Oscar Olsson | Ground Control to Major /NYDEN?
To put it bluntly, Oscar Olsson seems like a visitor from a distant, highly productive planet. Headstrong and disciplined, he claims he gets by on just a few hours of sleep a night. He begins each day with an intense workout and an extended meditation session, letting his mind wander the universe, before he pulls it back down to earth. And then, mostly, he works. “I have this intensity level where if I do something, I do it 80-100 hours a week. That’s just how I’m wired,” he tells me matter-of-factly. With a prophet’s beard, glacier-blue eyes, and cryptic symbols tattooed on his arms, he’s not who you’d expect to be leading the latest disruption to the world of fashion. He has no social media presence and no experience as a designer, though he had a precocious preoccupation with fashion—“As early as four years old, I had strong opinions about what I wanted to wear,” he states, not without a bit of pride. So, what is he up to?
/Nyden, they call it. The website offers no information,just a space to enter your email.When you do, you receive a message—“Welcome to the tribe”— and a link. If you decide to click the link, instead of answers, you are presented with an Instagram page, @wearenyden, which consists of nine images, all black save for one in the center, which shows a bold slash. This is where the rabbit hole ends, for now. Click it: an explosion of colorful imagery,––– and a lingering sense of mystery.
So, what is /Nyden? It’s not an easy question to answer. In one sense they’re a fashion label. But to leave it at that would be like saying Apple makes cell phones. True, but unenlightening. To learn more, I spoke with Oscar Olsson, the—how to describe him? Thought leader? Chief? Creative Director?—behind the concept.
Olsson speaks carefully but with clear excitement for the project, and he has a penchant for knotty philosophical discourse. “/Nyden is the result of three years of research, four years of tinkering, and four years of trying to develop a vision that actually means something for the industry. The essential question that drives us is: how do we empower people in ten years?”
To answer that potentially unanswerable question, Olsson takes his own voluminous research into sociology, biology, psychology, leadership strategy, and futurology and combines it all with a years of data analyzing consumer shopping habits. “We have a fundamental belief that the future is not this thing that we can just sit back and eat popcorn and watch, like a movie, as it unfolds,” he says. “It’s a question of agency. We believe that a group of individuals with a mission, organized to take action, can create the future and shape its path.”
Olsson believes that the primary driver of the future—as well as more or less all of human history—is the idea of the “tribe,” an well-known anthropological concept that he applies to contemporary cultural and social structures. They are central to /Nyden’s creative vision. As framed by Olsson, a tribe is an organically and democratically assembled group of people who align themselves around shared interests, ideals, and goals. There is no rigid hierarchy. Tribes are always changing, always evolving. Everyone within the tribe serves a purpose, and leaders develop and recede based upon the shifting preferences and ideals held by the rest of the members.
“We think that a company should function as a persona. It’s not an institution, it’s not this aristocratic function that stands on top of the crowd and looks down on it,” he explains. “I love the metaphor of the underground club, where there is a DJ at the same level as the audience. They’re there as a curator but also there as an event maker. They can lead the crowd and direct the energy, but the crowd decides if it wants to be lead, and without the crowd there would be no event. They’re an empathetic tribe leader, and that is something fundamentally different than the top- down structures of most brands today.”
This belief informs every aspect of /Nyden’s vision, from the way the company is structured—“We are a very flat organization. We’re trying to structure the team as a group of artists. That involves a lot of collaboration, and a lot of debate. But if the organization is structured that way, you don’t need hierarchies”—to the entire model for the clothing releases, marketing, and design.
All this philosophy is certainly interesting, but how will it actually manifest itself? The first step is, of course, the tribe. /Nyden hopes to foster these tribes through events, activations, and social media, as well as drawing from pre-existing tribes and collaborating with their primary influencers to release capsules. Unlike the standard model, in which a sartorial sultan dictates through design what clothes the rabble will wear next season or next year before their reign ends and they pass the baton, /Nyden will draw inspiration from organic movements in contemporary culture. The goal is rapidly deployed—as quickly as two weeks from concept to release—“capsule collections” created in collaboration with a variety of tastemakers, artists, and personalities. What’s more, /Nyden is tossing out the seasonal model. Instead, Olsson hopes they will be able to respond to trends almost in real time, relying on collaboration and research to keep pace with the rapidly shifting preferences and tastes of the millennial generation.
Among the first such capsules will be a project with renowned LA-based tattoo artist Dr. Woo. It turns out LA will function as a primary locus for /Nyden, surprising considering the fact that most of its staff still lives in Sweden. “We think that LA is the epicenter, right now, for pop culture. It’s really strong for the availability of craftsmanship, talent, materials, and for fashion in general. It’s on the rise. New York has the established traditional outlets, but we like to be close to the streets, close to the tribes. And you actually get that feeling in LA.”
It’s a lot to shoulder: disrupting fashion, company hierarchies, the seasonal model, and marketing strategies—all at the same time. But what I find encouraging about Olsson’s ideas is their bend towards a more intimate, personal, and empowering sense of what fashion, and even our social lives, can be. “Right now social media is driven in large part by narcissism, with a focus on higher and higher engagement rates,” Olsson explains. “But we believe that we are getting closer and closer to the point where we will tip over to what we call the next era, which is the era of the closed tribes, an era of more empowerment. Not fame for fame’s sake, but real talent.”
And aren’t we all a bit tired of ‘famous for being famous’ anyway? Is there anything more inauthentic then some unsubtly branded swimsuit shot curated by a social media manager for an overexposed star? Surely there are better figures to empower with our attention. He continues: “You see these trends manifested today when you look a 17-year-old in NYC or Paris: the authentic self isn’t shown on Instagram or on public profiles. Where you do get that authenticity is in places like the closed Snapchat groups. Some people often have two or three Instagram profiles, and we think that’s very, very interesting. For /Nyden, it’s about that closed profile.”
Before he blasts off for whatever his overstuffed agenda demands next, Olsson closes our interview with some wise words: “What’s we’re interested in is the authentic self. It’s not about the self that looks for that attention; it’s not the self that speaks to a wide audience. You speak authentically to your closer friends, your inner table. That’s where you’re creative, that’s where you can contribute, and that’s where you should expand from.” It’s one small step for a brand, one giant leap for brand-kind.
Written by Sid Feddema
Photographed by Clay Gardner
Styled by Santa Bevacqua
Groomer: Michelle Harvey using Oribe and CHANEL Palette Essentiell at Opus Beauty
Location: WeWork DTLA Glass Tower