Taken from the new print issue of THE FACE. Get your copy here.
All-eyes are on All – In right now, and for good reason. Designers Benjamin Barron, 30, and Bror August Vestbø, 26, from New York and Oslo, respectively, went hard with their Paris Fashion Week show, channelling a rare kind of energy and excitement that really, genuinely, got people’s tongues wagging.
Marking the duo’s fourth collection, what initially launched back in 2015 as a magazine is now a fully-fledged fashion label, informed by Benjamin and August’s meticulous sourcing of vintage pieces to style. Rather than just upcycling vintage garments, they flip them – sometimes quite literally – on their heads. Just look at that SS24 show, which took place in the basement of a Parisian club in September. It was the hottest ticket of the season.
But if you’d tried to Shazam the soundtrack, you’d have been unsuccessful. The score was composed for the occasion by All – In’s long-time collaborators Smerz – aka Norwegian duo Henriette Motzfeldt and Catharina Stoltenberg. And the innovation didn’t end there: the pieces add up to an eight-track EP that chronicles the story of a fictional pop star. Her name? Allina. In fact, the music was very much the starting point for the collection, which narrates Allina’s demise after her 15 minutes of fame.
From sequinned mini skirts and pearly thongs to rhinestone-embellished track pants and floor-length nightgowns, there was a definite sense that Allina was falling apart and ageing in real time during the Lotta Volkova-styled show (fun fact: Lotta was one of the first people to shop All – In’s debut collection).
With model Lily Cole (!) kindly agreeing to play the role of Allina for THE FACE’s photoshoot, Smerz, Benjamin and August tell us more.
Let’s start with the most pressing question: who on earth is Allina?
Benjamin: Allina is a fictional pop star. The collection is about her quick rise to fame, and her even quicker fall.
So you designed the whole collection with Allina in mind?
August: Our starting point is always the materials, so we sourced things that reminded us both of this pop star or showgirl character. You know: sequins, pearls, mini shorts and skirts. We combined these with the idea that [Allina] immediately grows old and becomes outdated. So we also worked with old women’s pyjama-like nightgowns and tin cookie jars; elements that referred to Allina as an old woman, thinking about who she once was. If we started the collection with a perfect pop star, this bit was about her falling apart.
We were also thinking about the idea that, rather than evolving into a different character as you get older, you just layer on more and more instead. It’s about layers and layers of things falling apart.
Smerz, how did you go about bringing Allina’s world to life through the music?
Catharina: We wanted it to be clear that she really loves pop music – the energy and spontaneity of it – and all types of pop, its aesthetics and genres. She’s able to dig into different worlds and doesn’t feel connected to one specific style. She’s a punk rock girl, a sexy R&B girl, and can be an edgy, electronic girl.
We were really trying to figure out what makes a pop song. It needs a certain energy to it and a structure that allows you to communicate quickly and directly with your audience, and maybe [find] a hook that you can hold on to. That was the core for every song, and then we added a very stylised aesthetic on top.
August: What [Smerz] do with music – connecting and referencing different genres to create new ones – is pretty much the exact same thing we do with clothes.
Were there any particular pop stars you drew inspiration from?
Catharina: Instead of specific songs, we tried to have an archetypal, electronic, Britney-esque song or an R&B song, so that we were mirroring the ultimate version of each aesthetic.
Benjamin: But I also think that the failure of trying to achieve pop perfection came into it, too; that disconnect, and the idea there’s something a bit off. At one point we talked about Britney’s  Blackout [album] and Cassie’s [2006 song] Me & U, and how there’s this element of emptiness that aims for this perfect sound, but there’s something not quite there yet…
Henriette: I think that’s also because the pop industry’s so fast. You want it to be perfect, but you need it fast.
August: In a way, “fast” – thematically and as a method – was the inspiration for the whole project. Pace. It was about the speed of fashion, the speed of music, the speed of making.
You can really feel that in the lyrics, in the way they chronicle different stages of Allina’s life, from rehearsals to being bombarded by the paparazzi and the frantic energy of a performance.
Catharina: We tried to imagine what her everyday life looked like. We thought about the scenarios she would find herself in and took energy from those spaces.
For example, what she’s thinking about in a studio session or what she’s talking about when she’s with her stylist. Then we exaggerated these situations and made them more explicit.
August: The lyrics are more blunt than the way fashion would speak about itself these days. You don’t say “I want long legs and big boobs” in fashion anymore! Because it’s so exaggerated, it’s this very outward self-objectification.
Benjamin: It’s a bit childish. There’s this lyric, “lots of boobs, but I still look thin” – it’s so silly. No one talks about themselves like that, really. But Allina does.
Who else inspired the collection and the progression of Allina’s character?
August: We already had the idea for the collection, but we rewatched [Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 trash classic] Showgirls, and Elizabeth Berkley’s character Nomi [a Las Vegas exotic dancer] feels very much like Allina. She’s very confident. I remember you guys watching it and saying it was lyrically inspiring.
Catharina: Yeah, she’s this character who knows the rules of the pop industry and wants to play the game. But she also wants to be on top of it and disobey the rules a bit. She wants to be honest, but is clearly controlled by the whole system.
August: Like Nomi, she’s doing it with a smile. It’s this weird play on being objectified and objectifying yourself.
The energy at the show was amazing. People were cheering and dancing and getting into it. It didn’t feel like your average fashion thing.
August: Our main inspiration was for it to feel like a concert, even in the venue, how you went underground and how the black stage was covered in roses that were supposed to have been thrown by [Allina’s] fans.
Benjamin: We did a lot of research on different pop stars and their performances for singles that maybe didn’t quite make it in the way they should have – songs like Ashanti’s [2004 track] Only U – where there was this clunkiness to the performance itself. With the casting, we wanted everyone to be a character and have this strong walk.
We also inserted a few of our own characters. One of Eric’s [Christison, the Paris show’s movement director] references was drunk girls walking home at night, stumbling and adjusting their clothing. We wanted the show to have peaks and valleys in terms of the energy.
Last question: what’s next for Allina?
Catharina: Well, her self-titled EP is coming out in February. And we all want to keep working with her, maybe in a live format.
Benjamin: I think she’ll have a concert in early spring, potentially in Paris.
Catharina: And maybe Henriette and I will continue to use this world to go into pop music more directly.
August: If there’s a big artist out there who wants to have a feature with Allina on it… hello!
Hair Franziska Presche at The Good Company make-up Thomas De Kluyver at Art Partner set designer Hella Keck at Webber Represents manicurist Sylvie Macmillan at MA+ World Group casting Julia Lange talent Lily Cole at IMG production 360pm senior producer Chris Cowan photographer’s assistants Rory Cole and Vrinda Jelinek stylist’s assistant Hollie Williamson hair assistant Masashi Konno make-up assistant Abbie Nourse set designer’s assistant Nia Samuel-Johnson production assistant Gillian Panuncialman production runners Ryan James and Jie Nie