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Cycling and fashion have a complicated history, to say the least. The timelessness of the sport borders on retrograde. Yet the sport is so singular that it is capable of forging its own style. In recent years the sport has attracted a handful of the world’s top fashion designers. Sir Paul Smith has championed the classic aspects of cycling’s golden era, while for the past two years Danish fashion designer Karl-Oskar Olsen, co-founder of Pas Normal Studios, has pursued his own vision for cycling apparel. Unlike the British-led trends that often look to the past, Olsen is focused on a line of cycling clothing that reflects today’s fashion trends. His stripped-down sense for aesthetics could well reflect the “form follows function” mantra of the Chicago School of Architecture. But more likely it reflects his own Danish design tradition that embodies a certain minimalism that is both classic and forward-looking. A simple word or letter can be a motif all its own. And Pas Normals’ most recent line of clothing uses excerpts of the poetry of Danish filmmaker and poet Jørgen Leth on its jerseys, something that on a bike ride quite literally becomes poetry in motion.
Words and Images by James Startt, European Associate to Peloton
Peloton Magazine: First off, how did a fashion designer like yourself get into cycling?
Karl-Oskar Olsen: Well, I was born into a traditional Danish cycling family for one! My father used to race as an amateur and was very talented. My brother Peter Olsen, raced and was very talented. He was more talented than me and was on the Swedish national team in the 1980s and raced against guys like Bjarne Riis and Brian Holm as amateurs. Personally, I rode my bike until I was about 15, and then I found out about skateboarding and its sub-culture and took a break from cycling, only to return in my mid-20s. For the past 15 years I have been the creative director of Wood Wood, a streetwear clothing company that I founded. We’ve always had references to sports, including some references to cycling.
Peloton: And eventually you decided to go all out with your own line of cycling clothing, Pas Normal?
Olsen: Yeah, about two years ago, I came to the point where I wanted to pursue my dream to create sport and performance cycling clothes. I’ve tried to bring my fashion perspective into cycling. I think, when it comes to look and feel, cycling has been a bit old fashioned for many years. I wanted to make an attempt to reflect more the world that we live in today, when it comes to the colors or graphics we use.
Peloton: So in a sense you had a clean slate. How do you feel as though you are making your mark in creating something different?
Olsen: What I wanted to create was the best possible product that combined function and style. I tried to focus on the color play of the collection and reflect what is going on in the fashion industry. Also, I tried not to focus on the past, but to look forward. I tried to reflect the general aesthetics of today.
Peloton: How would you describe the fashion of today?
Olsen: Well, things like using clean graphics, using small statements.
Peloton: And you ride yourself?
Olsen: Yes, I probably do between 8,000 and 10,000 kilometers per year. I try to get out a couple of times a week. But during the wintertime in Copenhagen, that’s not always so easy. But I try to ride my bicycle as much as possible.
Peloton: Who is your favorite cyclist ever?
Olsen: Ah, Fausto [he lifts up his sleeve to reveal a tattoo of Faust Coppi]! I like the old guys. I like that whole era, not just the cyclists, but the people. They were so stylish. That said, I really like guys like Bernard Hinault too. When I was a child in the 1980s, he was a hero.
Peloton: And you must have loved his La Vie Claire jersey that co-opted a painting by Piet Mondrian?
Olsen: Oh yeah, I was a big fan of Mondrian. That is just an iconic jersey and it even inspired one piece. But my favorite jersey of all time is the world champion’s jersey. When I was growing up I wanted to have that jersey. I wanted to be the world champion!