It’s not every day I discover something new and exciting, but the past weeks there has been an increasing buzz around a tiny new company called Ætt (pronounced “Aett”) here in Norway. They are based in Bergen. I almost say “of course”, as this is where the increasingly successful Norwegian Rain also hail from (no pun intended) and Bergen is a place that gives the impression that things can happen there. Tiny in this case means there are only 2 of them, Haavard and Anna-Lisa. In-house design, outsource production, efficient.
The story behind the company is that Haavard, one of the two people behind Ætt, heard about a local tannery near Bergen. A tannery that had been in business for over 120 years and supplied high quality leather to such luminaries as Lois Vuitton, Prada and Gucci. Now, Norwegian leather has long been a favourite for high-end car interiors, due to the lack of damages to the hides from barbed-wire fences, but I’d never considered that this would also apply to expensive luxury bags as well. I’ll put this down to the fact that I very rarely think about expensive luxury bags, being more of a backpack user myself.
Haavards mission to discover more about the tanning company coincided with it going bankrupt (a sad coincidence). Their contact with Erling, a man that had worked there for almost 50 years, inspired them to document the history of the tannery by way of short films and a book about the tanning and knitting industry of the Osterøy island. They also bought up much of the left over stock of leather.
As far as I can tell, Ætt have made quite a scoop in discovering the tannery, as traditional Norwegian garment companies seem mainly interested in selling out these days (my damning post about Devold is a example of this), not continuing a fine tradition of producing quality materials or product. How this tannery could go bankrupt just as the demand for quality leather is reaching new heights seems quite strange, but no doubt poor business management was the cause more than quality or demand.
So, with a rich ore of heritage to be mined here, what have they made of it? Well, the first item is the “Erling” weekend bag. Named after the tannery worker interviewed in the series of short films, a nice touch. By all accounts it looks to be a high-quality bag and will no doubt last a long time, only looking nicer as the leather gains character. Personally, I’m not sure what I’d use it for, though it appears enough customers have a use for it, as it’s already sold out.
They are also working with a traditional knitting company on the same island as the tannery, producing traditional knitwear using Norwegian wool (double check in the desirability check-box). The “Osteroy” fisherman’s jumper looks like a very nice piece of knitwear indeed and is currently on my Xmas list. An interesting note about the small knitting factory that produces this sweater is that they also produce a fishermans sweater for American brand LL Bean!
A few other variants of knitwear, though design-wise and material-wise they don’t appear to offer the same level of desirability as the Fishermans jumper. It is very clear that much of the design inspiration behind Ætt comes from WW2 era military designs, in addition to the traditional Norwegian designs. The “Kyst” sweater is an example of the WW2 military design.
In addition to the knitwear, there are a few jackets available. The Isdahl jacket is inspired by the typical Norwegian skiing and mountaineering style of anorak, typically pulled on over a thick wool sweater. A pleasing and apparently decently made jacket in British Millerain “Antique” waxed cotton fabric. The waxed cotton will age and show patina well, and in theory wax can be reapplied. To my mind, Ventile may have been a better choice, but the brown Millerain does look and feel superb.
The “Magne” is a more WW2 military inspired jacket. Also a nice-looking jacket, again in the Millerain fabric:
Finally the “Ulf” mountain smock. More WW2 inspiration, but this time in a tightly woven cotton fabric. A good looking anorak, and likely to last well. The fabric on this one may also be more traditional and “correct” than the waxed cotton, though I’m sure there are many opinions about this.
Worth a mention is also their take on the traditional Norwegian backpack. Most Norwegians will remember this either from their childhood, or from their army service. Very much a traditional piece, available in 3 different colours:
In addition there is a selection of scarves, hats etc. in their web-shop. Quantities are limited though, so availability is subject to change. Another example of an apparently sold out piece is the “Magne” jacket in burgundy Harris Tweed. A fantastic looking jacket! In fact, the jacket really works in tweed, whereas in the Millerain fabric it looks merely OK.
I’ve not had the opportunity to visit their pop-up shop in Bergen yet, but hope to do so. There is a lot of potential here, and a sense of design that bodes well for the future. As the saying goes, you don’t become a prophet in your own country, which is definitely the case here, as most of the first production has gone to the Far East.
Oh, and a little rumour that came my way says that Haavard, a fan of WW2 military uniforms, found common ground with Nigel Cabourn at a recent show. Nigel is a well known fan of WW2 military gear, and will display Ætt gear on his stand at an upcoming show. Good score! Nice to see a little friendly collaboration going on.
As is the case in so many places, the local inhabitants don’t appreciate the local produce until it has gone. SEH Kelly have shown the way in the UK, locating and using traditional local companies, and meticulously documenting the process. Thereby the maker and the process becomes part of the product, giving benefits all the way along the chain of production, whilst also ensuring there is a great story to be told. And we know that the story is important today!
More info: Ætt website
The films about the tannery on Osterøy can be seen here http://www.theverylast.no/