Since their launch in 2002, Wood Wood have been an integral pillar in a collection of brands that have spearheaded the contemporary fashion landscape in Copenhagen. Whilst respecting the most traditional of Danish design sensibilities, Wood Wood subtly push the boundaries and blend these traditions with more disparate reference points that touch upon key topics within the global zeitgeist such as the effects of the internet, the break up of the European Union and the rise of social media. Their graphic language is clean, sharp and exudes an extremely modern quality that not many brands are able to execute, whilst encouraging the viewer to take their own meaning from them rather than pushing a definitive stance. As the first part of our Copenhagen Stories series, we visit the Wood Wood HQ in Norrebro to talk to one of the labels co-founders, Brian Jensen, on the concepts and themes behind the brands visual language.
GH: Goodhood is 10 years old now and we’ve had Wood Wood from when we first started. Can you tell us how Wood Wood came about?
Brian: Fifteen years ago, my friend called me and got this job where he had to sell a container load of blank t-shirts, so he thought if he printed something on them they would be easier to sell. So he thought of me and asked if I could do some graphics and I said yeah sure, I love t-shirts and I thought it would be a fun thing to do…
GH: Is this Magnus Cartensen, who you originally started the brand with?
Yeah, and then he called me a few days later to say he had found a space where we can sell these t-shirts, an old basement, like an old wine cellar. I said let’s call Karl and he can do something with the space. He [Karl-Oskar Olsen] came down to this place and said let’s put wood everywhere, and fake wood wallpaper, and we got some cheap chandeliers from a Turkish grocery store. About two days before the opening Magnus said ‘hey we don’t have a name, what shall we call it?’ and I suggested ‘Wood’ because of how we’d decorated the space and it’s a good material. Karl had just watched the movie ‘Goodfellas’ and there’s this character called Jimmy Two Times who keeps reapeating everything, and he said that could be funny and that’s the random story of how we got the name!
GH: We remember coming to Copenhagen around 2002 and going into the store; all chipboard, super-DIY. We found it very inspiring.
Brian: Yeah the chipboard is super cheap but has a lot of character, but it’s got a lot of glue in it so it can give you a headache when you’re installing it.
GH: So you mentioned they got you to do some graphics, what was your background before Wood Wood?
Brian: At that point I was in design school, but before that I was a graphics engineer at ad agencies, I was always drawing and into graffiti, skateboarding, always this sort of visual world.
GH: The brand has always, from our perspective, had a really strong graphic identity. Is there an ethos behind your approach?
Brian: It’s in our heads more or less. The whole brand and how we do it is not something we’ve ever written down… We were not supposed to make clothing or have a business; Karl was doing spatial design and I was doing graphic design and then all of a sudden we had this clothing brand. Our backgrounds in subcultures and stuff, that’s the closest thing you’ll get to a sort of DNA of the brand. Of course if you want to grow the business you have to have a framework of some sort, so we’re not as anarchistic as we used to be, for good and bad.
GH: Looking at the brand, there seems to be an ideology behind the graphics. Are there any social or political viewpoints you consider when cultivating Wood’s Wood’s visual language?
Brian: Sometimes there is. Sometimes I get really deep into a subject. My personal favourites are the ones that have layers, that have different meanings but in the end just works as a graphic on a t-shirt that you can go into a store and buy if you like the look of it. I really like to work with symbolism or references of all kinds; sometimes political movements, pop records, or sometimes just fun humorous stuff. We did a collection a few years ago called Utopia. That whole collection came from a trip we made to Paris. We went to Versailles and then to Le Corbusier’s house ‘Villa Savoye’, a really modernist building and a super simple pared down house he created in the 1920s. The contrast between those two worlds got us thinking about Europe and how it is today and we started playing around with the EU stars and we did this graphic called ‘Post-Europe’ which could be seen as either really optimistic or pessimistic.
GH: Is there a feeling you want people to take away when they interact with your work?
Brian: Absolutely, that’s the best. When they really work, you will find some meaning in it other than it just being something that looks cool. We did another collection that explored and looked at people’s online life, like how people work with social media and stuff, but it can be really tacky to do something that is almost too ‘now’. Sometimes you have take it out of context so you can see it in a different way, like the ‘UN-FOLLOW’ graphics [header image]. I stole this from what’s his name, Douglas Coupland. ‘I miss my pre-internet brain’. I didn’t want to totally rip it off, so I ripped it off [the corner], literally!
GH: Do you think there’s a positive message you’re putting out there?
Brian: It depends on my mood. If I recognise some direction, I go the other way. I always work with contrasts, both visually and with ideas… When things get too positive I need some darkness, or if something gets too serious I add some humour in. I think humour is a really important element in what we do. I like things that can be interpreted in different ways.
GH: Thinking about the process, and more specifically the memorable graphics that went down well for us, like the ‘Romantic’ stuff, that’s really smart, how did you arrive at something like that?
Brian: I love it when things just work for people. If you wanna know I was actually looking at architecture. I’m really into brutalism, those really hard-core concrete soviet-style buildings… They’re kind of the opposite of the romantic architecture like the palace of Versailles in Paris I mentioned before. I think that came from that, and then as a spin off I had a print-out of a Champion t-shirt so I just put Romantic with a super random handwritten graphic before the Champion ‘C’. That’s what I spoke about before; you can see it as dark or naive and happy.
GH: We had people in the industry calling up saying I’m coming to get that top.
Brian: Wow, that's crazy… because it’s really easy to hate this industry, but it’s also a platform to do something that people can connect with. They pay money to wear it, rather than just seeing it advertised on TV or in a magazine, and I’ve found some meaning in that. And you constantly get pushed to do new things, and that’s good.
GH: Do you have frustrations with the process, because designing a graphic is quite immediate. There’s different ways to deliver that to your audience and the process of making clothes is quite slow?
Brian: Yeah you’re either living in the past or in the future. So when I get feedback I’m sure people think I’m really arrogant because I’m like ‘yeah whatever’, I’m already tired of it! It’s old stuff and I’m working on something new. I like that energy when you’re just always doing new things. I think that's something we took from the graffiti world; just keep doing stuff and moving forward and not looking back, otherwise you’re not relevant. Sometimes we have big discussions about what we do and how much we keep repeating, because we’re a business and like to make some money but at the same time we want to do some new stuff.
GH: Who are your heroes in the graphic design world?
Brian: I don’t think I have heroes anymore, I’m too old for heroes now I think! But I like the real traditional things like Saul Bass and those guys and Peter Saville obviously. But I think I’ll rewind and say I don’t really have any…
GH: Thinking about the art of branding, a lot of brands don’t really get the aesthetic of branding I don’t think. We think it’s something that Wood Wood really gets, the marriage of product and branding, which can be a challenge on clothing, is there any non-fashion-world brand that you think does that particularly well?
Brian: Errr, Muji? I like Muji. It just fits so well, it works. In fashion I think Margiela, that super-tight conceptual thing and it has that roughness as well. I like that clash between super-clean concept graphics and their stores and some of the product they do as well.
Douglas Coupland. ‘I miss my pre-internet brain’. "I didn’t want to totally rip it off, so I ripped it off [the corner], literally!" - Brian Jenson
GH: Wood Wood is 15 years old this year and you’ve released a line of collaborations with a selection of brands. How do you approach a collaboration? Is the line of collaborations and specifically the adidas collection, part of the anniversary celebrations and approach?
Brian: Collaborations are a big part of what we do and what we’ve done. It made sense to turn that up a bit so we’ve been doing that more than we would usually do. I really enjoy doing them, because you can really get into the product and the concepts behind them, and once the product is done you can really focus on the art direction and communications afterwards. Seeing new things, working with new people and doing interesting stuff is what I really enjoy about collaborations. For the Adidas collaboration, football was a mutual ground as it is a very Danish thing, and obviously adidas are leaders in that field too.
GH: Have you ever been approached by any of the Copenhagen clubs to collaborate?
Brian: Karl did some shirts for FCK, the Copenhagen club, yeah. He’s a big fan so it’s a big thing for him.
GH: What’s been the highlight over the last fifteen years?
Brian: The first adidas collaboration, when they invited us to Paris, and we called them back and said did all of us have to come because we can’t really afford the plane tickets! All these established stores were part of it like Undefeated, Colette, Foot Patrol, and they said we would like you guys to be a part of it as well. We felt so small back then so it was a big thing, it felt crazy at the time.
GH: What does the future hold for W.W. Do you have a five-year plan?
Brian: We’ve had a couple of hectic years, but it feels like we’re on a role right now. Personally I just moved outside of Copenhagen with my family so I’d like to focus a bit on that.