William Duborgh Jensen (1935-2017) started as a window decorator for his father’s business Ebbesen & Jensen. In the spring of 1958, he launched his first collection in Oslo under the name William. As Norway’s first “fashion king”, he became very important for Norway’s domestic fashion environment. He made his debut as a costume designer in 1963 in the performance “Teenager love” at Det Nye Teater in Oslo.
His first fashion show was, however, already in 1958. With Gøsta Ekman, the older, as a godfather and a grandmother who was a famous actress, he was influenced in the direction of the stage. At the age of 17, he started dancing with the great Norwegian dancer and choreographer of the time, Rita Tori.
It was, however, his father who gave him the opportunity in the direction of design work. His father was the owner of Ebbesen og Jensen, a still-existing clothing store with a tradition dating back to the end of the 19th century. William was offered to make a display window for the store in Prinsensgate, before he became “too famous”, as his father expressed it. It must have been to the taste of both his father and the audience, and not least William himself, who thought it was fun to combine colors and fabrics. It inspired William to sign up for an international window display competition and he reached all the way to the top.
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William Duborgh Jensen’s clothes were initially characterized by wild whims and sculptural, often outlandish shapes. Later he switched to a simpler, more classical style. Several of the customers came from the capital’s cultural milieu, such as actresses Wenche Foss, Lise Fjeldstad, Vibeke Løkkeberg, and not least Norway’s Queen Sonja.
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However, it took an Englishman to kick-start his fashion career. “I met an English fashion designer in a party – his name was Raymon Abel – and he asked: Why is there no one who makes fashion and clothes in Norway. Hopeless and young, I said: I can do that!,” recalled William. “I had never done anything or studied fashion. But I did what I told him, and when I woke up I was famous! Not least thanks to the weekly news magazine NÅ (Now).”
William Duborgh Jensen was the first Norwegian fashion designer to design and produce his own collections under his own name, William. He had two collections a year, and kept it going for 30 years, with some breaks with theater involvement. He collaborated with several young Norwegian designers from 1978 to 1988.
He was awarded the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav, Knight 1st Class, in 2006.
About himself, he has written: “The truth is that I was not the least bit different from any of the others. I didn’t care one bit about clothes – and by the way, I couldn’t draw either.”
When Norway’s first fashion king died in May 2017, his death was passed over in silence. Only his old friend, the former television personality at Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, Terje Sølsnes, wrote a memorial for William Duborg Jensen in Norway’s largest newspaper, Aftenposten.
In the months after his death, the fashion designer’s daughter, Lully Kjøsterud, cleaned out his apartment in Riddervoldsgate at Briskeby in Oslo. When she found the scrapbooks of his 30-year career as the elite’s preferred clothing designer, she had no doubts. They had to be taken care of. Former senior curator at the National Museum, Anne Kjellberg, had no doubts either.
A new chapter in Norwegian fashion history was written.
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Norway’s First Fashion King, written by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top): © Delphin / Rigmor Dahl / Oslo Museum