She is Carin Rodebjer, a Swedish entrepreneur who founded her label Rodebjer (pronounced rod-eb-yer) back in 1999 almost by accident when she signed up to New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology having just stepped off the boat. From there she has steadily built a fashion house people have come to respect and embrace worldwide. Her designs are synonymous with effortless Scandinavian style but there is something more there.
An independent and unfettered elegance that almost acts as the antithesis to the big brands overcrowding the high streets.
She has found fans in some of the most stylish women in the world, from Alicia Vikander, to Felicity Jones, to Meryl Streep. This is wear for the woman who embraces and values herself. On the eve of their SS17 launch, we talk to Rodebjer about her growing fashion empire, her intellectual curiosity (fusing her love for art, history and empowered women into her work) and yes, that six letter word that to this day still startles people.
How are you? And where are you answering this from?
I’m quite good. I’m answering from my working space in my apartment in a winter dark Stockholm.
Tell us about your younger years, your mother always kept a stylish circle of friends — “bohemian, artistic types.” How did that affect your approach to fashion?
My mom loves to weave, knit and sew, and many of her friends were into different kinds of crafts. I think it affected me from an early age because it all comes quite easy and natural to me since I grew being close to yarns, qualities, textures and clothing. I think my strength is that I can easily feel and see what qualities and styles marry well because I have learnt about textures, drape and qualities from a very young age.
You have said “I aim to create fashion for modern and forward-thinking women, the kind of women I have always known and admired.” How you use women inspiration for your line?
I have always been interested in the identity of women from within in combination with the structures, ideals and norms set from the outside. The icons I was inspired by as a child were women from a different time and they had to fight struggles that were often unfair. I’m just obsessed by designing clothes for the hardworking woman who struggles to live her life without restrictions while at the same time trying to fit into to a society with huge demands on her. I think Rodebjer for me is about owning my own life and to encourage other women to own theirs. It is of course a privilege in many ways and impossible for lots of women around the world. Progress doesn’t seem to go in a straight line, it rather moves ahead but then it seems like we easily fall back again.
"I’m just obsessed by designing clothes for the hardworking woman who struggles to live her life without restrictions."
Rodebjer on the ethos of her line
What do you think remains the biggest obstacle for modern women?
That some are privileged while others are not. This is a very big question and something that should be discussed more deeply. The modern woman for me is one who sees things from a bigger perspective and someone who takes full responsibility. Today it is challenging to talk about fashion and the latest trends and about owning your own life when there are millions of women who struggle with horrible circumstances. The obstacle might be that we need to have courage, wisdom and empathy to be modern women.
You talk about empowering women through fashion. I am reminded of this great quote by Oscar De Le Renta, “Walk like you have three men walking behind you.” Does this sums up the essence of what you’re trying to say?
[laughing] That’s fun but it doesn’t sum up what I’m trying to say. On the contrary. I would rather quote Coco Chanel: “A girl should be two things: who and what she wants” or ”beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself”. I think the modern woman rather spends her time on the task at hand. We have so much to do and solve so spending time on thinking about men following you around seems quite badly invested time. Men who follow you around, make your life easier and are charming can be delightful and if that could be designed into a dress or put into a walk the world would be a much happier place.
You have spent a considerable amount of time in New York, working in the competitive industry. The Swedish mindset is vastly different, so what do you take from the Big Apple?
I’d take the never-ending energy, the drive and the different styles and influences with me.
You have a growing cast of adoring celebrity fans including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, Alicia Vikander. Solange Knowles (Beyonce’s sister) says she was “blown away” when she came across your work. How does that make you feel when these figures embrace your work?
I find it absolutely wonderful and strangely quite natural. It seems like we are attracting amazing women everywhere and I feel fortunate and grateful. It is great to reach people who inspired you to start with.
Have you had any calls to make Oscar dresses yet?
We haven’t designed gala dresses before and I don’t know if we will in the future. Right now, however, we are designing a dress for the Nobel Prize Banquette.
"Fashion for me is a mindset and can be found everywhere."
Rodebjer on where she finds inspiration
If your clothing line could be a book what would it be?
It’s hard to pick one but I would say that we are a wide range of biographies and memoirs including everything from Karen Blixen, Gloria Steinem and Diane Arbus to Lee Miller, Liv Ullman and Coco Chanel.
You have a very global production line from Italy, Portugal, and Lithuania. What has been the biggest learning curve for you in terms of globalising your manufacturing chain?
The manufacturing chain is a challenge. I think what we have learned is that it is extremely important to work closely with our factories and their employees. You have to understand and learn what their strengths and weaknesses are.
You have a lot of investors and employees. Do you feel like you have to make them happy or is this very much about pleasing yourself for your own standards?
It’s a little bit of both and my goal is to make it the same. When I meet my own standards we get more successful and that makes investors and employees happy as well.
Let’s talk about Danica Kragic, the Face of Rodebjer’s New Campaign, and a robot scientist. We really admire a fashion label using someone unorthodox as an ambassador, it’s fantastic. What were the discussions and ideas behind using Danica?
I met Danica a while ago and I got so inspired by her work, thoughts and how driven she is. She is extremely modern and she has challenged so much. I have also always felt that a fashionable and modern mindset can be found anywhere. If I only work with people within the industry, it feels too narrow. I just wanted to open up. Fashion for me is a mindset and can be found everywhere.
Rodebjer’s new campaign concept I Am turns the spotlight on women who make a difference.
Your wears are strongly inspired by counterculture, human rights and feminist movements, music, film, art and literature. Can you give us some specific references that you take inspiration from?
I like people who have a point of view and who stands up for it, especially when it is about justice. Life would be unbearable if we didn’t fight for things that are bigger than ourselves and at the same time constructive. Alberto del Pozo’s drawings was quite amazing. I loved the Orisha collection he did together with a study from a professor at The Miami University. The drawings are very intense and detailed.
How would you describe The Rodebjer woman?
I would say that she is quite progressive. She likes to make her own decisions and she doesn’t wait for people to tell her what’s right and wrong. Vogue once wrote that Rodebjer is for women with their feet on the ground and their heads in the sky and that says quite a lot about who I’m designing for. One customer also once said that when I wear other labels I feel branded but when I wear Rodebjer I feel like a better version of myself. Women should absolutely enjoy wearing it. I played with clothes and silhouettes so much as a child and I still see dressing up as kind of an identity game. I wish my customers to feel the same.
What can you tell us about your latest line SS17? What was your inspiration behind it?
My latest collection was inspired by Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Table”. I love that piece of art. It is still relevant and it was so ahead of its time.
We hadn’t heard of Judy Chicago before, but we were pleasantly surprised by her work and her goal to get women out back into the history books. We also did a story on this Swedish female mystic artist, Hilma af Klint. She inspired modern fashion lines like Acne and more. It feels like there is a wealth of incredible women who have been forgotten and that we can revive and celebrate, correct?
Definitely, I love to revive forgotten life stories. There are a lot of people who are worth celebrating that hasn’t gotten the attention they deserve.
Widely regarded as the first epic feminist artwork, Judy Chicago’s piece entitled The Dinner Party from 1979 remains a huge inspiration for Carin Rodebjer.
We love the fearlessness behind your embrace of the word ‘Vagina’ for your work. Would it be correct to say that your use of the word isn’t to shock but to comfort and create a new open environment for women?
Yes, that’s correct. I see this as a part of us and it isn’t there to provoke. Vagina was the working name of it and then I couldn’t give it another name because it also felt natural. The place where everything is born.
"A customer told me once: when I wear other labels I feel branded but when I wear Rodebjer I feel like a better version of myself."
You talked recently in an interview about this buy-now-wear-model that has emerged, “I think the fashion industry is going through an identity crisis.” Why do you think this? Is the fashion industry ripe for a big disruption?
The social media has added another layer of disruption and stress on the industry and I think customers can feel quite overwhelmed and it’s the same with us working in the industry. Things have to be torn down to be built up again so I think we will see new ways of solving and looking at things.
What the best advice you’ve received on the your career?
Follow your gut feeling in everything you do and hire the best.
How do you keep the fun and satisfaction as you grow your business?
I find it fun to be able to work with the best people. I also like the fact that it is easier to be more of a perfectionist when you have more resources so that satisfies me a lot. The fashion business is almost always fun and entertaining. I have no problem enjoying myself.
I also love a small hotel called Playa Viva in Mexico that is ecological and the opposite of mass tourism. You eat together with all the other guests and everything is local. There are only eight casitas on the beach so you have nature very close and pretty much all to yourself.
I’ve known Liselotte Watkins for a very long time. We used to live together in New York but now she lives in Rome where she has taken her talent to a new level. Her painted Italian amforas are amazing.
Since I love to travel I recommend another hotel. While in Paris I always try to stay at Le Hotel in the heart of the Left Bank. The hotel is the smallest five star hotel in Paris and the rooms and atmosphere is lovely. They also have a Michelin star restaurant on the bottom floor, which is intimate and very romantic.