Whilst visiting my parents in Bergen this Easter, I dropped in at one of the two shops worth visiting in town. Ok, so there may be a couple more, but only really two of international merit, as I see it. My number one stop was to see if Michael T. Nartey, or T-Michael as he is increasingly known internationally, was in residence in his shop in Skostredet, one of the trendier streets in Bergen. Originally from Ghana, the notoriously styled T-Michael is a local celebrity in Bergen, where he has been living since 1989. He is known as both a classic tailor and as the designer half of the duo that is behind the renowned rainwear brand Norwegian Rain. Add to this that he is one of the designers involved in the Coal Project by Art Comes First. Each on its own enough to keep a man busy, so no wonder Michael has spent much of the past year travelling. Those that follow his Twitter-feed will have been able to follow both the hectic travelling and the increasing recognition Norwegian Rain is gaining internationally. I’m 100% certain that anyone that has even casually glanced at fashion blogs or reports over the past months will nod knowingly when they see his photo, even though in many cases he’s just been snapped due to his unique and stylish appearance:
As luck had it, Michael was available, and his usual jovial self. Just chatting with him, you can clearly feel the enthusiasm and dedication he brings to his work. The way in which every detail is there for a reason, each material is selected both for it’s tangible and intangible qualities, how each item is produced by specially entrusted manufacturers to ensure it is just so, means each garment is a minor work of art. Make no mistake, these are not your average cheap and cheerful fashion clothing, these are very much more garments you aspire to, timeless garments that will provide long term style, pleasure and utility. Market-wise the market segment aimed at is most likely 40+ men with an eye for quality and style, and the money to pay for it. Increasingly though, Michael says, younger men are finding their way to his shop, looking to get more than they are finding in the more mass-market shops. This bodes well for the future of the tiny companies of T-Michael and Norwegian Rain.
Looking around the shop, the full range of Michaels design output is represented. The items are presented in an innovative fashion, with interesting props to provide more visual stimulation. Whilst a few years back it was mainly suits and shirts, today there is the rain wear, of course, but also footwear and bags. Michael is nothing if not prolific, a sure sign of a bubbling enthusiasm for his work. It’s the way Michael and what he does comes across as so genuine that is part of the appeal of his work. Most brands these days have a “story” or a “heritage” that sells the concept. In some cases this is genuine, in others the story is just a story. With Norwegian Rain, the back-story is fact, Bergen is an incredibly damp and wet place, so creating top notch rain wear there makes perfect sense. Ironically, when I spoke to Michael, the sun was shining from a clear blue sky and there hadn’t been a drop of rain for several weeks.
Norwegian Rain has grown organically over the past three years. Initially only available through shops in Bergen and Oslo, and by mail-order, they are now stocked by serious dealers both in Europe and Japan. While initially the ladies only had the Raincho option, a stylish poncho-type variant, they now have a full range of models for the feminine figure. This has no doubt opened up further markets, although sales of the original men’s styles have been increasingly strong.
Whilst talking to Michael, he brought up the fabric samples he recently received from their fabric supplier in Japan. The rain wear has always been made using advanced Japanese fabrics based on recycled fibres. For next season they are taking it up a notch with fabrics that visually emulate the finest tweeds, yet have the superior water-resistant characteristics necessary for top-quality rain wear. “Tweed 2.0”, as Michael calls it, all the style of traditional tweed, with huge improvements and none of the drawbacks. Anyone that’s been caught in the rain wearing a proper wooly tweed will know one of the issues…
All in all, T-Michael is living in interesting times, and I can only wish him the very best of luck! Oh, and he’s promised to send me full info and photos on next seasons pieces as soon as he has them. Something to look forward to, by all accounts.