COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Fashion may not be Denmark’s biggest export – instead it’s pharmaceuticals, food and furniture – but that doesn’t matter to the brands and designers here, who are quickly gaining traction in a saturated international market, marketing themselves as the stylish, sustainable and collaborative upstarts.
The famous Scandi aesthetic – a happy young woman in a breezy vintage dress sailing across cobbled streets on a bicycle – has now become so familiar and aspirational as to be almost a cliché, like the effortlessly elegant Parisienne; the black-clad, sharp-edged New Yorker, or the slender Italian in soft-shouldered tailoring.
The Scandinavian vibe continues to bubble up from the streets of the laid-back Danish capital, where women of all ages love vintage, mixing high and low and adapting their clothes to everyday.
Last season, designer Cecilie Bahnsen showed off dresses with uneven hems inspired by the way some of her fellow Danes stretch and fasten their dresses so they don’t get in the way of pedaling the bike.
Known for her elegant baby-doll dresses with puffed sleeves, Bahnsen described the Danish approach as “very playful, an effortless way of putting looks together” during a collection preview in her sun-drenched studio in the north-east end of Copenhagen.
This season, Ditte Reffstrup, creative director of Ganni, said her spring 2023 collection was about evoking the heart-pumping energy of cycling to work, “rolling through the city and feeling the joy of a summer in Copenhagen.”
Barbara Potts and Cathrine Saks, the designers of Saks Potts, said there is only one question they ask each other in the studio: “Would we actually wear it?”
In the spirit of the week, and out of the Danish love of vintage, the duo based their entire Spring 2023 collection on Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark, before she married into the royal family.
“She was a regular girl, and her look was super cool and sporty, with a bohemian twist,” Potts said. The designers staged the show at Kongens Nytorv in the city centre, where Tasmanian-born Mary Elizabeth Donaldson used to take lunch breaks, or meet friends, when she worked in the city.
Saks Potts guests took that street style to new heights, sitting on park benches and watching models take a lap in the square before crossing the street to backstage at the d’Angleterre Hotel.
The Scandi look was all over Copenhagen’s sunny streets during the week and on the runways for the spring 2023 edition of Copenhagen Fashion Week, which ended on August 12.
The Danes have worked hard to fix Scandinavian fashion on the map, and to promote Copenhagen Fashion Week as the cooler, more progressive – and more whimsical – younger sibling of London, Paris and Milan.
Much of the credit goes to Cecilie Thorsmark, managing director of Copenhagen Fashion Week, who is determined to make the showcase synonymous with sustainability and who believes that fashion has a “moral duty” to act on the environment.
She takes a holistic approach: all designers featured on the plan must adhere to at least 18 minimum standards covering areas including diversity and equality, sourcing, supply chain and the afterlife of clothes.
In February 2023, Copenhagen Fashion Week will step up and add more sustainability standards – and goals – for the brands.
The five-day showcase takes conservation seriously: electric cars ferry guests around town, water is served in cardboard cartons and the food (with a few exceptions) is vegetarian. There are no paper show tickets.
Thorsmark has also worked with Zalando, this week’s top line sponsor and strategic partner. For the past two years, they have awarded the winner of the 20,000 Euro Sustainability Innovation Prize, and the opportunity to work with Zalando on a collaboration.
This year’s winner was Ranra, a brand based between London and Reykjavik, Iceland, which focuses on the adaptability and longevity of its clothing, as well as on color and texture.
“Cecilie is talented and ambitious, and she’s done something pretty special here,” Jonathan Hirschfeld, co-founder and CEO of Eytys, the Stockholm-based sneaker and ready-to-wear brand, said of Thorsmark. “She and the team have also been smart to choose this time of year to show, when everyone is in a good mood,” and the showcase isn’t squeezed between competitors like London, Paris or Milan.
Eytys doesn’t show, or sell, in Copenhagen, but it held a dinner during the week to highlight its collaboration with Paris-based couture label Sevali, which works with recycled fabrics.
“Copenhagen Fashion Week brings people together; the bigger brands attract shoppers and there is a good mix of business and events going on. We wanted to take advantage of the opportunity, Hirschfeld added.
Ulrik Garde Due, the fashion and luxury boss who is currently CEO of Mark Cross and chairman of Cecilie Bahnsen, said Global Fashion Agenda, the non-profit organization that organizes the annual fashion summit and other events, has helped put Copenhagen back on the fashion and design maps.
He added that the city’s annual design festival, 3daysofdesign, has never been more successful than it was in June, and the growing focus on sustainability enhances Copenhagen’s green credentials, “down-to-earth approach and authenticity. As a result, fashion and design exhibitions are becoming increasingly relevant, ” he said.
On the eve of Copenhagen Fashion Week, Raf Simons, a creative spanning the worlds of fashion and interior design, unveiled a new collaboration with Kvadrat: a storage and accessory concept for the home called The Shaker System. Simons and Kvadrat also opened a concept store in the Danish capital’s beautiful shopping district to present the new collection.
Denmark’s, and Scandinavia’s, growing businesses increase the week’s momentum.
Many of these businesses, including Stine Goya, Saks Potts, Ganni and Holzweiler, are run by couples – siblings, husbands and wives or old friends – who form strong, collaborative teams.
Stine Goya, who showed a glittering collection of floral prints during the week, is opening its first UK store on Beak Street in London’s Soho in September. The UK is now Stine Goya’s biggest market, followed by Denmark and the USA
Norwegian brand Holzweiler, which filled its collection with spotty floral prints and recycled parachute fabrics, has just taken investment from Sequoia Capital China.
Meanwhile, Ganni’s partner L Catterton is reported to be selling the Danish brand, which it bought in 2017, in a deal that could value the brand between $500 million and $700 million.
Buyers, who were out in force this week, said the Copenhagen brands are winning out because of their broad appeal and durability. They are right. Copenhagen is not a ground-breaking, trend-setting showcase, but one that delivers aesthetically and commercially.
“There is always a realism to the brands shown this week – the clothes are wearable and accessible. They have a broad appeal to a broad demographic,” says Laura Larbalestier, fashion director at Harvey Nichols who has attended Copenhagen Fashion Week for more than a decade.
She said she’s seen it grow from a short and very casual series of presentations and showcases to a full-fledged, five-day showcase.
The prices here are also appealing, with most of these brands playing in the contemporary space. Even the limited-edition couture pieces – like Bahnsen’s short sugar pink dresses – cost no more than 2,000 euros, expensive but valuable compared to the prices of luxury brands.
Larbalestier said the biggest trends and elements of the week included Y2K, sequins, a rainbow of pinks, lots of knits and textures and the ongoing embrace of vintage looks.
Sequins and glitter were everywhere, and meant for every day, from the hot pink skirts, halter tops and dresses drenched in sequins at Saks Potts to the short, shiny minidresses at Stine Goya and the opulent, ruffled party pieces at Rotate.
Ganni and Baum und Pferdgarten offered some cartoonish hues – including fiery pink, aqua and Negroni orange – and a selection of curvy knitwear and breezy shirt-and-trouser combos.
Ida Petersson, director of buying at Browns, described Copenhagen as a “key investment market” for the store, saying there is a real aesthetic variety among the Scandinavian brands, meaning “there really is something for everyone. Alongside this is the price level generally very considered, without compromising quality, which also speaks for inclusion, she said, adding that the budgets are up.
“We’re seeing very strong performance with the designers from this market,” she said.
Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director for Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, has covered Copenhagen Fashion Week and trade shows for a few years now, and said he has always admired “Nordic style, which has historically influenced so much of the menswear world. The expansive creativity and ingenuity of designers here today has redefined what the Scandinavian aesthetic represents, he said.
Pask added that for Spring 2023, shapes continued to be “more exaggerated, looser and more voluminous that we saw previously in Paris and Milan, and the relaxed, casual approach to tailoring continues.”
He believes that the Copenhagen showcase, and the CIFF and Revolver trade shows, have taken an increasingly global approach, recognizing the broad appeal that brands here have for the wider markets.
“They cleverly position the week less as a regional showcase and more as a vibrant addition to the other major cities’ fashion weeks with buyers and editors from around the world in attendance,” he added.
At Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman in particular, Pask said there is a “rapidly growing awareness and importance of the Nordic-based collections for the American customer,” pointing to “promising” menswear brands in Copenhagen.
All of the retailers interviewed flagged the week’s new talent who showed both on the runway and as a group in a dedicated New Talent room in the city. Their presentations were part of a collaboration with the Swedish Fashion Council with support from brands including Swedish Circulose, a fabric made from textile waste.
Among the prominent ones were Jade Cropper, A. Roege Hove, PLN, Latimmier, Main Nué, Diemonde and Rolf Ekroth. As well as whipping up stylish collections, these young brands took a holistic approach to sustainability.
At the Swedish brand Main Nué, designers Alva Johansson and Maja Freiman worked exclusively with vintage fabrics, deadstock, old tablecloths or upholstery fabric on its way to landfill. The reshaped knitwear; gave new life to T-shirts and sweaters with bits of crochet or beads, and did the same with jeans by adding patchwork and collages.
The labels dangling from their clothes were old recipe cards they had found in the trash. “There are so many opportunities out there — so much material and so much potential in people, too,” Johansson said.
Swedish colleague Angelo Da Silveira from Diemonde also thought about the potential of people. He has trained and employed refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia to work in his studio and put their craft skills to work in his collections.
Larbalestier of Harvey Nichols said that this is where the future of Copenhagen Fashion Week lies: In a 360-degree approach to ESG and DE&I, where brands think about people as well as the life cycle of clothes. The future also lies in regional cooperation.
She said that Copenhagen Fashion Week is a good example of inclusion in that it includes fashion shows, brands and designers from other Scandinavian countries. “They work as a collective, which makes these markets unique,” she said.
That collective gets bigger for the season.
Budapest-based designer Eszter Áron, who creates high-end knitwear using low-waste production methods, said Copenhagen is the ideal match for her brand Aeron. “The town is peaceful and family-oriented. We are in line with the aesthetic, and with the sustainability standards, and we are growing together, said Aron.