Elise By Olsen
Words by Caroline Krager & Åshild Rullestad
Photography by Sigrid Bjorbekkmo
The present generation of young Norwegians has faced criticism in the media for being prudish and for ignorantly bathing in the comfortable pool of what’s safe and predictable. Some find that they lack the oomph and attitude needed to rebel against established norms and explore new paths. People disagree where to lay the blame—the infamous Law of Jante, our oil wealth or our parents. Yet there’s an up-and-coming creative movement inspired by globalization and social media that’s still under the radar and just waiting to pop up in your own circle. Elise By Olsen, the world's youngest editor-in-chief is definitely one to watch.
Who are you?
I am Elise By Olsen. I’m fifteen and currently based in Oslo. I’m the editor and curator of Recens, a creative agency promoting young unknown artists and talents through online and print publications and events. The Recens concept is still expanding and we’ve always got a thousand projects going on worldwide. I also founded the blog network Archetype.nu, and I do freelance creative direction and a little styling.
When did you discover your passion?
Around 2012 I started blogging and immediately got interested in journalism and fashion. From there I got to know likeminded young people who shared my ambition to build up a young fashion culture/industry here in Scandinavia. We all had diverse sets of interests and talents, but we were all in the creative field. This networking led us to found the blog network Archetype.nu in late 2012. The following year I decided to expand Archetype into a magazine, which became Recens Paper. I launched the first issue in February 2014 and since then the concept has expanded massively. I’ve always been creative, but in 2012 I finally got to start up something myself.
What’s the advantage of being so young?
Without a doubt it’s getting so much attention as a young person who’s doing something controversial and breaking rules in the fashion/media industry. You have the freedom to express yourself and explore everything without having to think about all the commercial aspects and make money. You get away with stuff.
What’s the biggest disadvantage?
I think the biggest disadvantages are related to my age, as I can’t even attend my own parties and launches without bringing fake ID.
How old do you feel?
I don’t feel any specific age, really.
As someone born and raised in Norway, do you think that’s influenced your style and confidence? If so, how? And what are the pluses and minuses of being a Norwegian creative?
I think growing up in Norway has affected more than just my style. Primarily I think it’s had an impact on my confidence, how I express myself and act around my peers. It’s sad to say this, but being different isn’t readily appreciated here. You’re always supposed to look spotless in front of others. That’s part of Norwegian culture. Norwegian society is highly sugar-coated and we focus on the surface, what we want to see. We put ourselves on display through social media as these retouched, perfect people. No one would post to Facebook that ‘I had a real shit day today.’ Everyone is supposed to shut up and follow the crowd. One example is the way I feel everything’s censored on TV and in the newspapers. We’ve grown up with our parents telling us to close our eyes while they change the TV channel. When it comes to how this has affected my style, I’d say growing up in Norway has probably made my style more controversial and stoked my hunger to provoke.
Describe your average weekday.
I wake up at seven, usually running late for school, and then for six hours I’m in class. Finally I run to the train station and catch a train into central Oslo, which gets there in fifteen minutes. I go to the Recens office and work on all the interesting projects. Then I’ve often got meetings with potential contributors or collaborators before going home for dinner with my family. Then it’s time for homework and an hour or so of chill-out time before heading to bed.
How supportive have those close to you been of your choice to pursue a creative career?
I wouldn’t yet say that I’ve decided to go in a creative direction—I haven’t even chosen which high school to go to in August! I mean, it’s all happened unexpectedly, not by plan. My parents have always supported me in what I do, and my network of like-minded friends has been overwhelmingly supportive. That makes me want to go in a creative direction.
What or who in particular influences your work?
Without mentioning any names, just other people who are doing it well in fashion and other fields related to culture. Innovative entrepreneurs inspire me. I don’t think I can put a finger on any one person who’s inspired me—or even ten. It’s more the results they get. I find my Instagram feed extremely inspiring, because it’s rife with great personalities, great pictures and feedback. My Instagram feed is like my customized mood board.
What’s your favorite part of the creative process?
The ideas and research part, most definitely. That’s the part of the process where I'm free to do whatever. It’s always a very positive time. Then comes the negative part, where money and other limits come in, which I think is every curator’s nightmare, including myself. I’m also really interested in using various media such as film, photos, writing, etc. to document the finished results.
Why is it that Norwegian creatives aren’t as well-known internationally as our Swedish and Danish neighbors?
I have to refer back to what I said earlier about Norwegian society. There’s no audience for alternative artists, designers or creatives in general. There’s no space for them. Politicians aren’t doing enough to facilitate Norwegian creatives when it comes to economic support or having faith in cultural projects, nor are cultural projects prioritized. It’s hard making a living out of it here, which is why creatives emigrate to other countries instead of building up an art movement at home.
What have you sacrificed in terms of school or other things in order to get where you are today?
Recens has always been my second priority after school. Some people play football, others go to the youth club—I do Recens. I’ve had offers to attend various fashion weeks all over the place, but I've said no every time because I’ve had school. Next year it will be different, when I’ll either be attending high school or focusing one hundred percent on my own projects.
How important are the Internet and social media in your creative work?
Social media and the Internet are what allow me to do the work I do—collect people from around the world into one small creative youth movement. They also allow me to gather inspiration from the different media and make my research doable. And I’m pretty sure, too, that my like-minded friends are all treasures discovered on the Internet. The Internet makes it easier to network and globalize your work, as well as open up to a wider audience. I document my work on the Internet, where I’ve created an identity for myself—you can create the person you want to be. To relate that back to what I said about the Norwegian creative industry and how I feel it’s hard to get through to conservative Norwegian society, one will always be accepted on the Internet. There are so many opportunities on the Internet. I’d say anything is doable there.
What keeps you motivated?
My hunger to provoke, feedback, reaching my goals. Also, looking back on what I’ve had the privilege of experiencing and the projects I’ve carried out makes me want to do it some more. It’s like a never-ending happy circle.
What’s your goal? Where do you want to end up?
I simply want to create a strong creative platform that has a lot of impact for young people in Scandinavia. It’s a lot of work. I’m not really sure where I want to end up, but I do want to discover different media and take my projects on to higher levels.