A relatively new face on the Norwegian scene, Henriette started her clothing brand Moe Oslo back in 2015, using her technical mindset from a previous life combined with her eye for sharp lines and deconstructed tailoring. Henriette likes to “engineer” clothing and has found her niche in reconstructed mens suiting with feminine touches that look just as at home in the modern office or .
Initially studying at home in Oslo and pursuing a career as an engineer, Henriette felt aged beyond her years and found herself revisiting a school she had met with at an education fair before studying to become an engineer. It was not that she necessarily wanted to become a fashion designer, but she did have the urge to do something which was a bit more creative. As an engineer she was responsible for steel, concrete and structural calculations, technical drawings and the on-site follow up to ensure structures were built correctly. This experience gave her the original thought of studying architecture after a couple of years in engineering as a way to continue to grow her skills although more creatively. However, working extensively with architects over this period they told her if she wanted to be creative that architecture wasn't the field for her. It was then that she started exploring other fields and revisited school in Denmark, which she received periodic newsletters from, saying to herself “If I get in, I will go.”
“When I was first doing it, it was strange, I have never been the person to move. I wouldn't even go to Trondheim to study engineering because it was too far away. Then, at that time, to move to Denmark, completely alone, didn't feel so scary. I met a Danish girl online, (laughs) and we decided to rent an apartment together.”
In her final year of schooling at VIA Design she was speaking with a teacher about design and mentioned her background in engineering. This conversation ended up being one of the important moments in crafting the design aesthetic for Moe as her teacher said - “You need to use this to your advantage, you are so technical in the way you create. This is what you should focus on and you should explore it. Think about the math, think about the technical and take engineering into the clothing.” From that point, every time she had some form of inspiration she was sure to challenge herself technically and during the pattern making process. “When I am creating, there has to be something challenging in the construction and a focus on the technical part. That is where I have fun and it is what I like doing.” Although unaware at the time, she learned quickly that there was and still is a very big gap in the market for products like hers. Although not appealing to one type of lady she feels her niche is the consumer who appreciates the details in the design as well as the work that has gone into the construction. For her it has always felt like putting on a costume when she wears formal wear and the shape never really allowed her to be relaxed or be herself. This concept of formalwear she feels is outdated and although loving tailoring, she wanted to explore and create something formal enough to wear to the office, but comfortable enough that you can chill in it even when you get home.
Being in the European Union is important to her for production. But for a foreigner living in Switzerland and then trying to have a market in Norway, even having a business was a tough ask. Dealing with two countries outside of the EU made the starting process very difficult for her. She was busy dealing with extensive levels of bureaucracy, going between German, French and Italian and feeling on the side of society, complete with her own tax system as a foreigner. During this time she did give in and managed to create prototypes for her first collection, before incorporating and developing upon moving to Amsterdam. The Netherlands has been super nice and although she doesn't speak much Dutch, people are happy to speak english and do a lot of business communication in English. She also finds a lot of similarities between the Dutch and Norwegians, however laughs as she says that the Dutch are very direct, which has been quite relieving. “You know when a Dutch person says something, it is what they are thinking and what they mean. If you ask what they think, for example about my clothing, they will honestly tell you.” Amsterdam has been good place to live and feels very homely, but Henriette does have long term plans to move back to Norway “When the time is right.” Working in fashion, in Amsterdam, while trying to grow a market back home in Norway, she jokes is kind of the backwards way to do things and admits she has not seen many benefits (Although it has been a lot more practical than Switzerland) because her focus has been in Norway. “In Norway, you are a Norwegian designer and it is good to be part of your own culture.” Norwegians see the value of what she is creating and she is taking her time to move slow currently being stocked in Norway, The Netherlands and in Switzerland learning the production process over and over to a place where she is now at a point where - “I wouldn't feel scared if approached by a bigger store or chain as I have the knowledge, experience and confidence that I could deliver and the factory could deliver the quality from season to season. I am happy with the progress and it is step by step, quality over quantity.”
One of the most important things for her was that everything is made in Europe and her search to find factories led her to produce in Portugal. Henriette enjoys the small scale of the factories and that the employees don't work weekends and in general have a very strict schedule, one thing that is becoming increasingly important in the textile industry and very important for her. She frequents the factories and says, “Yes, some things take longer, sometimes, but it makes me feel better that people are not working 14 hour days to complete my clothing. People can wait to buy clothing, it is not that big of a deal and the manufactures should enjoy their lives too.” Due to the technical nature of her garments Henriette makes all the prototypes and patterns in her Amsterdam studio finding it difficult to explain certain aspects of her designs. What she does do is spends time working on the mannequin to see how things fit and then going back to the pattern. She admits it does take a lot of hours in the beginning and during pre-production, but by the time she has a finished pattern, prototype and technical description to send to the factory, the replication process is smooth. “I like to make the prototype”, she says, “For me that is the design part. I was never a person who was drawing and was always told to should go to a drawing class and learn illustrations, but the pattern making is where it is happening for me.” To this day Henriette laughs that her illustrations are still terrible, but holds her belief that, “The draping on the mannequin and the details is not something I can draw. Shaping it to be flattering to the body doesn't really work in the drawing.” The engineering part of Moe Oslo is definitely present within the pattern cutting but while working as an engineer she laughs that she didn't see much suits, mostly workwear and is, in a way, trying to bring a more informal vibe into the suits. Last season it was low-riders from LA that inspired the collection - “I bought this photo book and they have this really chilled laid back feeling which I wanted, but with suiting. So for me, I don't know if you can see it, but you should have this contrast of feeling strong and confident yet effortless and cool.”
While in Oslo Henriette presented her AW 18 collection which was a smaller, yet more technically challenging, collection for her requiring a lot of time and effort to create something that, on the surface level, looks very simple. “Lots of pattern cutting and a lot of time exploring the suit” which she loved. The trips to the vintage stores, buying old clothing and cutting it up to explore it. The suit is something interesting to her and deconstructing it, to look at the quality, the fabric and how it is worn to create a sense of power. With her work “The garment should be on you but you shouldn’t feel it, it should just be there as an extra layer. I like to choose the fabrics because of the way they drape and the comfort levels. The pants for example aren't flowing but they aren't stiff, they have a boxy shape, but it is still moving with you and this makes it more feminine. Although I like to keep some androgyny” she says about her clothing inspired by “Old mens suits” in big sizes which she has scaled down for the female body. The normal thing when people come home from work is feel the need to get out of their day clothes, but with Moe Oslo the clothing is made for chilling as well, you can sit down on the couch and lounge around without feeling the need to change. “It becomes more of a part of you and it doesn't feel like you are putting on something to go somewhere, it doesn't feel forced.”
The plan is to continue to expand in Norway and focus on her network and showing the brand here. Obviously the logistics are a bit more difficult and not being located in Oslo all the time people aren't able to just drop by the studio to borrow things. F5 has been a helpful hub away from home for her where she can still offer her collection to people to borrow for shoots which “makes a world of difference”. The expansion process will be step by step and she feels she is now ready to expand into other markets but doesn’t want that to compromise the already limited amount of time she has to design. “If I am going to stop designing and spend more time on the sales then it is losing what I love. I was told it would be 90% business and 10% design but I think you can work it a bit more”. Focusing on Norway feels real for her and having spent time in larger fashion cities like Copenhagen and London she sees fashion as part of the culture and believes it to be an important part of society with the ability to “mix business with the artists” and have a large impact on a wider community.
All photography by Ronja Penzo