Entrepreneurial spirits and generational innovation among the fjords
MARIA LILLY FLAKK
Maria Lilly Flakk, co-owner and marketing director at Flakk Group and brand director at Devold of Norway and O.A.D., speaks on the strong entrepreneurial spirits and forceful weather in Sunnmøre, northwestern Norway.
April 06, 2023
Who are you?
— I’m born and bred in Ålesund, Sunnmøre, on the northwest coast of Norway. Together with my sister Erika June, I am the fourth generation to work in our family business, Flakk Group, with a diverse portfolio of businesses in multiple industries, from textiles to building components, real estate to hospitality, and even cutting-edge hydrogen and zero-emission mobility solutions. I’m particularly focused on our textile brands and in addition to my role as brand director of one of them, Devold of Norway, I launched its sister brand last October. O.A.D. is an ode to the founder of Devold of Norway, Ole Andreas Devold. With roots stretching back to 1853, the brand is imbued with an unparalleled legacy. While Devold of Norway caters to the outdoor enthusiast with its superior merino base layers and performance wear, O.A.D. offers a different lifestyle through luxurious knitwear, made in Italy using only the finest certified and traceable natural fibres.
For someone who hasn’t been to the Sunnmøre region, how’d you describe it?
— When you think of Norway, you might think of beautiful fjords surrounded by endless mountains and peaks. You might think of snow, the sea, fish and harsh weather. This is Sunnmøre. The nature here is incredibly beautiful, but not in a mild way. It is dramatic, raw, and sometimes quite extreme. It demands attention and often takes my breath away. Obviously, I am biased, but I think it is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It has a lot of weather, often several seasons in one day. Still, that is also what makes it special. It makes you consider what you are wearing at all times, with knitwear often playing the leading role. It might not necessarily be the easiest or most comfortable place, but it is incredibly rewarding living so close to nature as raw as this. Many places are completely untouched, and I can guarantee anyone visiting that they’ll have some of the most spectacular nature experiences ever. As long as you dress accordingly. As much of Norway and Scandinavia, it values authenticity and doesn’t have much time for pretending or showing off.
My favourite thing that makes me proud of Sunnmøre:
— Apart from the natural beauty of the place, it’s a region known for its entrepreneurial spirit. The region boasts numerous remarkable companies, projects, and brands built from scratch by the locals. The seemingly unassuming fishing town of Ålesund is home to global companies with groundbreaking technologies and innovations. For generations, the people of this area have thrived on their self-made creations, from fishing and shipping to design. Like my grandparents before them, my parents have built a legacy in this region, so I’d say I am quite proud of them as well.
My favourite weekend routine:
— I travel a lot and need to have a calming and grounding home base to balance it all, which also is why I live here and not in a metropole. So if I am home on a weekend, I always try to get away to our cabin in the mountains. It is the ultimate place to disconnect from the world and reconnect with what matters. It was originally built in the 1850s, and while it now has all the modern comforts needed, the farmhouse has been carefully restored and preserved. Filled with art, antiques, and other relics of times past, it has such a warm and comforting ambience that simply cannot be found in more modern houses. The family loves to come here and I think we all treat it like our own personal sanctuary. While working with your parents, partner, and younger sister can sometimes be a challenge, we are all very close and they are definitely my favourite people to spend time with, says Flakk. She continues:
— A typical day in the cabin will look like: Wake up in the early morning, run around in the squeaky house in thick woollen socks and a knitted robe to light all the fires and ovens to heat up the house. In winter, temperatures can go down to -30°C, so keeping warm is a big theme. Get back in bed with coffee and the weekend newspapers, before we go out to ski. Coming back in from the cold, you relight all the fires and ovens again, before there is aprés ski with gløgg, cheese, and charcuterie. Then we spend a few hours cooking dinner, because why not. There is lots of sitting, reading, and thinking. In between, there is always firewood to be chopped and snow to be shovelled. It’s simple living but so good for both body and soul.
My favourite cultural spot:
— For music, Terminalen Byscene is the local stage and does a great job presenting both local and global talent. It punches way above its weight. The art galleries KHÅK, Kube, and Flø are all worth checking out.
My favourite place for dining out:
— Apotekergata No. 5, located in Hotel Brosundet, is a house for different food and beverage concepts. In the morning, visit the little coffee shop and gourmet deli on the corner, called Butikken, for a coffee and kanelsnurr. For lunch and dinner, go next door to Restaurant No. 5. The menu is elevated Nordic cuisine, focused on local produce and recipes, and you can do a whole tasting menu or just snacks, be sure to pair them with something from the wine cellar. Finish off with nightcaps at the cocktail bar, Arkivet Bar, in front of the fireplace. For something very special, get a boat out to the restaurant Kami at Skotholmen. It is an incredible dining experience, on a small island right before the big ocean. The chef behind it, Magnus Bergseth, has created a beautiful seafood menu that everyone should try once in their life.
My favourite excursion:
— There are so many to pick from, but perhaps my favourite would be to get on a boat through the fjords. I must have done it hundreds of times and I’m still in awe every time. Take it through Storfjorden, and into Norangsfjorden before you end up at Union Øye Hotel. It is a historical hotel from 1891, and one of our properties. It is a grand old dame, by the end of a fjord in a tiny little village. It is a Swiss-style architecture and used to house climbing pioneers, writers, artists, and British aristocracy. During the last two years, we’ve been undergoing a major renovation and expansion, adding more guest houses, a barn, a game room, a library, a new garden with a lake, and a conservatory. My mother is in charge of all the interiors in our portfolio, and it was painstaking work finding the historically correct tapestries, tassels, artwork, and antiques — there is nothing chosen at random. You can walk around for hours exploring the place, peeking into unoccupied rooms, all named and created after a previous guest, almost like a museum. Check-in for the night, or stay for lunch and drink in the Palm Room. It is grand, whimsical, and stunning — if I might say so myself.
My favourite local entrepreneur or creative I want to promote:
— There are two visual artists that I admire a lot. Ørnulf Opdahl is one of Norway’s most recognized painters and has spent a lifetime trying to capture the landscapes, light, and sceneries of this region. If you’re lucky, you get to visit his studio out on the island of Godøy, which is a treasure trove of inspiration. The other one I’d like to mention is Kenneth Alme. A contemporary artist who is also very inspired by nature, albeit in a very different manner. His work is both tender and surprising, and something I can look at for days. I also want to give Sondre and Martine Aakre a shout, the brother and sister behind the brand Blæst. They make the coolest rainwear around, which is not something you want to do without when living in this region. They are really good friends of mine, and I’m a big fan. And, obviously, I have to mention Sigrid — our homegrown superstar rocking the hit lists in the UK. She is just as down-to-earth and awesome as she seems.
My favourite hotel for a staycation:
— You’re not supposed to have favourite children, but Storfjord Hotel is a very special place to me. Located 40 minutes out of town, into the forest and looking out at the fjord. It is built in traditional Norwegian laft, log cabins with grass roofs. All the rooms are individually designed, with a mix between traditional Norwegian handicrafts and contemporary design. It is a five-star luxury lodge but without the flashiness. It is what we call luxury the Norwegian way, which is a bit of an oxymoron. To us, luxury means the rawness and purity of nature, the serenity and the relentlessness. It is lying in bed in front of a fireplace while the storms are raging outside. Or conquering a mountain top and warming up in the sauna afterwards. When I arrive, I instantly wind down and relax. I listen better and think clearer. I eat well and sleep well, leaving there energized. It is the embodiment of hygge.
My favourite route for a run or walk:
— In the middle of our city centre, there is a small mountain called Aksla. There are trails up and around the mountain, and it’s a great way to wake up in the morning. There is actually a breakfast run from Butikken at Apotekergata No. 5 every Friday morning at 06:30 AM, where you finish off the run with a nice cup of coffee, or for the more adventurous — a jump in the canal followed by a sauna at the new gym and wellness at Hotel Brosundet.
My favourite place for fashion:
— At Devoldfabrikken you can get everything you need to perform in cold weather conditions from Devold of Norway, as well as our first collection of O.A.D. knitwear. It is a small collection of sweaters for women and men, all made in the softest natural fibres we could find, while still staying true to our Norwegian heritage. Ole Andreas Devold catered to the workers, fishermen, and polar explorers of his time, creating functional high quality garments that would protect them from the harsh climate of the north. O.A.D. is hugely influenced by this heritage, and we want to tell those stories and build on those same principles but for a modern lifestyle. Keeping it all natural was important to me, using fibres like cashmere, alpaca, yak, mohair, and silk, as well as Norwegian wool. The styles are influenced by the archives of our mother brand, with Norwegian heritage patterns reimagined into contemporary styles. The factory also houses shops, cafes, and local artisans and their workshops.
My favourite space for great design:
— For the best Scandinavian design shopping around, you can get all the classics and icons at Møbler & Miljø. BySunde at Devoldfabrikken does a great job curating local and international brands with a bit of a twist. The lobby shop at Hotel 1904 is also great for interesting objects, books and furniture. To just take in great design, I would spend some time at Hotel Brosundet. It was our first property which we developed together with Snøhetta. We preserved the old structures from what used to be warehouses for the local fisheries and filled it with contemporary Scandinavian designs. The combination creates a warm and modern atmosphere.
My favourite thing at home:
— I spend a lot of time curating our home, as I am very affected by my physical surroundings. Our home is the most important space in our lives, wherever that is housed. I am quite sentimental and always collect different objects and moments on my travels. It adds personality to our house and tells a story of who we are. Antiques that I got at auctions and trinkets are worth nothing money-wise, it makes up the visual story of our lives. My fiance is from South Africa, so our home is a beautiful mix of our different backgrounds and lives together. My favourite thing at home must be my book collection. It’s become a bit of an addiction to build, but it gives me so much joy.
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