We get to know the Irani-Norwegian visionary who helped launch the International Library of Fashion Research and compare notes on tangibility, care, and bridging disciplines in fashion.
Creative director Morteza Vaseghi grew up turning the pages of his mother’s Vogue magazines. Thanks to his parents, who openly relished their wardrobes and dressing for special occasions, Morteza was exposed to the transformative power of styling and taught the value of caring for his clothes. From a young age, he would wax his shoes in preparation for the week ahead and learn to recognize the material of a certain garment. Today, the art of preservation and the power of print for bringing clothes to life are the bedrock of his creative practice and latest project: the International Library of Fashion Research in Oslo.
The newly inaugurated library, which found a physical home in the National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design in Oslo just a couple of months ago. Reuniting over 5.000 pieces of printed matter—from magazines to look books and show invitations—dating from 1975 until present, it is the first of its kind. The library was born in collaboration with the fashion communicator-turned-organic farmer Else Skålvoll Thorenfeldt and Morteza’s longtime creative partner Elise By Olsen, a Norwegian editor known for successfully launching her first magazine at the age of 13.
Unlike most contemporary fashion environments, this repository is a place where clothes and their narratives can be savored slowly, one page at a time. The audience is diverse, spanning researchers, educators, designers, and industry experts, and is frequently caught in passionate exchanges while pouring over vintage Jil Sander pamphlets.
Could you tell us a little bit about your practice and your creative background?
My background is in graphics and media. But for one reason or another, I ended up working within the fashion industry. I love clothes, but this is just one part of it. I [also] love the concept development, the storytelling, and the production. Who’s gonna wear it, how to campaign it, coming up with the merchandising etc. I love the whole cycle.
Back then, I went towards graphic design because I love symbolism, surrealism, and logos. It’s like a mystery, this little graphic thing that can tell you a whole story. It’s a very efficient way of storytelling. Because of that fascination, I kind of went into graphic design first, and from there I found myself in the fashion industry more and more, but from the graphic design and art direction part.
How did you meet your partner in crime, Elise By Olsen?
Elise and I met around ten years ago in co-working space through a friend. When we met she was dissatisfied with what she was finding in the industry and I was just coming from London and was feeling quite stuck in the Scandinavian minimal. She was attempting to do this project, Recens Paper. I could see the drive she was putting into it. But she was kind of putting it all together in a Word document, so I told her we could do better. Things just snowballed from there. We had Recens Paper for a couple of years, touring around, giving lectures…
Besides working with Elise on numerous print projects involving fashion, and now the library, you served as a creative director at Colmar A.G.E. Where was this love of fashion born?
It comes from my childhood. Mom and dad. I grew up in Iran, it was not the easiest time; it was after the revolution. But they had lived outside of Iran, and they came from a nonreligious background. I always saw the value of their clothes and the way they looked at them, the way they felt when they changed into a special outfit. Like, if they were going to a friend’s house and they dressed up for the night, they really looked like special people. And they felt special. It was like a vehicle. They went into another ‘car’ and were transported into a different state of being.
In general, I was exposed to how my parents took care of their clothes over time. I learned sustainability that way as a child. Me and my dad waxed our shoes every Friday. From the age of nine, I sat with him, it was our tradition. And I still do it on Sundays, while I’m thinking about the next week and I iron my shirt. I would also see my mom trying on dresses and stuff. And I would ask her ‘Are you going somewhere?’ She would say, ‘No, I’m just trying to see what works with what.’ That’s where I learned styling.
What inspired you and Elise to bring the International Library of Fashion Research to life?
It came to our attention that brands and creatives in the fashion industry go through huge efforts, and financial spending to make these amazing campaigns and look books, and all of that. Printed on the best paper with really good graphic design and legendary design studios, expensive introduction in letterpress; everything’s happening! And this could just be an invite you sent to someone—the next day it’s in the trash. Meanwhile, 20,000 euros were spent. This pattern has been going on for many years. So, altogether these items tell a really big story. We [Elise and I] started to see the importance of this.
How did it all come together?
The turning point was Steven Mark Klein. Steven Mark Klein was a legendary graphic designer and collector based in New York. He became a friend and mentor to Elise and then at some point he announced, ‘I have this huge collection of printed matter and I want to leave it to someone who appreciates it. And that is you.’ A couple of months later, some tonnes of papers he had been collecting from the 70s were shipped to Oslo. So, we started talking to different bodies and organizations—the National Museum of Norway was one of them—to find a suitable place for the collection.
” I was exposed to how my parents took care of their clothes over time. I learned sustainability that way as a child.”
What is in the collection? And how is it organized?
Think of it as the seed bank in Norway, they have one of every seed on the planet. We got really inspired by this story. So we try to have a copy of everything that went out.
We have a section for really rare stuff, for example Visionaire’s back issues, Margiela’s early invitations, Comme de Garcons’ SIX. But the rest of it we have divided by designer and brands. And this includes invites and memorabilia. Then we have a section for magazines, a section for books, and a section for educational academic papers.
Why is it important for people to have access to these materials?
The whole point of this project is tangibility. You come and sit, take your time, and slow down. You go through the books, turn the pages, and actually touch them… And I think this tangibility is also my own angle on this whole project. You know, as a graphic designer, I did a lot of packaging design. And now I’m working with clothes. A kind of packaging design, around the body, but still.
What do you think is the value of these material interactions beyond the library?
Appreciation. You gain a different perspective.
“The whole point of this project is tangibility. You come and sit, take your time, and slow down. You go through the books, turn the pages, and actually touch them.”
Would you say that this also makes clothes and printed matter less disposable?
Yes, I think that if people were exposed to that experience, then they would have a different appreciation for these beautiful items. To be honest, this kind of takes me back to where it all started for me. You know, if my granddad’s jacket was made out of linen, we would send it to the dry cleaner and make sure to do it like that. And from there, I understood, okay, there are certain materials, it’s not just a physical thing. And I think the same applies to these books. And these materials that we are holding in the library. Some of them, you look at the binding, you see that all of these different papers are used, and through touching and caring for them you can have a different respect for them. It stops being an overpriced item to promote, maybe it’s fulfilled that role as well. But there is definitely much more, more consideration and effort behind the production of these items.
Against this background, how would you sum up the curatorial vision behind the fashion library?
We like to think it’s everything about the garment except the garment. One of the main parameters is that, within the space, we’re never going to show the actual piece of clothing. But we’re going to have everything that comes before and after.
It’s not the biggest fashion city, and we thought that was a good thing. It’s very neutral. Because if this was in Paris or New York I think it would automatically have a sort of attitude. But we thought it was really nice because it’s somewhere in the middle. Again, like that seed bank, it’s somehow neutral.
“You look at the binding, you see that all of these different papers are used, and through touching and caring for them you can have a different respect for them.”
The library opened to the public on December 1st, 2022. What does a day at the library look like right now?It’s still shaping up but it’s quite relaxed. We have this huge co-working table. And then we have the back office which is separated by a curtain. And then people come and visit. Some of them are regulars. We’re getting lots of regulars now which is really nice.
It’s still shaping up but it’s quite relaxed. We have this huge co-working table. And then we have the back office which is separated by a curtain. And then people come and visit. Some of them are regulars. We’re getting lots of regulars now which is really nice.
What kind of people are you hoping to address?
We have a lot of different visitors From students to researchers to fashion enthusiasts to book lovers and photographers. And it’s really nice to see the student sitting beside the designer, the professor, and the random fashion lover. And suddenly a fashion student and two or three people who are on a work journey from a London brand are talking to each other. And then it becomes a hub, a no-hierarchy sort of situation. Everyone’s chatting. And it’s really humbling to have a little platform that is doing this.
Do you have any hopes for the future of the Library and the fashion landscape?
Organic growth and for it to become the most versatile place for fashion enthusiasts.
Irani-Norwegian designer and creative director Morteza Vaseghi is most known for his publishing projects Recens Paper and Wallet Magazine that he co-founded with cultural entrepreneur Elise By Olsen. With an education in graphic design & media, he has worked on global projects within the fashion, art, and music industries since 2007, with clients ranging from NTS Radio to Adidas. In 2021, Vaseghi was appointed creative director for Colmar A.G.E. This interview dives into his latest endevor, the International Library of Fashion Research in Oslo.
Text & interview: Amelie Varzi
Photography: Magnus Nordstrand