Elise By Olsen first began blogging when she was eight. Granted, it was mostly diatribes about her packed lunch, but still – eight?! So it’s no surprise that seven years later, the now 15-year-old Norwegian teenager has founded an entire blogging network and is the editor of a newish magazine, Recens, which this week sees the launch of issue number two.
By Olsen describes her life as “Hannah Montana-esque”. From 8am until 3pm she’s at school (when we talk, she’s preparing for a maths exam). Then, after school, she trundles off to her office space in central Oslo where she runs her blog network and edits her magazine. As she explains from her office in central Oslo: “Yeah, I just don’t sleep that much”.
By Olsen created Recens with two friends a couple of summers ago. What started as a blog network for young Scandinavians called Archetype is now a print magazine and sells at about £12 a pop. Archetype.nu still exists – but Recens is more of an outcome. The magazine is going global and this weekend, will be available at two shops in London: Artswords and Soho Books.
Her motivation for creating a magazine was simple: “I decided I wanted to advance things because there’s a distinct lack of publications for young people which don’t showcase gender stereotypes and impossible beauty standards,” she explains. It’s important to her that her staff are on the same wavelength, which means the 250 people in her network are predominantly teenage “except for our graphic designer in their 30s”.
It it feels a little bit esoteric, you’d be wrong. This is a sophisticated magazine. The shoots are bold, showcasing desaturated shoots in the vein of Juergen Teller, packaged like i-D or Vice. QAs float over pages printed with gender symbols, font leaps between size and colour and the content ranges from features on up-and-coming French label Jacquemus to interviews with 18-year-old DJs. It’s a magazine for the post-internet generation, conceptual enough to place it in Magma yet accessible enough to ensure its longevity.
For a fashion magazine, and one directed at teenagers, it certainly feels revelatory provided that most teenagers are interested in alt fashion. “I see fashion as one part of it. It’s mainly a platform for undoing gender stereotypes, for advancing beyond advertising-led content,” she explains. “I’m interested in fashion, but I tend to look for inspiration on Tumblr and Instagram and where possible on the street. I like magazines but I feel they’re dictated by other things aside from what’s real. As for me though, I’m not that cool. And I don’t think Scandinavian style is cool either – that’s also what motivates me.”
At a time when pared-down, clean silhouettes – your archetypal Scandinavian style – is at a peak, this seems odd. “Yeah, I know it’s big abroad but to me, all that minimal clean-line stuff is boring. It feels outdated. I’m so tired of all the lines. I like colour and unusual fabrics. I’m not that fashionable, but I usually wear this long wool coat, a black mesh skirt and trainers. And I think young people in Scandinavia are looking for more individuality. Everyone seems to dress the same.”
Her astute, prodigious take on fashion and its representation in the media smacks of fellow Generation Z publishing behemoth, Tavi Gevinson, who started her blog, Style Rookie, aged 12 (she’s now 19). “I didn’t know about Tavi until I was about 14 but yeah, she’s been an influence. I mean, we have created two completely different products but we both come from a similar place. It’s great that young people are trying their hand at creativity.”
Aside from anything else, Elise was motivated by Oslo itself and what she feels is a lack of creative endeavour: “Here, the biggest industries are oil and fish. That’s what we’re known for. There isn’t space for creativity, it’s very hard to make a living from it. That, and the fact that there is a monotony here – everyone looks and dresses the same. That sort of creativity isn’t encouraged.”
The magazine feels female-centric but By Olsen insists it’s unisex: “about 50/50, with readers as young as 12.” The magazine received some funding from Kickstarter, a bit from advertising – “although we don’t want that to take up too much space” – and the rest is her pocket money: “Some kids spend their money on candy bars, I spend mine on the magazine.”
The main disparity between By Olsen and Gevinson is that while the latter has spearheaded a largely online movement – creating a dialogue through social media and her site, as well as the magazine Rookie – By Olsen is also focused on print. Print’s dying, I explain, but By Olsen (who is also on Instagram) insists she wants her magazine to be a social tool: “I want people to sit around and read it and talk, you know. I love the internet, I couldn’t have achieved any of this without it, but it can be pretty antisocial and unreal. What you see is a perception. It’s not what’s going on.”
It’s a sentiment mirrored in her own style – and one perpetuated by the content. In a provocative twist, the editorial focuses on artistic shoots, some of which contain hefty nudity: one issue shows two models lying perfectly still, naked and face down on a bed. Needless to say, her grandmother wasn’t thrilled: “But the problem is – and I’m not talking about my grandma, I’m talking about the wider public – it’s hard to know the difference between the provocative and the artistic. But that’s what I’m trying to do, to be educational and show the younger generation that it’s OK to talk about nudity.” Nudity in fashion has become a sticking point. Recently, the ASA banned a Miu Miu advert starring 22-year-old model Mia Goth because it was deemed to be sexually suggestive. Elise remains sensitive to the issue but also understands the necessity of provocation in advertising: “And I understand that provocation can be a good thing as long as you are conscious of the context.” At which point it feels like a good time to remember that she’s 15.