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12 Questions with Danish style icon, Mads Emil Grove Møller.
Danish fashion director, editor, consultant, stylist, micro-influencer, podcaster, and DJ, Mads Emil Grove Møller has had more job titles in his life than alcoholic beverages. He can count the number of the latter on one hand. The last sip came the same year The Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death dropped. So it’s been a minute. Born in Mauritius, Møller has always stood out in his hometown of Copenhagen for his fresh, hip-hop influenced ’fits and—most jarring for the Danish populace at large—his lifetime abstinence from alcohol. Thus, a lifetime of “Can. Not. Compute.” responses from his fellow countrymen have followed him. Over the last decade, though, things have changed. Other abstainers are suddenly everywhere. Even in beer-happy Copenhagen. Always interested in new forms of media, Møller has been at the forefront of promoting Danish style culture for two decades. Along with brands like Ganni, Henrik Vibskov, Norse Projects, and Wood Wood, Møller is part of a core group of people that have transformed his city from sleepy Nordic monoculture into the vibrant, streetwear-inflected, style capital it is today. And he did it sober, living by a credo passed down from his late father: Treat everyone you meet on your way with the same respect, the same kindness. It doesn’t matter if it’s the guy serving you, the guy cleaning, or the CEO.
Do you identify as sober, or straight-edge, or something else?
I’ve never actually thought about a title. For me it’s just a lifestyle of not drinking and not doing drugs and not smoking. It just became a choice very, very early on. I mean, all the way back to grade school when everybody started experimenting, trying to drink. I was trying it with my friends. But from the beginning, if other people got drunk, I would be like, “Yeah, I’m drunk, too.” I probably spat it out or threw my drink in a bush. I never knew why. I often think about if there was a turning point. But there was never a point where I said to myself, “I’m not going to drink my whole life.” It was more just, “I’m not really into that right now.” And then, one year took the other. And that’s just me, not drinking. Everybody just got used to Mads doesn’t drink, which has been special working in nightlife and fashion for so many years.
As a young person looking at your future 25 years ago, what did you see ahead of you that made you choose a life free of drugs and alcohol?
In Denmark, people really start drinking heavily in high school. And that’s when I started DJing. I wanted to impress people. Every gig needs to be the best gig. So, I need to be sober. I can’t be drinking at the party, you know? Even back then, it didn’t make sense lifestyle-wise to be drunk. DJing took off in those years. Every time I’m out, I’m the DJ. So, I’m always sober. It just made sense. If I played Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, then I couldn’t be drunk. I couldn’t wake up hungover every day. If I want to play all night, and wake up, and work out, I need to be sober. And again, one year took the other.
What's it been like navigating the very, very beer-friendly Copenhagen creative scene sober?
People have a hard time understanding. Especially in Denmark. I was always in a position where I had to explain. Everywhere I went. Even my friends’ parents would be like, “What, you don’t drink?” In college, I vividly remember a guy that I actually clicked with saying, “If you don’t drink, I can’t trust you.” And I was like, “Wow.”
Do you ever feel like you missed out on anything, choosing this path?
I always say that I’ve lived a life with no FOMO at all. I don’t care if I miss out on anything, really. God knows where I got it from. Sometimes I wonder if I missed out on a few things workwise, though. You know, a lot of my peers went on to party with the head of the brand, the head of the PR team. They did drugs with them til the wee hours of the night. Maybe they closed the deal. Maybe something happens on the other side of midnight like, “We did cocaine together. Now we trust each other. I’ll sign your contract tomorrow.” But I don’t really care. I made it my thing to be on point in the daytime hours. Be charming. Just be me. If you want to work with me, I’ll deliver but I’m not going to be at the afterparty.
Who are your style heroes?
There are so many. I’m a fashion and culture nerd. I love studying all kinds of different stuff. I love old 90s stock photos. 90s hip-hop. Obviously. But I also like Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, even Eric Clapton. Bruce Willis. An icon like Giorgio Armani. All of the style back then was just so spot on. 90s fits just look better. You can’t really copy that. I love watching old movies and picking up on a few things here and there, like, “Wow, that blazer in Heat just sits perfect.” That’s a great inspiration. I can spend so many hours on Youtube just watching old music videos. Today, though, definitely Pharrell. He is one of the few that keeps on evolving. He takes chances but he also has such a distinct style that you just know it’s him.
What positive changes have you seen for non-drinkers in the culture lately? In Copenhagen? Abroad?
People are finally figuring out how to have fun without drinking. I meet more and more people who don’t drink. That’s special. Especially in Denmark where in every social gathering alcohol is the thing that binds it together. With the youth it’s much more common not to drink. People are choosing to live their lives sober. In the last 10 years, it’s become more and more normal. Especially in the States. Over there when I’d say, “I don’t drink,” they’re like, “Cool. You want to see the mocktail menu?” In Denmark it was still like, “Weird. What do you want then? Water?”
What’s your go-to non-alcoholic beverage?
I’m really bad. Because there weren’t many choices, it’s always been like, “I’ll just take a Coke.” I tried to cut down more and more. I jumped on the Coke Zero wagon. Like, “Fuck, there’s no calories. That’s good.” Now I’m trying to reintroduce real Coke into my life because it’s definitely better. A Danish non-alcoholic drink brand contacted me, “Hey, you’re perfect for this. We do gin and tonics. We do rum and Cokes. Just without alcohol!” It’s funny they would say I’m perfect for this. I don’t think I am. I never wake up in the morning wanting a rum and Coke or a gin and tonic. I don’t know that taste! My taste buds have no recollection of alcohol.
Given alcohol's well-documented effects on productivity, why do you think there continues to be so much stigma re: not drinking in creative industries?
People romanticize the creative legends, the musicians, the artists. Like, “He did this album when he was gone on acid. This painter drew all these paintings out of his mind on drugs. We want to live that lifestyle, too!” Then they get caught up in doing it all again. In romanticizing it, you trick your mind into thinking you need it. In my optic, you’re telling yourself you need it. But really you don’t. I believe you can be just as creative without drinking or using drugs.
From personal experience (or watching others in your industry), what do you think scares people most about not drinking?
A lot of people have a hard time letting go. If they’re in a club, “Well, I can’t dance if I’m not drunk.” Of course you can. People have a hard time facing themselves, feeling awkward. “I talk much better when I’m a bit tipsy.” Really? Do you? Or is there something else going on? People tell themselves that they need alcohol to let their guard down. I believe you can teach yourself to let your guard down without it.
In your mind’s eye, what is the shape of success?
Just family, people you’ve chosen to use your time on. Time is so precious. The weeks are just blowing by. Simple things. Having time with your girlfriend and a few close friends. If you’re lucky, a good relationship with some healthy parents. That’s success for me. The times when I’ve been doing really well and I’ve had much more money than I have now, that hasn’t made me happier, for sure. It’s not things that make me happy. It’s the small joys. Nothing more.
What gives you strength?
Just counting to ten, breathing, telling myself it’s going to be fine.
What gives you hope?
Seeing people help each other. I’m a guy who can watch stupid clips of people helping each other and actually cry. I always find time to help friends and family. You hope that it comes the other way around. And it usually does.
Text by Andrew Smart / Photos by Kristian Grove Møller
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