An express interview with Nicolai Schaanning Larsen, Founder and Creative Director of YME Universe concept store
Photos: Ketil Jacobsen
Design aficionados must definitely put Oslo on their list of things to see this year! The new YME Universe concept store, which unites fashion, art and design under one roof, is not only an ostensible equivalent to such legendary genre classics as Paris' Colette and London's Dover Street Market, but a truly adventurous experience in its own right as well.
As Nicolai Schaanning Larsen, Founder and Creative Director of YME revealed to Arterritory.com, the ambitious goal of the project was to create a universe surrounding YME that would be based on Norse mythology.
We asked Schaanning Larsen to illuminate us on the intriguing Nordic legend that inspired the YME Universe creative project:
YME is from Norse mythology, and it is the creation of the universe as we know it.
In the beginning of time, long before the Earth was made, there was nothing. Between light and darkness, between fire and ice, there was a great gulf. When the fire and ice met, the ice began to melt and drip. The drips formed the shape of an enormous giant. Its name was ‘Yme’. A larger giant has never lived.
The legend states that he was a hermaphrodite who gave birth to both males and females, through the pits of his arms.
Odin and his brothers - Vilje and Ve – formed a rebellion against Yme. It was a very hard battle that Odin and his brothers won. They killed Yme and a flood of blood washed over their enemies and drowned them all. His body was put over the great gulf.
Yme’s body and flesh created earth, Yme's blood became the seas and oceans, Yme’s bones and teeth became the cliffs, mountains and rocks, and his hair became the trees, plants and forests. Yme’s brain got thrown high up in the air and created the clouds, Yme’s skull was set down as firmament and then it created the sky, and sparks from this skull created the sun, Moon and stars.
Four dwarfs where chosen to guard the four corners of this world. These dwarfs were named East, West, North and South. This is the creation of the world as we know it.
The interior design of the store was created by the well-known Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta. Could you tell us about this cooperation in a bit more detail, as well as how the plot line of the saga was integrated into the store's interior design? To which architectural components should every contemporary interior design-lover draw his/her attention?
YME Studios worked very closely and successfully alongside Snøhetta to incorporate this history/saga into the design of the store. All three floors present a unique and different aesthetic and experience; they all reveal independent and varying expressions that meet on a variety of platforms in a gathered, yet schizophrenic, vision.
There really are so many architectural highlights to choose from. At the main entrance, one is welcomed through a 25-meter-long frieze of pine-wood that tells the story of the twelve rivers coming together in Ginnungagap. The first floor is a tale of ice from Niflheim, and with its cold palette, it puts the focus on product display and the highlighting of special elements. From the first floor, one is guided further up into the Universe by way of the staircase, or more accurately put – a 12-meter-tall art space with a transparent glass bridge on top from which one can view all three floors below.
From the second floor, one is brought up into the upscale third floor through a crude steel spiral staircase. The stairs land on a bridge that emphasizes an extra-tall passage. We've been very fortunate to have had concerts, debates, film showings and book launches take place in this multi-functioning space.
On the third floor one can find a café with artworks and a selection of books, and it is also the floor from which, in the future, there will be access to the roof garden.
Which elements would you like to draw attention to, that is, in the context of innovations and engineering- and technology-solutions?
The construction of the 25-meter-long frieze of pine-wood and landscaping on the ground floor is an individual and unique hand-drawn piece that reflects the northern landscape, and tells the story about the twelve rivers coming together in Ginnungagap. Based on these hand drawings, we created 3D sketches which, again, a robot sputtered onto a 80-square-meter, 9-ply solid wood wall. The design and construction allow it to become interactive, with each grain of wood giving it shape and depth. I would also like to mention the steel staircase that connects the first and second floors. At seven meters wide, it creates its own multi-functioning platform that provides more than just access between floors, and it delivers a far bigger statement about the store.
Were there any architectural challenges in the design that had to be overcome? Are there any secrets that we can't see?
We do have a secret space within the store, and it's a place where I go occasionally to find peace. This small and unique gallery bridge is located on the second floor, and to the person or persons standing upon it, it opens up a fascinating and alternative view down to the ground floor. We also have the bookstore, which is a remote and separate space in which to immerse yourself in a wide range of literature and creative magazines, all whilst sipping on fresh-ground coffee. We really want to encourage people to seek out these areas for themselves, and to thereby create a unique and inspiring experience.
How did you deal with the historic context of the building (built in 1844) in which YME is located?
YME has its own story to tell through the uniqueness of the building, which is located between the Royal Palace and the Parliament at Karl Johans gate 39. It is a beautiful and historic building from 1844, and has previously been described as a “Paris in miniature”. Because of our wish to carry on the qualities of the oldest building on Karl Johans gate, a large part of the original studwork has been kept, temporary walls have been removed, and distinct qualities of the building have been highlighted. I'm drawn to the uniqueness of mixing and adapting these two aesthetics within the store's concept. It has created a new story that is steeped in history, and although this has thrown up its fair share of challenges, I believe all of that handwork has paid off.
YME also features an art gallery. What is it like to design a space for such an eloquent and self-sufficient subject like art?
I think we've been very successful in the way that the artists which we've worked alongside have really understood the necessity of exploring different spaces in which to show their work. As an artist myself and the curator of art at YME, I think this process demands a lot – not just from us in order to understand the world of the artist, but also in terms of putting art into our Universe and commercial retail space.
We see it as more than a gallery space; after all, what is a gallery in 2015? I also think that’s something we're challenging in a positive way. I think fusing art with fashion, design, and interior design has allowed us to engage with a broader and more diverse audience, and in turn, it challenges the artists to see their work from a different perspective.
In the case of YME, is art, once again, a part of the marketing strategy, or has it been given its own independent manifestation?
When I started this project in 2012, I had come from the art world, and I directly saw the importance of combining this within the YME Universe. We present a curated selection of works by established, talented and aspiring artist from all over the world, as part of our Universe. Even though some people don't really realize how fortunate we are to have some of those art pieces represented at YME, I think it's all about trying to show the future of retail, and how brands and other creative fields are meeting together to collaborate. The artists we've shown are: Elmgreen&Dragset, Gardar Eide Einarsson, Sigalit Landau, Ryan McGinley, Anders Norby, Sverre Malling, Tommy Høvik, Johan Øvergård and Lasse Fløde. The two gallery spaces in the store act independently, but it's the combination of retail and art that makes this process work.
If the YME was a journey, how would you describe it?
I feel like the last three years have been a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs, lefts and rights. It's become apparent just how much our story is comparable to the history of YME and the creation of the Universe. Anyone who has started a creative project will agree that you have to have a certain element of insanity to start a journey like this. We are just at the beginning of our story at YME, and since we opened five months ago, I feel we are participating in a progressive evolution of a process that is ongoing. We are constantly working on understanding and developing our relationship with our audience and the space in which we work. The YME studios are part of this continuation, and are constantly stimulating not only our concept, but also the people and brands with which we work.