid to be noticed and to show off and I think it shouldn’t be that way,” Leonardsson says. “Everyone should just enjoy themselves.”
It’s not so surprising then that the 22-year-old designer’s colorful collection is inspired by his coming of age at forest raves in his hometown of Stockholm. He taps into the colors of the Scandinavian sky in summertime and the promised freedom of these parties amongst the trees. Having only graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp last spring, the looks make up his masters graduate collection, which Leonardsson was invited to present in Moscow this season as part of the Global Talents program. It’s designed to spotlight young, emerging designers from all over the world an this year, Leonardsson was chosen as its winner.
During a brief pause at MBFW Russia, i-D met up with Leonardsson over coffee to hear all about what’s inspired his gender-fluid garments, his hope for a more sustainable future in fashion, and how he designed those otherworldly neon sunglasses.
Hi Linus! Tell me about the inspiration behind your MA collection.
So, it’s named “See you in the fog,” which references invitations for forest raves in Stockholm. They always end with a saying in Swedish. I was specifically looking back to them because I felt like that was where I was doing a lot of my growing up. I went there at a really early age and tried to adapt to my surroundings of people being twice my age around me. I tried to fit into that context and start finding out who I was and I feel like that’s quite a common story for a lot of people, they just do it in different ways. But you always try to adapt to the grown up world and eventually, hopefully, you find yourself instead. So, that was really what I wanted to convey with it. I’m drawing a lot of inspiration from big versus small, so a lot of the garments you will see have very large outsides — like a size 54 blazer with a small lining — instead gathering everything to fit this small persona that you have on the inside.
Tell me more about these forest raves. What are they like?
It’s literally in the forest. I think that’s one of the amazing qualities about Stockholm is that you have all of this forest in the city still. It’s pretty accessible and the club life is quite restricted. You have some clubs, but they close quite early and they’re regulated. Instead, this scene is flourishing and it’s a very special scenery. You’ll be taking the bus out somewhere, maybe 20 minutes, and get off in the middle of nowhere. It’s pitch black and you just hear this distant bass and you follow the music. Then you find this part of the forest where they have lights. It’s like a proper club, just outside. It’s quite surreal actually.
How do the color palette and your choice of materials reflect that scene?
The color palette is very much taken from northern summer skies. Midnight sun. You have a very long sunset and a very long night that’s actually daytime. So, you have these really pastel colors in the sky that reflect on the forest. That and the strobe lights of these parties created a very beautiful palette. That was the inspiration for the material choices as well. You have this artifice versus these natural fibers, and trying to take a lot of sustainable aspects into consideration. It’s subtle in the forest, but you have this very artificial scenery. There’s a lot of trash left behind and stuff like that, which is quite sad of course. But I feel like this collection still needs to reflect a sustainable future, so I’ve been trying to source a lot of deadstock fabrics for instance. The absolute majority is other people’s waste, which I’ve been using and recycling for different aspects. I’ve been using a lot of rope that’s left over from a knitting company in Antwerp, where I made this collection. I crocheted a lot of things with it and wove some metal chains in to make it more fun and glamorous. I had white lace that I would paint on. It’s a lot of handicraft.
Having come from Stockholm and moving to Antwerp, do you feel like your sense of style or design has changed?
Definitely. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, ever since a young age actually, to go to different places because I really think it enriches your perception of the world. The world is global and the world is big and everyone’s going to see what you do.
That’s why it’s even more interesting being here in Moscow. Fashion week here is not at all like it is in London. It’s a very different thing… Another aspect of the collection is the exploration of who you are and your sexuality, which is why I thought it was even more fun to show it here in Moscow actually, which has quite restrictive laws about this. That’s why I felt like it was really the perfect place to show it. There’s still so much work to be done worldwide on LGBTQI issues to be honest, so being able to show it in this kind of restrictive environment felt like a really good thing to do.
Are all of the pieces designed so that anyone can wear them?
I’ve designed them to be for both genders, yes. Of course these pieces have been fit to special models, but in my mind they should go for anybody, which is why I really try to mix as many “masculine” garments with “feminine” garments on the models. I hope that more people will play around with these elements without shame attached.
Tell me about the styling — those colorful sunglasses and shoes.
The sunglasses were actually a collaboration with a Belgian accessory brand Komono. I was working very closely with them and their technicians to realize my design. It’s again, very inspired by this artifice versus nature. The shape is coming from a pattern of birch trees that I painted and also used for the collection, and then the colors reference the strobe lights coming onto the trees and the sun peaking through the lenses.
There was a similar approach for the shoes, where you have deadstock pvc covering cork, but the shape is very much coming from 70s disco shoes. The 70s were a big reference for the collection as well. That’s something that I relate to domesticity at home. I listened to this kind of music for instance and a lot of other things from that time. They also really relate to the party scene. A bit difficult to walk in and dance in, but you can if you want to.
I love the fishnet socks too. They’re so playful with the fringe at the top.
A funny touch! I loved making them.
You mentioned the 70s influence tying into domesticity, can you tell me more about that reference?
It’s this contrast of nighttime liberation versus daytime domesticity basically — staying at home, being with your family, and not really telling them what you do at nighttime. That was another big part of it and it’s very much related to the handicraft that’s in the collection. I was thinking back to being at my grandparents and they’d always have these crocheted curtains and pillows. And at school we actually had courses in these things. I really wanted to work with that a lot as well to put focus on the longevity and quality because the second you put more effort into a garment, sure it becomes more expensive, but I think people will actually love it more. I’m really into this slow fashion movement. You create it well from the start, so that it will last a lifetime and hopefully somebody will appreciate it more as well.
What’s inspiring you right now?
To be honest, what’s mostly on my mind these days is the climate activism that’s happening worldwide. I think it’s really inspiring, not only for clothing, but also in the social context. These protests are everywhere and Greta Thunberg, she’s really an inspiring personality. I suppose nature is really pulling me even more inwards, you know? I love nature and I think we need to do everything we can to preserve it.