Do You Realize?

In the middle of a pandemic, the designers in The Forumist’s Talent Challenge ‘Realise’ are realising their dreams against the odds with colours, cuts, and materials that say everything about a world that will, eventually, move into the future.

By the final two weeks of fashion month, the whole world had changed. Covid-19 had already rapidly spread across the globe and the fashion weeks became clusters where the virus could easily target people well known for their cheek kissing, sweaty parties and overcrowded shows. As the virus had its heyday in Milan most of us carried on with our businesses. Soon people started making statements of concern and one day after another fashion calendar events closed, but at the time the fear was as naïve as the logo masks that appeared on the front row.

Jump forward two months and we are still trying to deal with the new order and imagining the impact the virus will have on all our futures, our communities and creative industries, and the day-to-day life of fashion. We turned to the up-and-coming designers that are part of The Forumist’s Talent Challenge ‘Realise’ to hear about their entries in the competition, how they have been coping and if they believe there will be any independent fashion after the coronavirus.

Undoubtedly, smaller brands and independent designers are economically suffering a lot in the wake of the coronavirus. They are the creatives who already have chosen a rocky path, often juggling uncertain jobs between working on their own collections and now facing unemployment, stores closing, and retailers canceling their orders at the last minute. It really does seem like a challenge to stay envisioned and keeping the brand alive. Since its launch in 2014, The Forumist has highlighted emerging creativity and acted as a platform for novel expressions. With the fashion talent initiative Realise, eleven selected brands will get a chance to produce a capsule collection with Pre O’Porter and all of them will get the exclusive opportunity to produce a conceptual The Forumist sweater, with their brand hallmark, which will be available on

The 11 designers are all at different points in establishing their brands. Some have had several years in the industry but most of them could be defined as being at the beginning of their breakthrough journeys – a beginning that the crisis can either put to an end or make help them flourish. For the Danish designer Oliver Opperman, who works in London, the latter rings the truest: “the lack of conversations and impressions have definitely given me some much-needed headspace.” He continues, ”I think designers never really know what it is that makes your stuff your stuff, at least that’s a conversation I often have with my friends. But at this point in isolated lockdown, it all becomes quite concrete. I feel I have the headspace to go back to my original inspiration and create a language. So with this challenge, it was nice to make it very concrete, like this drape on a classic sweater that’s kind of my signature. I like things to be recognizable, I want a sweater to look like a sweater, but then I take away about 20% from reality and add my twist.”

Oliver moved his design studio to Copenhagen just in time for lockdown, but not everyone was that fortunate. Johannes Leijonborg and Adele Gillardeau of the eponymous brand Johannes Adele didn’t catch the last flight back home to southern France and have since lodged in a cabin in the woods on the outskirts of Borås in Sweden. ”It’s a pity, really, that we didn’t make it. We miss our cat, and our castle atelier is always equipped for quarantine mode,” they say. For Realise they designed two sweaters, a zip bomber sweater, and a cropped top with their signature loose sleeves. ”We have several high-waisted trouser styles to go with them, and we can hardly wait to see those looks together.” 

The chaotic circumstances also forced designer Hanna Kisch to make a quick decision. ”When the alarms about the coronavirus became too loud, I felt we had to leave Stockholm immediately, it was almost like in a sci-fi movie. I strongly felt I had to say goodbye to the animals at a friend’s farm, so we went there and have stayed there since then. All my production had closed in a matter of days anyway and I had to leave my day job. So I brought my atelier to the farm where I’m still working on some projects, but also now and then helping out, repairing horse blankets and such like for the farm. It’s actually quite fulfilling.” As for her projects, Kisch has recently collaborated with the thrift store Myrorna to create the capsule collection Myrorna Upgrade by Hanna Kisch,  which includes blazers with power silhouettes, leather pants, blouses, chaps and corsets. ”You can easily wear it when out and about with your future ration coupons.” Count me in, replicant Kisch. 

Another talent whose creations come to life in the melting pot of garment quintessence is Linn Sohl, whose chosen method is collaging different garments. She explains how something new can be achieved when doing this: ”It’s about the meeting of disparate materials, scales, styles, colours and patterns. There is no wrong way to do a collage.” 

Unfortunately for all our emerging designers is the fact that such talent can only go so far to pay the rent. Talent incubators are a rare find in Sweden, due to cultural politics and private investors who would rather fund art than be part of building a fashion legacy. Jennifer Jönsson Lundedal is fed up with the scant attention she and other designers receive. ”I truly hope that the industry and everyone it involves will open their eyes and wallets and start paying creative people for their creative work. Hopefully, up-and-coming designers will find new ways and platforms to get their businesses space and growth. I hope people dare to stay creative.” Jennifer is indeed a creative kind. For the challenge, her starting point was a very basic staple piece out of which she ”created a puzzle patchwork that can puzzle a T-shirt when worn on the body. And when on a hanger it’s just beautiful materials mixed together in patches,” she explains. “To me this is the timeless garment, the silhouette is every day – the artwork makes it unique!” 

The focus on decoration is also very visible in the collections by Tove Berner-Wik, who stitches by hand most of the garments herself. Making a commercial design fit for factory production was a challenge. ”I specialize in decorations, but not just those that add something pretty to a garment,” she says. “Usually I make everything by hand, so yes, how to make these in a factory was really a challenge I had to solve.”

Whenever I see Daniela Persichetti’s designs I imagine a young girl gang of inbetweeners, impressionable but never meek, wearing their heart on their sleeve. ”My idea for the sweater sprang from the study of a behavioural trend among the young that is gaining ground, namely the use of cannabis. There are a lot of tees out there paying tribute to legalisation and smoking as something cool, and I felt strongly that someone should stand up for those other girls that don’t fit in, the Shy Violet and the Wild Rose. So I began sketching flowers and it became the concept Fuck Weed.” Social commentary has been an important part of the fashion toolbox since the sixties as well as the concerned critique of its own system. A slowed-down pace of production is one of the benefits the crisis could have on our future. ”Maybe the outcome of all this will be a stronger need for artistic expression,” reflects designer Göran Sundberg. He explains further: ”I suspect we will have less patience, time and space for the routinely designed products the fashion market was so overblown with. But on the whole, I just think we will forget quickly and get on with our lives.” His brand UN explores garments of timelessness that hold site-specific functionality, like an apron in the kitchen or a raincoat in the summer house. ”Pieces anyone can wear and share, pieces that resist time and accumulation. I have sort of a tagline: one garment, one layer, one size, all genders. It is my way of having fun at work, haha.” 

Antonia Pihl, behind the brand PIHL, has often experienced being the only woman in her dedication to male-dominated sports like skiing, skateboarding, and surfing, a practice that is part of the core brand’s DNA. ”I wish to manifest the adrenaline and the raw power of skiing, but also the marvelous and sublime, and infuse this in my fashion.”

Linus Leonardsson creates fashion for ”gender-nonconforming aesthetic revolutionaries who like to be seen”. Creating a fashion universe centered on glamour must surely be difficult in these times, especially since Linus has his studio in London. Stockholm-based designer Ada Swärd has created a stay-at-home-routine she keeps strict. ”I wake up early, make breakfast, and sit in the morning sun to meditate and reflect on my day ahead. I dress up as if I was going to work and take the time to do my make-up. Dressing up for staying in might sound odd, but the process has been beneficial for my geist, a belief that this state will pass.” Ada further believes more escapist expressions will be in demand as an effect of the stay-in. Linus seems to have a similar scenario in mind when describing the background for the challenge entry: ”A topic close to my heart is nightlife and how people become elevated versions of themselves when dressing up to go out. For this piece, I wanted to focus on the relationship between activewear and rave-culture. Hence the scenery is an industrial rave-party with a pastel-colored sunrise emerging outside, and dancing club kids, who are celebrating life.” 

In hindsight many fatalists will argue that we had little or no self-control and already had reached peak consumption a long time before lockdown. To sustain a society strong enough to handle a crisis of this measure we need to continue to support creative initiatives and those who are the most vulnerable. We can purchase their unsold stock, place orders, interact with them on social media, and make plans for all tomorrow’s woke rave-parties. 

The Realise collection will be available through and has been produced in partnership with 

Team Credits:
Words by Sofia-Li
Photography by John Scarisbrick
Styling by Karolina Brock
Hair: Catherine Lehtonen
Post-production: Omnilux Studio
Models, in order: Fanny C at Mikas, Florand at Niche Management, Sap at Mikas, Amelia at Niche Management, Hanna Kisch, Adam Swärd, Thea B at Mikas, Florian Alexander at Le Management.

Fashion Credits:
#1 Full look by Oliver Oppermann
#2 Top and jeans by Johannes Adele and shoes by Acne Studios
#3 Top and trousers by Linn Sohl and shoes by Acne Studios
#4 Top and trousers by Linus Leonardsson and shoes by Hope
#5 Jumpsuit by Tove Berner-Wik and shoes by Whyred
#6 Full look by Hanna Kisch
#7 Top by Ada Swärd
#8 Dress and pants by Antonia Pihl and shoes by Eytys
#9 Vest and trousers by Daniela Persichetti and shoes by Acne Studios
#10 Full look by Göran Sundberg
#11 Full look by Jennifer Jönsson Lundedal