Copenhagen Fashion: The Week That Roared

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 fast gaining traction in a saturated international market, promoting themselves as the stylish, sustainable and collaborative upstarts.

That famous Scandi aesthetic — a happy young woman in a breezy vintage dress sailing over cobbled streets on a bicycle — has now become so familiar, and aspirational, it’s almost a cliché, like the effortlessly chic Parisienne; the black-clad, sharp-edged New Yorker, or the slim Italian in soft-shouldered tailoring.

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The Scandi look continues to bubble up from the streets of the serene Danish capital, where women of all ages love vintage, mixing high and low and adapting their clothes around their day-to-day lives.

Last season, designer Cecilie Bahnsen showed off dresses with uneven hemlines inspired by the way some of her fellow Danes tuck and fasten their dresses so that they don’t get in the way of pedaling their bikes.

Bahnsen is famous for her chic, baby doll dresses with puffed sleeves, and, during a collection preview at her sunny studio in the northeastern end of Copenhagen, described the Danish approach as “very playful, an effortless way of putting looks together.”

This season, Ditte Reffstrup, creative director of Ganni, said her spring 2023 collection was about conjuring that heart-pumping energy of cycling to work, “rolling through the city, and feeling the joy of a Copenhagen summer.”

Barbara Potts and Cathrine Saks, the designers of Saks Potts, said there’s only one question they ask each other in the studio: “Would we actually wear it?”

In the spirit of the week, and 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 an ordinary girl, and her look was super-cool and sporty, with a bohemian twist,” said Potts. The designers staged the show in Kongens Nytorv square in the city center, where the Tasmanian-born Mary Elizabeth Donaldson used to take her lunch breaks, or meet friends, when she was working in town.

Taking that street style to new heights, the Saks Potts guests sat on park benches and watched models do a lap of the square before crossing the street to the backstage at the d’Angleterre Hotel.

The Scandi look was all over Copenhagen’s sunny streets during the week and on the runways of the spring 2023 edition of Copenhagen Fashion Week, which wrapped on Aug. 12.

The Danish have been working 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, chief executive officer of Copenhagen Fashion Week, who’s determined to make the showcase synonymous with sustainability and who believes that fashion has a “moral duty” to take action on the environment.

She’s taking a holistic approach: all designers showing on schedule must adhere to at least 18 minimum standards covering areas including diversity and equality, sourcing, supply chain and the afterlife of clothing.

In February 2023, Copenhagen Fashion Week will up the ante and add more sustainability standards — and goals — for the brands.

The five-day showcase takes conservation seriously: electric cars ferry show 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 been working with Zalando, the week’s top line sponsor and strategic partner. For the past two years they’ve been handing the winner of the sustainability innovation award 20,000 euros, and the opportunity to work with Zalando on a collaboration.

This year’s winner was Ranra, a brand based between London and Reykjavik, Iceland, that focuses on the adaptability and longevity of its clothing, as well as on color and texture.

“Cecilie is talented and ambitious, and she’s been doing something quite special here,” Jonathan Hirschfeld, cofounder and CEO of Eytys, the Stockholm-based sneaker and ready-to-wear brand, said of Thorsmark. “She and the team have also been smart in choosing this time of year to show, when everyone’s in a good mood,” and the showcase isn’t squeezed between competitors such as London, Paris or Milan.

Eytys doesn’t show, or sell, in Copenhagen, but it did hold a dinner during the week to highlight its collaboration with the Paris-based couture label Sevali, which works with upcycled fabrics.

“Copenhagen Fashion Week brings people together; the bigger brands attract the buyers, and there’s 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 executive who is currently managing director of Mark Cross and chairman of Cecilie Bahnsen, said Global Fashion Agenda, the non-profit organization that stages the annual fashion summit and other events, has helped put Copenhagen back on the fashion and design map.

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 is enhancing Copenhagen’s green credentials, “down-to-earth approach and authenticity. As a result, the fashion and design showcases are becoming ever more relevant,” he said.

On the eve of Copenhagen Fashion Week, Raf Simons, a creative who straddles the worlds of fashion and interior design, unveiled a new collaboration with Kvadrat: a storage and accessories concept for the home called The Shaker System. Simons and Kvadrat also opened a concept store in the Danish capital’s swanky shopping district to present the new collection.

Denmark’s, and Scandinavia’s, growing businesses are adding to the momentum of the week.

Many of these businesses, including Stine Goya, Saks Potts, Ganni and Holzweiler, are run by couples — siblings, husbands and wives or old friends — who make for powerful, collaborative teams.

Stine Goya, which showed a sparkle-filled, flower-print collection during the week, will be opening its first U.K. store on Beak Street in London’s Soho in September. The U.K. is now Stine Goya’s biggest market, followed by Denmark and the U.S.

The Norwegian label Holzweiler, which filled its collection with smudgy flower prints and upcycled parachute fabrics, has just taken investment from Sequoia Capital China.

Meanwhile, Ganni’s partners L Catterton are reported to be selling the Danish label, which it acquired 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 gaining traction because of their broad appeal, and wearability. They’re right. Copenhagen isn’t a cutting-edge, trend-setting showcase, but one that delivers aesthetically and commercially.

“There is always a realism about the brands that show this week — the clothes are wearable and accessible. They have a broad appeal to a wide demographic,” said Laura Larbalestier, fashion director at Harvey Nichols who’s been attending Copenhagen Fashion Week for more than a decade.

She said she’s seen it grow from a short and very laid-back series of presentations and showroom appointments into a full-blown, five-day showcase.

The prices here are appealing, too, with most of these brands playing in the contemporary space. Even the limited-edition couture pieces — such as Bahnsen’s short sugar pink dresses — cost no more than 2,000 euros, expensive but value when compared to the prices of luxury brands.

Larbalestier said the biggest trends and elements of the week included Y2K, sequins, a rainbow of pink, lots of knits and textures and the ongoing embrace of vintage looks.

Sequins and sparkle were everywhere, and meant for every day, from the hot pink skirts, halter tops and dresses awash in pajettes at Saks Potts to the short, shimmery mini resses at Stine Goya and the lavish, ruffled party pieces at Rotate.

Ganni and Baum und Pferdgarten offered up some cartoonish brights — including searing pink, aqua and Negroni orange — and a lineup of curve-hugging knits and breezy shirt-and-trouser combinations.

Ida Petersson, buying director at Browns, described Copenhagen as a “key investment market” for the store, and said there is a real aesthetic variety among the Scandinavian brands, meaning “there really is something for everyone. Alongside this, the price point is generally very considered, without compromising on quality, which also speaks to inclusivity,” she said, adding that budgets are up.

“We are seeing very strong performances with the designers from this market,” she said.

Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director of Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, has been covering Copenhagen’s fashion week and trade fairs for a few years now, and said he’s always admired “Nordic style, which has historically influenced so much of the menswear world. The expansive creativity and inventiveness 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 as we saw earlier 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 are astutely positioning 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 across the globe in attendance,” he added.

At Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman specifically, Pask said there is a “rapidly growing awareness and importance of the Nordic-based collections for the American customer,” and pointed to “promising” menswear brands in Copenhagen.

All of the retailers interviewed flagged the emerging talents of the week who showed both on the runway and as a group at a dedicated New Talent space in town. Their presentations were part of a partnership with the Swedish Fashion Council with support from brands including Swedish Circulose, a fabric made from textile waste.

Among the standouts were Jade Cropper, A. Roege Hove, P.L.N., Latimmier, Main Nué, Diemonde and Rolf Ekroth. In addition to whipping together stylish collections, these young brands took a holistic approach to sustainability.

At the Swedish label Main Nué, designers Alva Johansson and Maja Freiman worked exclusively with vintage fabrics, deadstock, old tablecloths or furniture fabric headed for landfill. They reshaped knitwear; added new life to T-shirts and sweaters with bits of crochet or beading, and did the same to jeans by adding patchwork and collaging.

The labels dangling from their garments were old recipe cards that they’d found in the trash. “There is so much possibility out there — so much material and so much potential in people, too,” said Johansson.

Fellow Swede Angelo Da Silveira of Diemonde was also thinking about the potential of people. He’s been training, and hiring, refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia to work in his studio and put their craftmaking skills to work in his collections.

Larbalestier of Harvey Nichols said this is where the future of Copenhagen Fashion Week lies: In a 360-degree approach to ESG and DE&I, where brands are thinking about people as well as the lifecycle of clothing. The future also lies in regional cooperation.

She said that Copenhagen Fashion Week is a great example of inclusivity in that it embraces fashion showcases, brands and designers from fellow Scandinavian countries. “They work as a collective, which makes these markets unique,” she said.

That collective is getting bigger by the season.

The Budapest-based designer Eszter Áron, who makes high-end knitwear with low-waste production methods, said Copenhagen is the ideal match for her brand Aeron. “The city is peaceful and family-centric. We’re aligned with the aesthetic, and with the sustainability standards and we’re growing together,” Aron said.

Launch Gallery: Spring/Summer 2023 Looks From the Latest Edition of Copenhagen Fashion Week

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