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New York based, Norwegian born designer Elise Overland: Warrior-woman with a soft spot

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Norwegian designer Elise Øverland’s studio is like any other: a clutter of racks of clothes, cutters’ musts, spools of thread, and pieces of fabric. But amidst it all, Øverland has managed to create an air of lush decadence: There’s a small table full of objects that look like they were handpicked at some Marrakech souk, there’s an old armchair covered in rose-colored damask, pictures of samurais and Bedouins are scotch-taped to the wall and animal skins hang from the ceiling. In the corner there’s a leopard spotted broom and by the window a mannequin’s wearing what looks like the remnants of a medieval mail around the neck. Behind veils of cigarette smoke, a tan and bejeweled Øverland emerges, pretty and alluring.
Elise Øverland was born in Oslo but has spent the last decade in the US, mainly in New York where she has rocketed to fashion stardom with a unique mix of babe meets rock ‘n’ roll meets evening glamour for the uninhibited. Case in point: Steven Tyler, Alicia Keys, Gwen Stefani, and Shakira all strut the stage in Øverland’s outfits.
“I’ve made my own clothes since I was four, when I got a Holly Hobbie sewing machine,” says Øverland sipping coffee. “But I studied business because my parents thought that making clothes wasn’t really something you could make a career of. During my last year, a teacher said ‘This isn’t your passion, why don’t you follow your passion?’ and that’s when I began studying design.”
While still a student at Parson’s School of Design in New York, Øverland caught Aerosmith’s front man Steven Tyler’s attention and thus a creative relationship was born.
“I’ve always been interested in the relationship between music and clothes,” Øverland continues. “It’s the whole concept – to me clothes are dead unless there’s a true soul in them that can carry them.”
During the recent fashion week in New York, Øverland showed off her aesthetics and keen sense of color with a collection full of creams, browns, and muted purples in what she refers to as her “strong warrior-woman with a soft female side” theme. A loose beige silk blouse topped a high-waisted short plum skirt, a strapless ivory silk dress was matched with a spangled, cropped vest tied over the bust with a long, silk ribbon, there was an interesting quilted royal blue traveler’s coat, all worn with tall, silver-spatted hunting boots. Three male drummers kept the beat going and Øverland herself fluttered around in a slinky burnt orange piece.
“At the end of the day, I’m my own customer,” she now says. “I know what’s too low and what feels OK. I think my designs are for all ages. Sure, older women might not want the shorter skirt, so you make it a little longer. I think most women like a hint of rock ‘n’ roll. And I’m never too out there with skulls and tricks like that; it’s still glamorous and covered. My clothes are worn by successful, happy women, and obviously a lot of socialite girls.”
For Øverland – herself a socialite – work and play often overlap. She arrives at her studio early in the morning and rarely leaves before one a.m. Sometimes she pops out for a party.
“I am so busy with the business part of everything, that it’s hard to find time to actually design. So I work at night. I get ideas all the time, that’s not the problem; the problem is more to keep them from coming. They just pop up, then I go to my team and say ‘Let’s do it like this and like that, but we drape it this way’.”
Øverland gets her inspiration from traveling (“I love India, I think I get my rich textures from India”) and from her best friend and muse, artist Hope Atherton, of whom she says:
“She’s my other half – together we have a full creative brain.”
But apart from her cosmopolitan lifestyle and exotic exterior, Øverland remains a Norwegian girl at heart.
“I feel very Norwegian,” she nods. “And that’s my strength. When I go to Norway, I take walks in the woods and get energized and inspired. I have an inner calm. I think designing is my way of meditating. When I design, my brain taps into another consciousness and I’m totally unaware of my surroundings and of time.”
Øverland’s clothes are available in the U.S. in stores like Henri Bendel, Maxfield, Ikram and Kirna Zabete.
For more information see www.eliseoverland.com

Written by: Eva Stenskär
Photography: Henrik Olund

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