Lars Stoten - traditions and respect for the past

Lars Stoten

- Describe yourself as a person and as a designer. Do you see big differences between both descriptions?
- The truism is that I remain who I am no matter what. No matter what the role, it is always still me, applied in different ways. I am who I am, and how I apply myself as a designer is still me. As a designer, I tend to be more critical of myself in regards to technique and application of craft. My most important role is being a member of a family – a brother, a son, and a dad. Everything else takes second place. Everything else, including design is done to support that main role.

- Why do you choose menswear?
- I didn’t really choose it. I cannot actually recall even making a conscious choice. My grandfather was a tailor. As a youth I was never happy with what was about so it was always about adjusting and making new clothes. A natural extension of that was making clothes for other men.  Having said all of that, I have designed womenswear and I do enjoy it.  But, would it be obtuse to say that menswear designers have a harder time than womenswear, purely because the parameters are much narrower.

- “Mjölk” means milk.
Is there any connection with milk in your creation?
- There is no connection. The word sounds nice.

- What was the first item you created?
- Nothing really romantic. When I was very young, I hand sewed a long sleeve t-shirt and stuck felt letters on it… I think I actually wrote my name… The first item I created that I was proud of was a full suit for a friend of a friend - fully lined, horse-hair canvased.

- Where do you seek for inspiration?
- I don’t go out looking for inspiration. Chasing it is tiresome and meaningless. Inspiration is found in everything from a smile on the street to a piece of music I hear, the fabric in a window display or the presence of an individual.  Historic references also carry significant value in terms of inspiration.  I have to mention that the underlying strand in all of it is my desire for newness.  This is what gets me up in the morning… That’s why falling in love is so great. Even for 5 minutes. And then it fades away. I fell in love with a woman on a bus once, in Japan. It was amazing. I wasn't even on the bus. It was snowing heavily and I took shelter under a bus stop. I looked up at the bus and there she was, this beautiful girl staring straight at me. We never met- never talked- don’t know her name or if she even had legs but her look and face - that moment was my muse for weeks. Anyway, inspiration is anything and everything, I never start with a narrative like a lot of other designers do and I will not focus on specific themes. 

- Do you have some special rituals before you start to create?
- Clearing the physical area of my work space. Taking everything down off our studio wall – source images, sketches, technical flats, swatches, etc. The physical clearing of our space is an important cathartic process for me. To focus on the next collection, I like to clean the space and make it tidy.  However, I’m not one to completely cut ties with the last collection.  
Another routine of mine is initiating conversation about ideas for the collections months in advance, without writing anything down, and seeing how it progresses organically. Unconsciously, I will save it and it will appear later on.

- What are the basic values for you as for designer?
- I think it’s important to show respect to the past. Understand and learn from it. Not to design for the sake of designing. Show a high level of respect for the origin of the clothes and ideas, think about utility, and understand the aspects before you implement it. That goes for everything, even color. You have to be able to justify every element in a finished piece.
Also, I want to be able to say I would wear the clothes I design. I don’t want to design something avant-garde that will hang in someone’s closet and never be worn.  The clothes I make are wearable and serve their purpose while referencing the ideas behind them. Design should never be about the face value of a product. Always it should have a background to it. Don’t get me wrong, you have to support yourself and the people who work for you, but designing solely for commercial sales is simply wrong. Find the balance. Make it yours in some way.

- Do you have any difficulties being a designer?
- I have no more difficulty being a designer than a plumber has being a plumber. There are a different set of rules, problems and variables, but still difficulties. Every industry has troubles. I am blessed to feel reasonably satisfied and challenged. I have no complaints.

- You lived in many different countries and continents.
Why did you choose to stay and create in New York?
I needed a place to be fresh. We’ve had studios in London and Melbourne. What I really wanted was somewhere that would be central to all the locations we serve, and attract the people I wanted. London would’ve worked…but there’s something about this city and Americans. They have this positive can-do ethos about them. Whether you like Americans or not, this positivity exists, and works well for the small businesses and individuals trying to build something.  A physical reason existed as well: The studio or workroom is central to me as a designer. It was imperative for me to picture the people I would be working with, technical or creative, and New York was the place to find them. This is a mecca for creatives from all over the planet. For me, I need to build my clothes. It’s NOT about randomly putting together trends. It’s about building. Patternmaking, construction, engineering- its all very physical, a little haphazard. So my working location is central to focusing all that. I’ve always loved this city. Since I first came here as a child I had it in the back of my mind that this would be home one day.  This city has my heart. 

- If you can name it what is the biggest achievement in your career?
For my life, I can easily say my biggest achievement is being a father.  For my career, it’s a bit harder- awards are nice and encouraging but honestly the one thing I’m most proud of is carrying on the tradition of my family.  Of all my siblings and extended family, it’s just me. Although recently I was elated to hear that my young cousin will be starting design at St. Martins. I guess there is even a little part of me that hopes my children will continue the tradition as well, but that is their choice entirely.

- Future plans, dream collaborations and hopes?
Everything I do is a chain reaction and I can’t really say what’s next without interrupting the natural progression of plans.  My determination is to make every day interesting, working with all sorts of people. I enjoy collaborating with musicians but it’s getting harder to do that without appearing manufactured. I will continue doing projects that support young artists and old craftsmen.  I find the balance of these two unique and it serves us well.

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  1. Wow! Never heard about this label - something new for my eyes and wish list!

  2. Nice shapes, looks simple and essential!

  3. This is an interesting interview to read - I like the poetic answers and the story which is told!