Fashion's Great Danes - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Fashion's Great Danes

By Melinda Ku


Because the country that changed the way we view furniture, fairy tales and food is set to do the same for high-quality, responsible fashion.

Denmark may be the happiest country in the world, but you may soon know it as the most fashion forward. With its local design talent and commitment to sustainability, the country that pioneered modern design and turned foraging into fine dining is poised to make a runaway runway debut.

Already well-known for Danish Modern and restaurant-hot-spot-turned-norovirus-hotbed Noma, Denmark is betting that fashion will be its next international triumph. Fashion is the country’s fourth largest export and nowhere is its potential for growth and influence more evident than in Copenhagen, home to Copenhagen Fashion Week and a score of rising star designers. 

In the past two years, street style bloggers and international magazines have flocked to the city ahead of Copenhagen Fashion Week to snap images of stylish residents and to report on the collections. For the autumn/winter 2013 season, the event showcased legendary designer Vivienne Westwood’s Anglomania line alongside collections by established and emerging local designers.

Renowned Scandinavian minimalism and democratic design, combined with the newer avant-garde movement, are attracting a lot of attention.

Denmark-based mainstays like Bruuns Bazaar, by Malene Birger, and Day Birger et Mikkelsen have achieved international reputations through enduring Danish principles like simplicity and quality. But it’s Denmark’s up-and-coming designers who may cement the country’s place as a fashion capital.

Anne Christine Persson, VP and development director of Copenhagen Fashion Week, says, “The Scandinavian aesthetics are changing and new things are happening. Renowned Scandinavian minimalism and democratic design, combined with the newer avant-garde movement, are attracting a lot of attention.”

Color photo of Silas leaning down fixing models clotihng before they go on runway.

Danish fashion designer Silas Adler

Source Gonzales Photo/Demotix/Corbis

One young designer leading that movement is Anne Sofie Madsen, whose eponymous label turns out inventive pieces with a dark undercurrent. Madsen’s spring/summer 2014 collection featured exaggerated sleeves and shoulders, futuristic silhouettes and lace-up details reminiscent of football uniforms — constructed with techniques honed during her time at John Galliano and Alexander McQueen.

For those of us with less liberal office dress codes, Stine Riis designs womenswear with menswear influenced tailoring and luxe fabrics. Winner of the 2012 H&M Design Award, Riis plays with color and texture, adding slicks of leather or shiny coating to pencil skirts and boxy blazers and shading slim-cut trousers in myrtle green and midnight blue.

Steering the Danes away from their abiding love of clean-cut neutrals are downtown labels like Wood Wood and Soulland, whose clothing projects an edgy urban sensibility that’s increasingly popular with young Danes and the style blogs they follow.

Silas Adler, the 23-year-old behind Soulland, started selling graphic-print tees and has expanded that street-inspired aesthetic into a full menswear collection that is both forward thinking and timeless. At Wood Wood, you’ll find fresh interpretations of classics like pinstripes and varsity jackets mixed in with utilitarian pieces that exude effortless cool.

Theirs are clothes you would and could actually wear (it’s Denmark, after all, where form follows function and Danes have long been sticklers for quality).

With the likes of these designers, does Denmark have what it takes to achieve serious fashion cred and commercial success? Fern Mallis, powerhouse creator of New York Fashion Week, has not attended the Copenhagen shows but “believe[s] there is a very strong fashion scene in the country,” and sees Copenhagen Fashion Week as a great platform for Danish designers.

Celebrated fashion writer Marylou Luther sees similar promise but offers a suggestion: “If the Danish designers are to have an impact in the U.S., I would encourage them to have a joint show in New York.” 

Denmark’s young designers may be getting something right, though, and it’s something you don’t always see in New York, Paris or Milan. Theirs are clothes you would and could actually wear (it’s Denmark, after all, where form follows function and Danes have long been sticklers for quality). What you see on the streets and on the runways is distinctly Danish but with broad, international appeal: innovative yet unfussy, pared-down yet playful and made to withstand a day on a bicycle.

In today’s economy, stylish, well-made clothes without unnecessary extravagance resonate with retailers and consumers. As fashion critic Sophia Warburton wrote for the Telegraph, “Now that pared-back fashion is in the limelight and the overtly ostentatious is old news, we think Scandi-fashion is set to have its Noma moment.”

Denmark is leading the charge against conspicuous consumption in more ways than one. While much of the industry is coping with the consequences of fast fashion (even their Swedish neighbors have H&M), Denmark plays host to the biannual Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the world’s largest gathering of industry players to find sustainable solutions to fashion’s excesses.

Black and white photo of 2 guys drinking wearing A QUESTION OF Tees.

Source A Question Of

In 2009, the Danish Fashion Council committed to turning the country’s entire industry green by embedding cradle-to-cradle principles for sourcing through production. And as a founding member of NICE (Nordic Initiative Clean and Ethical), the organization has developed a 10-year sustainability plan to educate Nordic designers on CSR best practices.

But what can the country do to change sustainable fashion’s reputation for being more hippie than hip? A Question Of is a Copenhagen-based company challenging the perceptions of eco-fashion with its line of streetwear. Their cheeky printed tees and sweatshirts proclaim things like “Give a Shit,” a mandate the company backs up by producing its merchandise from 100-percent GOTS certified organic cotton in partnership with ethical factories and suppliers.

Co-owner Mads Greenfort says, “Sustainability is an integrated part of [the] company. It is very important that our customers buy our clothing because they like the design. The sustainable element is more like a hygiene factor. We don’t particularly see ourselves as a sustainable brand but more a fashion brand, which acts consciously.”

It’s a philosophy Denmark is hoping the entire industry will soon adopt, though it’s not without its challenges. While there have been efforts to utilize more local resources as alternative fibers, Greenfort explains, “There are many sustainable alternatives in theory but almost none [are] available sourcing-wise.” And many consumers would still rather see several new pieces in their closets after spending  $150, the cost to take home A Question Of sweatshirt.

But equipping designers with the know-how and resources to embed responsible practices into their design philosophy is a good first step in curbing waste. In doing so, Denmark is building and modeling a framework for sustainability that doesn’t exist in the industry. And if anyone can make eco-fashion popular on a mass level, we’re betting it’s a country where the kindergartners bike to school.

Fashion you look good in and can feel good about? Now that’s what we call making green the new black. 

Sign up for the weekly newsletter!

Related Stories