Back in January my imagination was ignited by the discovery of Erïk Bjerkesjö. It was impossible not to fall for the charms of his debut, an assortment of exquisite handmade treasures, quintessentially beautiful with an added dash of unmistakable traditional mastery. Showcased as part of the inaugural Polimoda Future Lab at Pitti Uomo 81, the design talent sparkled in the splendour of Villa Favard. Considered yet exciting, classic yet modern, the remarkably accomplished collection told the personal and professional story that began in Sweden and grew up amidst the great craft traditions of Italy and Tuscany. Next month, having been awarded Who is On Next? Pitti Uomo, the designer returns to Florence as the New Performer to tell the next chapter in his blossoming tale.
"The starting point for me is always the search for fabric and materials," explains Bjerkesjö as he travels across a snow covered Swedish country side by train. "I always feel inspired when I visit the shoemakers in Tuscany. From the leather that they use and the materials they have lying around, the machines to the way they dress." His enthusiasm is infectious. As the snow continued to fall outside, the designer daydreamed about his inspiration and offered a teasing narration of what to expect in a few weeks time...
When I grew up in Sweden I always looked for real and authentic things, from music scenes to art and architecture to food. I get the same feeling living and working in Tuscany, the attitude towards making something real, based on tradition. This season I wanted to create something that is really close to my heart. It is a warm collection that takes clear inspiration from Gotland, the island that I grew up in outside Stockholm. It is also the same island Ingmar Bergman lived on. I opted to name the collection 'L'île' which means the island.
"This season the garments are made to complete the hand made shoes. Starting from this season I have been working with tailors that also work with Ann Demeulemeester and Valentino, which is just the perfect combination because my aesthetics are far from both but they understand both sides, for me, that is going in another direction. It is basically the same thing with my shoemakers, they are making more classic men's shoes, and I am working with them, putting my own aesthetics in to the construction. But most important, they know about quality and structure, which for me is what I always want to work with. But also, I am making all knitwear and some leather and stone parts made in Gotland, because that island as Tuscany has it's own tradition and special materials they are experts in and craftsmanship and way of work that they are unique within.
The collection is what I picture Marcel Duchamp would have worn if he were alive today. Something with both structure and warmth. Last season (AW12) was my first real collection and I made it over two years whilst I launched my footwear, and it was inspired by the shoemakers, what they wear and how they look. It was washed with shoe-polish, ink and waxed, and the collection can be worn when you are making shoes. This collection is more about the craftsmen of the Island. It's not just rooted in the shoemakers but looks to writers and painters, and explores how Ingmar Bergman lived and look on the island. It is kind of what I have been wanting to present for years. To be the New Performer at Pitti Immagine Uomo 83 is a great honour and to present the collection at Villa Favard just makes perfect sense..."
Snapshots of Erïk Bjerkesjö's inspirations, evolution from last season and a peek at AW13 taking shape.
Every time that I've spoken to Erïk Bjerkesjö, his enthusiasm, interest and love for the individuals that combine to realise his handmade shoes and their complimentary wardrobe, is contagious and his longing to learn, develop and evolve in inspiring. Ever keen to develop these relationships, I end our conversation by asking how has they've developed since we last spoke.
"A great deal. I have made my things by myself, by hand, together with them and they have also made different parts that I was not allowed to work with. Today I have taken a step closer with them, and I am working more naturally and I feel more secure with the whole process. But they still keep me inspired, their way of life and knowledge, the way they dress while working and the attitude toward fashion today and yesterday, it's healthy for me. It sometimes feels like you're at your grandparents home and they are recommending me reading a special book, and when I do it, I feel my knowledge grow and I find a new direction."
Bjerkesjö's hunger to develop, hone and further traditions appears insatiable. I cannot wait to watch as this hungry talent continues to craft his modern classics.