Menswear changes slowly over time, with old classics becoming new classics through gradual cross-fertilization with close relatives. Norwegian Rain’s rainwear is one example - their raincoats are constructed using techniques usually reserved for tailored clothing, but in modern high-performance Japanese fabrics. In this interview, founders Alexander Helle and T-Michael describe what it’s like to do something new in a business that values tradition.
David Isle: How did you get the idea to start Norwegian Rain? Did you see something specific that was missing in the market, or just love rainwear and want to get involved with designing and making it?
T-Michael: Our little quaint town Bergen is located on the west coast of Norway. It is surrounded by 7 mountains, which means the urban streets are just minutes away from the mountains. These 7 mountains, though, trap the clouds, giving us more than a fair share of rain - it rains 2 out of 3 days! - making it the rainiest city in Europe. We wanted to get by our everyday lives without having to compromise on style on these 2 days. Alex and I decided to combine my tailoring and design skills with his newly acquired business masters into creating a line of raincoats that did just that. 100% waterproof without compromising on style!
Alexander Helle: Yes. It’s simply a solution to our lives in the rain - garments that would be just as comfortable in the worst rainstorms as in sunny afternoons.
D: At what point did you guys recognize that you could complement each other so well? Was the collaboration obvious to you from the beginning or did it take some coming around to?
T: It was there on the get go, however it matured and got enhanced as we progressed with the project. Our outlook and expectations are identical, making it really fluid to work together.
A: Well, it sure seems so looking back at the great journey we’ve had the last 7 years. But I remember Michael’s scepticism towards this rookie business student with an unappealing idea of making raincoats. In a gentleman’s way he tipped me out with my ideas without ruin my enthusiasm. Who to blame? I totally understood him. So I went back. Every time when it poured cows and cars. In the end he offered a talk on the street cafe outside his studio and that’s where you have that get go.
D: What makes tailoring rainwear so different from tailoring a suit jacket? Is it the lack of canvassing? The technical fabrics? The different seam construction and emphasis on waterproofness?
T: The technical fabrics call for a different approach and techniques when it comes to the construction and build up. Which is what makes it waterproof in addition to the outer shell: the main fabric, which is initially 100% waterproof, the perforations we make while sewing is then sealed. The shoulders, sleeves, cut and proportions in our raincoat is akin to tailoring. Closer to the body, high on the sleeve scye etc.
All in all we tailor the coats as close as we can to tailored wool coats without compromising on the function. Sartorial, high tech, functional with hints of Japanese sensibility.
D: It seems like there are two opposing trends within menswear - one emphasizing traditional techniques and values, the other innovation and technical performance, and Norwegian Rain seems to sit at the intersection. Does that make it harder for you to sell your brand, or easier?
T: Nothing is easy in menswear. The challenge is what we thrive on! What’s unique about what we do is just what you emphasized here. Marrying the 2 opposing camps into one garment was and is always a challenge. It obviously presents the menswear enthusiast a new offering. We endeavour to make it easier for the customer to choose. Or in effect not to!
A: True. Then again, as we are both shop keepers too, we see every day that people don’t mind spending the buck needed as soon as they know about all the hi-tech that is hidden in the garments. I feel people are much more comfortable in spending on something that is not only making them more attractive, but also delivers on functional comfort. You know, few things beat a great functional garment in the moment you really need it.
D: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about making, designing, or selling clothes since you started Norwegian Rain?
T: Making great looking designs does not neccessary equate to being stocked by key stores. There is whole new skill set one has to acquire to entice and maintain the steady flow between marketing, interest, demand/supply and presentation. No man walks alone;)