Can one obsess over fashion and style in 2020 with a clean conscience? «Definitely!» says Sunniva Mellbye (above left) also knows as singer-songwriter Murmur who’s just launched her new single «For You baby». She and her friend and stylist Tekla Lou Fure Brandsæter (above right) have developed a working relationship that allows both women their artistic freedom. For Tekla Lou it is more a collab than a «stylist job»: «That’s what I love working with Sunniva, she’s always open to new ideas» says Tekla Lou.
The collaboration started with Tekla Lou inviting herself home to Sunniva, with an offer of styling her, taking photos and cooking her a nice vegan meal. «We knew each other already and always admired her strong personal style, how well she was put together. So, I thought – why not? And just said yes to it all» smiles Sunniva.
«I felt I should to bribe her with some nice food for giving me this opportunity» says Tekla Lou who hired a photographer, gathered together some outfits and baked a cake and then showed up on the singers door. The result was so good they knew they needed to continue – for Sunniva it was like her stage alter ego Murmur found her visual voice to go along with her music. «It’s a bit like – let’s see what we can do with what I have and what you have» says Sunniva.
Sunniva started her musical career by composing and singing songs in her bedroom using a secondhand organ she found at the skip. These days she is launching a new EP titled «Behind Your Back», and her visual image heavily inspired by sixties models and it-girls.
Styletalk: What happens when you put on an outfit Tekla Lou has brought you, is it like a total transformation or like she is bringing out a secret and more extrovert side of you?
«I think it’s a bit of both. Sometimes it brings out my wild side, some part of my personality that is way more flamboyant and commanding than my everyday self. I always admire people with extreme style, something that does not necessarily come so easy to me off-stage. But when you go on stage you need to own it, wear more outlandish stuff and be «larger than life» because all eyes are on you» says Sunniva.
Styletalk: Could you have worked with a stylist who wanted to change your style completely to make you most commercially attractive?
«Well, sometimes she does! Because Tekla takes me places with her clothes that I never would have even thought of. I am one hundred percent self-taught and I have no management who tells me what to do. I am free. So, when I have a new song all I need to do is give Tekla some key words, and then we raid her wardrobe. Which, by the way, is massive! Her collection of vintage pieces is so mind-blowingly huge and exciting – much of it way out of my comfort zone, but once she dresses me I see how it comes together and works» says Sunniva.
When Madonna grabbed her crotch in front of Herb Ritts’ camera lens in 1990 it was considered scandalous. Female musicians and entertainers have always been more sexualized than their male counterparts. From Janis Joplin and Alanis Morrisette to Cardi B and Miley Cyrus – if a female popstar presents herself less traditionally sensual and more raw and slutty, she is often labelled vulgar, noisy and ugly.
Styletalk: Show more skin, show less skin – doomed if you do and doomed if you don’t?
«Wow, yea that’s complicated shit» agrees Sunniva. «I can use my sexuality, perhaps more through my body language, performance and my voice rather than just dressing to challenge and look hot. But as long as I do what I want, I regard it as acts of feminism.»
Styletalk: But is it wrong if woman does what male rock stars have been doing for ages?
«If you are a role model you could take a moment to decide what you want to communicate. I think it’s important for girls to see female performers in control, watch them do their own thing hopefully inspiring more girls to do the same,» says Sunniva.
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«I never thought I wanted to style Sunniva raunchy just to shock people. But I remember once I made her wear a shirt that turned out to be way more see through under the stage lights than we’d thought – a bit like art by accident» muses Tekla Lou.
«And I was topless under and remember I taped my nipples» laughs Sunniva and admits it is a blast to hide behind her bold alter ego Murmur on stage.
The episode makes us think of a vintage LP cover where a proud-nippled Carly Simon poses unforgettably braless and beautiful – decades before new puritanism flooded social media and «Free the nipple»-campaigns became a must.
«It’s weird how covering your nips should make you more at ease. I mean nipples – it’s natural?» says Tekla Lou.
Lockdowns during the pandemic has forced a change in how we communicate fashion and style. Earlier this year Tekla Lou and photographer Cecilia Riis Kjeldsen created a «social distancing»-fashion shoot using webcam and Tekla’s own clothes.
«My ambition as a stylist has never been to promote consumerism but rather a way to show how much you can do with less – less clothes, less spending and more fun. I never borrow clothes for shoots but use my own. And on the few occasions when I HAVE to buy something I try to buy secondhand» says Tekla Lou.
Styletalk: Can shopping be a bad experience?
«Well, we claim it’s a way to spoil ourselves but yea – if you don’t find clothes that fit, or things are too expensive, sure. It can be a drag» says Sunniva. «Shopping can become an addiction, something I noticed when I decided to quit. To always strive for something new and value yourself through your latest purchase….it was liberating to let it go!» says Tekla Lou.
Tekla Lou has collected vintage pieces for years. The result is an extensive collection as she hates to get rid of things. «On occasions when I have to weed out the collection a bit I never throw anything away but prefer to give away to friends whom I know will give the garments «a good home». I work with myself on this every day, my relationship with objects I own, their worth and what I allow them to mean to me as a human being. It’s a journey» says Tekla Lou.
All photos used with permission from Sunniva Mellbye and Tekla Lou Fure Brandsaeter