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The Jante Law

This European menswear collective shuns industry clichés and shameless self-promotion. Its no-nonsense goods are all the better for it.

Interview By John Dugan, January 23, 2013

A shadowy collective doubling as a menswear label, named for an out-of-print sociological text with an obscure European base of operations and an amazing-yet-ambiguous logo? Needless to say, we were intrigued by the Jante Law from the start. First off, the name? The Jante Law (pronounced "anti") is a concept that describes a pattern of group behavior first explained in Danish author Aksel Sandemose's 1933 book A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks. The ten rules in the Law of Jante describe a sociological situation in which individual effort is de-emphasized and group success paramount, typical of a small Scandinavian town in the early 20th Century. Obviously, the new Jante Law was up to something. But what? 

Great, straightforward yet stylish, menswear, as it turns out. We were smitten with the group's knitwear, pants, shirts, and all-around rock solid aesthetic. We liked the all-wool, Knit Cap from Jante Law, but theirs sold-out right away. So we teamed up with the Jante Law on an exclusive version for Nothing Major—still available in our store. We met up with the founders in Paris and found their humility as refreshing as their unfettered style. 

And yet, we had to admit, we still knew very little about the Jante Law and its mission. True to its name, the group has done very little publicity about itself. Rife with curiosity, we corresponded with the Jante Law's Niek Meul, who along with Belgian Bent Van Looy and Alexandre Milan, runs the label from a homebase in France.

How is the Scandinavian Jante Law an inspiration for a fashion brand?

One member of our collective moved to Stockholm a few years ago and learned about this Law of Jante, this strict way of life, of extreme humbleness so present in everyday life in The North.

We thought it was fascinating to take something so introverted, willfully discreet, and not perceived as positive as the framework for a fashion brand. We incorporate the very antithesis of fashion, we own its message and wear it proudly on our sleeve. We stay away from overt seduction in an industry so obsessed by itself and the fleeting thrill of the moment. We like to twist fashion's arm a little.

Can you explain what the original Jante Law is, as described by author Aksel Sandemose? It emphasizes the group over individual achievement, correct? 

Under the Jante Law, one is not supposed to stick one's head too far out from the group. Individual achievements are meant to be shrugged off. Try not to outdo your neighbor. Refrain from buying a nicer car than your neighbor. In short (as the motto of our first collection goes): Don't think you're anything special. Axel Sandemose wrote about a fugitive arriving in a small community that lives by a set of ten rules. These rules make sure the villagers stay confined within the straightjacket of normalcy.

How does this Scandinavian sociological phenomenon inform your brand and branding aesthetic, say for example, in your lookbook?

We try to keep the aesthetic clean, minimal, and strong. But within this apparently wholesome style lies the twist: the very high-level materials we use for our clothes and the high standards we apply when it comes to manufacturing are anything but modest and lowly. They betray a side to our story that hides in plain sight: A touch of real luxury. 

Your brand or collective seems to be a shadowy group. Why did you form the Jante Law, who are you, and what's your mission?

We consider ourselves a creative collective that operates like some sort of secret agency. Not unlike the spies of the Cold War, we recruit agents all over the world; Agents that believe in our story and can contribute to our aesthetic in their own unique way. We are a fairly small group right now but ultimately our aim is to assimilate the very best and brightest of the world's creative elite to become a part of our small, seemingly humble dream and make strong, simple, but beautiful artifacts for the modern age.

We really like your winter caps, cardigans, and your fisherman's sweaters. What inspired those?

A lot of the knitwear is inspired by the thin line that runs between outdoorsmanship and bureacracy. The collars of the cardigans, for example, come straight from old Breton sweaters one of our agents remembers his grandfather wearing on brisk winter walks. The hat is inspired by an ancient, almost powdery hat from the late 1800s that an agent of Jante picked up in the States. It was important for us, however, that these clothes wouldn't be out of place in an office environment or in front of the classroom, worn by serious, modern men.

Is the Jante Law clothing catching on in the states, yet? Or is France your main market?

Two amazing boutiques (Mutiny in D.C. and Hickoree's in Brooklyn) carry The Jante Law stateside. The rest of the stockists are in Europe.

Are you excited about what's happening in menswear these days or feel we still have a lot of room to grow and develop?

We feel there is a real momentum in menswear, people are openminded and willing to follow an interesting story. A strong identity and healthy ethics are necessary, but we believe we have both those qualities.

Are there any artists, designers, or labels from the past or present that inspire what you do?

We are inspired by the novels we read in our youth, Kirk Douglas' manly style in The Heroes Of Telemark and the most wistful songs of Harry Nilsson.

What's on tap for SS 2013?

Clean, lean shapes and luxurious, dry cotton lab coats.

Visit The Jante Law


The photos with the model are by DIMITRI KARAKATSANIS. The model is MICHAËL BORREMANS. The ones without the model are by MÄRTA THISNER.