Interview: Alex Mattsson

February 20, 2013

After spending a week in London with some of the coolest designers in the game for our FADER #84 feature on UK streetwear, we had so many good chats with so many good people that not everything could possibly make it into the magazine. Here, we're running extended interviews with some of our favorite designers, like Alex Mattsson, who tailors leather with attitude and recently collaborated with Zebra Katz on a song for his fall collection.

One of the things I am endlessly interested in is the streetwear influence that's going on in London right now. But when I talked to [your stylist Matthew Josephs] about your work, he was like, “I don’t think calling it streetwear is necessarily right.” What do you think? I think the aesthetic is definitely influenced by streetwear, the finish is not. What I’m most interestesd in is tailoring, but I think there’s a definite street influence on my work. I grew up being into hip-hop and being into graffiti, baggy clothes and all of that stuff; I’ve always had that angle on the way I dress and everything. But, then, there’s all these other sorts of influences, like there’s lots of tailoring in there—bikers, leatherwork. So it’s not exactly streetwear repackaged into a luxury product.

Do you feel that London is having a streetwear moment? Yeah, there’s this whole sports-luxe, street-luxe thing that’s going on now. You have Shaun [Samson], Astrid Andersen, William [Richard Green], Kit [Neale]; we’re all basically doing the same genre of clothes, and we’re all of the same generation, so clearly there’s a shift going on, and it’s only going to grow I guess. We grew up with sportswear, and we didn’t grow up with tailored suits or whatever. So it’s our generation and it resonates with 20-somethings.

Where did you grow up?
Oslo, Norway.

[caption id="attachment_241878" align="aligncenter" width="620" caption="Alex Mattsson in his studio in London. Photo by Jackie Dewe Mathews."][/caption]

Did Oslo have a big hip-hop scene? Norway, and Oslo in particular, has had this huge street culture. I don’t know why really, but when I was in high school, it was all about breakdancing, graffiti and music. That’s what we were doing basically. I was doing graffiti; I’d be out tagging when my friends would be at parties. On the weekends we’d be out bombing trains and shit.

Did you have a tag? Yeah, Panda. That was and is still my nickname back in Norway, and all my friends call me Panda.

Were were you hearing hip-hop in Norway? Was it being played on the radio? No, no, and it was weird because back then you didn’t really have the internet, so it was kind of like buying imported magazines and stuff like that. I used to read The SourceThe Source was my favorite. There were a couple of shops that would import American clothes for ridiculous prices, but it was the only place that you could buy Carhartt and all that American stuff.

You also reference LA street gang culture in your work. Where does that come from? I’m half Columbian as well, so it resonates with me in that way. I used to go to Columbia a lot, but there’s not that kind of vibe in Columbia. It’s more the Latin people that moved to America; that’s where that whole blend comes from. I guess when I was in Norway, not being Norwegian, you’re kind of always looking for something to relate to because you don’t feel like you completely belong there. In Norway, we were watching a lot of American films, and all those Latino Gangster films. Blood In Blood Out. I think that’s where it came from mostly.

This season it’s sort of a mix of ’40s Americana, Latino-American culture, zoot suits and that whole old school Latino-American thing, mixed in with modern equivalents, such as this biker gang called Mongols—they’re like the second biggest biker gang in America. It started off with Mexicans and blacks, because blacks weren’t allowed into the Hell’s Angels, because they’re an only white club, so they were basically like, Well, fuck it, we’ll start our own thing. They have a different vibe to them than the Hell’s Angels. Hell’s Angels are like dirty rockers, but these guys always wear clean clothes: crisp white t-shirts, clean jeans, they have all matching, black-and-chrome bikes. They’re just as thuggish, but they have this nice, clean, fresh sort of look, so that’s where this is coming from.

When you first came to London, what were your impressions of style there? It was, like, the MySpace days, and I was living in Kent, but I would go up to London to go out basically. And I would come up alone. It was kind of a weird time, but I knew there was stuff happening and I wanted to see what it was basically, so sometimes I would come up alone. Going out started everything. That’s how we meet all these people, and that’s how you get inspired as well, I think. That’s how you kind of understand the London fashion scene—in the clubs.

Was this the time when the BoomBox party was happening? Well, it was even before BoomBox. It was like Family, and Foreign. Well, Family was actually my biggest inspiration, which was Richard Mortimer’s club before BoomBox.

Did you wear crazy things? Yeah, I used to really dress up. When I first started, the whole New Rave [thing] in London was kicking off big time. It was like 2005-2006, and I was in all neon top to toe. A Cassette Playa kind of thing.

Cassette Playa seems like such a seminal person to London fashion in the mid-2000s. Yeah, she was. As far as the fashion side of New Rave, it was all her. Basically, when I first came here, Cassette Playa and Gareth Pugh were just like, gods. I found them so inspiring, and I still do. I ended up working with Cassette Playa for a season after I finished my MA. I think I can really relate to her vision. Technically we’re in different areas, but inspirationally her work really resonates with me. It’s hard to explain, but I guess she kind of represents our generation. It’s the first generation of kids who grew up with the internet, mobile phones, hyper-information, all that kind of stuff. She kind of embodied that, you know—memories of old computer games when you were a kid— and took all that when nobody has tapped into that yet. She was kind of the first one.

You recently got Ojay to record a song for Zebra Katz and made some clothes for them. What it is that you like about them? Ojay’s music is all about swag. It just works with fashion because he portrays an attitude. He’s tough, but he’s still got this gay swag that I love and it’s exactly the same thing with my work. It’s so perfect because my work is inspired by hyper-masculine research, but it ends up having this gay flair to it. I really like that—to soften the image and make it less aggressive.

Posted: February 20, 2013
Interview: Alex Mattsson