Making All The Right Moves
Soulland in a big way represent the movement at the beginning of this century, founded on a concept based on streetwear ethos and have evolved into a well established menswear line defined by a more conceptual aesthetic. Silas Adler has now guided the label for a decade and is making all the right moves, not matter what element of the label, starting with the design work to the presentation to buyers, media and most importantly on a retail level. With the Soulland Autumn/Winter 2012 Collection not far away from launching I sat down with Silas to discuss the roots of the label, to the progressive nature that has lead to this fascinating collection.
James Oliver: Can you tell me a bit about your childhood?
Silas Adler: Well... I have very mixed roots. My mom is Swedish/Polish/Austrian and my father was a medicine man from a tribe in Sukumaland, Tanzania. So my blood is North-Euro-Afro. I was raised in Denmark and Sweden. First in the countryside of Denmark, then in Gothenburg, Sweden. At 12, my mom and I moved to Copenhagen. I consider Copenhagen as my hometown.
JO: What first got you interested in fashion and design?
SA: Since I was a kid I always had an opinion about my outfits. I remember having this biker jacket in leather when I was 6. Black leather and red satin lining. Then when I got into Hip Hop music at 8 I really started to think about what I was wearing. Hip Hop merch was so fucking dope back then. I would just wear black baggy pants and black merch t-shirts and starter caps (Raiders of course!). I wish I still had some of the t-shirts. I used to rock an ICE-T t-shirt with the cover from “home invasion”. Fantastic! At 12, I got into Skateboarding and that became everything in my life. Also the clothing of course. Droors, TSA, DUB, Menece, Axion, All City, Girl, Chocolate, Alphanumeric, Elwood. I remember the first DC pro model by Rob Dyrdek and the Guy Mariano and Kareem Campbell pro models for Axion. It was the craziest shit. In 1998 there was a demo in Copenhagen with Kareem, Fabian Alomar, Joey Suriel and Eric Pupecki. Kareem gave me a t-shirt and Fabian Alomar smoked earth bong with the guys that control the hash trade in Denmark. It was in one of the Big Brother videos. Very pre. X-Games and Street league. From millennium it started to be all about Ralph Lauren and Nautica. Even Mecca and some Ecko shit. That is the only period I regret a bit look wise.
JO: What was the catalyst for you starting Soulland?
SA: In the beginning it was about making t-shirts for me and my friends. Then I started to sell to other kids around Copenhagen and to some skate shops. And it just grew from there. From there I packed the collection in a big suitcase and went out on my first ‘sales trip’ around Scandinavia and Northern Europe. I often never got the money for the clothing, but I had a good time and learned a great deal about running a business.
At one point I had a really bad knee injury and skateboarding was more or less over for me. I started to see what Wood Wood and Henrik Vibskov were doing. The Copenhagen scene was really rising at the moment. I decided to go more into menswear and fashion and less skateboarding and streetwear. In 2007, Jacob Kampp, CEO and head of sales, invested in Soulland. From this point forward we have been very focused and the last couple of years Soulland is grown into a well-established menswear brand.
JO: Can you explain the core philosophy of Soulland?
SA: It’s hard to explain and we have tried to come up with a short explanation for a long time. I guess we aim to make menswear that has a relevance to the past, present and future. Something that is honest and classic but still dares to push and take menswear in a new direction. At the moment, a lot of people are very much into heritage brands and the opposite reaction to this where people are all about future shit and technology. In my head it's not one or the other. We need to appreciate the past but we also need to move the ship forward. That’s what I try to do with Soulland.
JO: How has this evolved since you first began the label?
SA: Well first and foremost Soullands gone from a hobby project with a focus on and in the Danish skateboarding scene to a menswear brand with a focus on fashion and quality. The brand is in constant development and if I look back on the last 5 years and 10 collections, the evolving is quite spectacular. To be honest the early collections are maybe not that strong but it makes sense in the bigger picture. Everything I know about design I learned through Soulland and you can really see the transformation in the collections. It did take me some time to find my own design DNA. But I feel I’m getting more and more to the point for each season.
JO: What formulates the start of creating specific individual garments? How do you form ideas around a theme or concept to approach a single piece?
SA: In the beginning it was more random and not very structured. But now a lot of the process is build around knowledge and learning. I always have an inspiration that turns into a theme. To start with my team and I are studying a specific theme.
For the AW12 collection we studied Moscow. And to narrow it down we looked at the power institutions from the beginning of the 20th century until the fall of the iron curtain. You have the time of the Tsar and the Imperial family that ends in 1917 and then you have Communism. You can’t deny that in both ways of power there is a lot of suppression. Often culture, communication and art in times of suppression is very interesting. We looked at anti communism propaganda, jail tattoos and the Tsars feast invitations just before the revolution. They became keywords and a kind of do and don’t guide through the process. In order to stay true to the inspiration all garments need to make sense according to the themes. There is also a colour guide o na maximum 7 main colours. In this case again inspired by Moscow before the fall of the iron curtain. All garments must be able to be categorized in one of the colours. For me this creates a line in the collection. After this we start to source for fabrics and look at what was good from other Soulland collections and designs.
To top it of there is the stealing part. This is fashion’s worst kept secret. All designers steal! And we're no different. Sometimes you find that perfect knit sweater at the flea market and badabing! It’s in your collection. I guess it’s the full circle; you steal, re-design and someone steals from you. It’s the fashion eco system. But even this can’t fuck with your rule set. Nothing in the collection can be there unless it makes sense.
JO: What are important aspects surrounding your process of design?
SA: To create a set of rules and follow them.
JO: You were recently awarded "Danish Designer of the Year", the first time for a menswear designer to win the award. How important is this to you and what does it mean to the label and menswear in Denmark as a whole.
SA: I would be a liar to say that it didn’t mean a great deal to Soulland and me. We have been working very hard for a long time. And of course it’s nice to be recognized for what you do. Denmark has a strong handful of menswear designers and brands, and Soulland has been part of that movement for a while. But at the end of the day the hard work doesn’t stop after an award. We have to work as hard as before if not even harder. With great work comes great expectations. But we’re ready for it!
JO: What vision do you have for Soulland from this point and what direction do you want to take the label?
SA: I’m trying to stay true to my design DNA and Soulland. I had to navigate for a while in the whole heritage thing. I looked so much up to the brands and the good stories. But I realized they were 120 years old and Soulland started 10 years ago. I’m not supposed to go down that road, because there is no road. And now it feels good. I want to create menswear fashion. I want to push the limit for what men can and will wear but not in a silly way. In a way that is honest. True to the past, in the present and towards the future.
JO: Can you talk about US Import for a minute, how does the retail space help provide a presence for Soulland?
SA: U.S. Import is one of Copenhagen's smallest and most exciting stores. We took over the space by coincident two years ago. We learn so much about our product from the shop. It’s nice to get the reactions from customers and be able to fully explain what Soulland and the collections are about. But retail is no joke. You need to be on it 24/7. The same goes for the Soulland webshop that we just opened earlier this year. You really need to be active to keep peoples interest.
In U.S. Import we have the pleasure to work and play with some of the brands that we like and find interesting. Shout out to all the brands represented in the store and to Tina our store manager!
JO: Finally, what is the best thing about where you live?
SA: It is to small to get lost yet to big to get bored....