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Elise By Olsen, Publisher & Curator
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“I want to see more brands being generous with their money in order to support artists, musicians, etc.”

Elise By Olsen is a representative of Generation Z. As a young person working in Fashion and the Arts, she’s building a voice and framework for her generation in terms of work and ethics, relying on both creativity and business as a starting point. Interview by Valerie Steenhaut. Portrait by Alva Skog.

All is not what it seems, and sometimes we should be bold in order to innovate. Our times are at a turning point and 18-year-old Elise By Olsen, editor-in-chief and curator, has ideas about how we can actively create the future. A few weeks ago she told us how she’s trying to change the current system and how she makes sense of publishing, fashion, education, and ourselves —wrapped up in a post-internet digital era, still searching for real life experience.

Beyond Millennials: Generation Z
Valerie Steenhaut

What kind of language speaks to generation Z?

Elise By Olsen

I was 13 when I started publishing. A lot of the people who were working with me at the time were also around that age, and we were very aware of our responsibility. We did a lot of street casting back then, before it became a common thing in the fashion world. We wanted versatility, to include more than one type of human. When we did any retouching we placed a warning around the image, and we did the same for ads. We needed advertisement to survive, but we also felt we should state what is branded or commercial content, and we took this very literally. To the advertisers, we said their ads were going to stand out, and to our readers we said tear them out and throw them away.

Brands and youth
Valerie

Are brands and media lagging behind?

Elise

When I started I felt like there were no youth magazines that portrayed youth in a proper way. They all had the same story: a Disney-like approach, talking solely about celebrities, beauty products, and puberty stuff. Young people needed an alternative to that sort of mainstream press and to be taken seriously.

Valerie

How can brands invent the future?

Elise

Brands should use their responsibility to create young talent and to allow talent to do whatever they want. I understand that this is also a strategy to create value around the brand, but I don’t see a problem with this as long as they’re being transparent about it. For my documentary, I bluntly asked for funding and Gucci agreed, because I in return can give them an audience they want to reach. I want to see more brands being generous with their money in order to support artists, musicians etc.

Listening to the young
Valerie

Has the world learned to listen to the young?

Elise

A lot has changed. We’ve gone from very few young people being represented, to young people being glamorized and exploited. I believe it’s important to be aware of this. When a brand wants to collaborate with an artist, they tend to offer empty checks, selling visibility and experience. It’s at this point that you need to either stand up for what you’re worth or do the ad campaign in order to get funding for your own projects afterwards. It’s important to understand how to take money from the system and use it for something you feel is for the better. Because the money’s already out there.

I’m recently released my first documentary with Gucci. The film is about my resignation as the editor-in-chief of Recens and why I did it. It’s about being conscious about having a power position, and it’s a bit of a middle finger to the whole fashion industry and brand culture, sponsored by a fashion brand. It’s an ironic statement, and it sometimes makes me feel like a double agent. I want to be critical, but I believe I can’t change the system if I’m not inside of it.

Post-internet education
Valerie

You were 13 when you entered the scene, and it has become completely normal for 16-year-olds to be musicians, influencers, photographers etc, who are being taken seriously. Do we mature at an earlier age?

Elise

It’s a cliché, but I firmly believe in keeping your inner child, and not worrying too much about the consequences. That’s what makes young people young: they don’t have that kind of fear and aren’t so self-aware yet. It’s hard to say if we mature at an earlier age though. What is maturity even? I think people now discover things earlier because of the Internet. I have a 4-year-old nephew and he’s been managing an Ipad for over a year. It’s why education is slightly outdated because kids already know where to get their information. The internet created a different understanding of the world.

Valerie

You’re self-educated, largely by using the Internet. Are schools not getting it?

Elise

I believe schools should essentially teach kids how to reflect and be critical towards all the information we receive. It’s basically why mental health is becoming such a problem right now, because people are fed so much information they don’t know how to process it anymore. So we just take it all in: what we’re supposed to look like, what to feel like, what to buy.

Valerie

The educational system is not enough anymore?

Elise

It’s not even about not enough. Education has become completely irrelevant. I tried going to media high school for a while but it didn’t make any sense. Teachers were trying to teach us about social media, while we already understood and experienced them in a completely different way. It made me very critical.

Valerie

How are you trying to be educational then?

Elise

I started doing more talks and lectures this year, but I don’t see it as teaching. It’s more of a talk about my experiences, like a conversation which asks the right questions to the students, to make them reflect. I want them to see things clearly and feel accepted, because people are under so much pressure, economically and socially, especially in the big institutions like Saint Martins or Parsons.

Becoming a brand
Valerie

Has the internet and social media shaped a new sort of identity?  

Elise

Social media is impacting everyone, yet I don’t think it has changed our identity per se. Rather it has made us able to create our own. You can be whoever you want to be online, you can dress however you want, say whatever you want. I’m from the suburbs of Oslo, and no one really cared about the stuff I cared about. It felt like the best day of my life when I found an online community that was like-minded and accepting.

I think a lot about the mythology we create around ourselves. I do many different things and I might seem extremely busy. Yet I’m a lot about logging off too. It’s why I still live with my parents in Oslo, and it’s why I go into nature a lot to climb. I think it’s really important to clear your mind because there’s so much going on. And people forget that. They work in this crazy speed and are stressed, when you sometimes need to be in silence for a while and have solitude. Otherwise you can’t function as a creative person. Being bored is extremely powerful. We should try not to rush around all the time.

Everything is experience
Valerie

Even though we become more knowledgeable at an earlier age, studies show youth are having a lot of experiences at a later stage, largely they have been replaced by a digital version. How can we create human experiences on the internet and social media?

Elise

I don’t know if it’s possible. I think we should start by trying to build bridges between the physical and the digital universe. We should use the digital format for what it’s made for: music, graphics, video, GIFs, sound, basically everything that can’t be printed. The physical product then should be used for what it’s supposed to be used for: printed photos, long reads, everything giving a materialistic experience of content. We need experiences.

We should really recycle
Valerie

Everything is about experience now, even in the fashion industry, for example, with Gucci transferring the brand onto a Gucci museum.

Elise

I’m not that interested in fashion brands. I feel like there’s a lot of the same. Fashion always brings back 70s pants and 90s sports logos, as if it’s a cycle we continuously go through. I think it’s time to think forward and actually create something new. It’s like we just repeat all of these things, whereas we have the technology to move forward and recycle creative forces.

Valerie

What does this recycling mean if it shouldn’t be based on the past?

Elise

Recycling is something we can all relate to in a way. It’s a positive word. To me, recycling means making space for something new. It’s about having a future optimistic view and inventing the future. We need to embrace long term futures and empower young people and their fresh ideas. New generations must to learn to transform, improve and recycle the existing. We are the future. We create our past when we create our future. So we should actively try creating the future rather than seeing it as a destination. It should be a tool to get to a desired place.

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Credits

Interview by Valerie Steenhaut
Portrait by Alva Skog
Editor-in-Chief Rafa Martínez

Folch Insights is a place for discovering visions of the world that cast a light on contemporary ideas about communication and new disruptive business models, strategic territories which we daily explore within our work. 

Bio

At the age of 13, Elise By Olsen was internationally recognized as the world’s youngest editor-in-chief of youth culture magazine Recens Paper, listed as one of the “top 5 magazines of 2017” by ArtForum and HighSnobiety. Elise resigned from her position stating she wanted to make space for a new generation of creative youth. She now works as a brand consultant (BBC, National Museum of Norway), exhibition curator (89plus, New gallery, Frieze New York), fashion critic and university lecturer (PUIG, Gucci, TEDx). She also currently holds the position as editor-in-chief of Wallet, a magazine for fashion criticism.

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Generation Z

According to Forbes (2015), Gen Z is the generation after Millennials, which they defined as people born from the mid 1990s to the early 2000s, making up for a larger cohort than the Baby Boomers or Millennials. Their most significant trait is having Internet technology readily available at a young age. With the web revolution of the nineties, they have been exposed to an unprecedented amount of technology in their upbringing.

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Internet Education

There are a wide range of activities that take place in the physical and digital worlds that could accurately be described as brand experiences, including experiential stunts, corporate events, employee/consumer interactions in-store or via phone, or even the use of a brand’s app or site. That’s because each of these things offers a meaningful experience that can either increase or reduce a person’s brand affinity.

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Recycling

There is nothing new about the practice of recycling. The recycling phenomenon has been with us for decades: artistically, culturally, and, more than ever, in our homes, we are accustomed to recycling our waste, our excess, our re-usable goods. But now the term "recycling" has also made an appearance within academic discourse, emerging as a paradigm for understanding the way artistic, literary, or cultural environments function. (Source: Thomas Parisot)

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Youth Culture

The dictionary defines youth culture as “young people's opinions and the way they live”. The term is a 20th-century phenomenon; the collision of increased standards of living, more leisure time, the explosion of post-war consumer culture and wider psychological research into adolescents all contributed to the formation of this new social category defined by age. (Source: The Guardian)