Danish menswear on the rise

Previewing the new heights of the Norse fashion scene with picks from Copenhagen SS14

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Photography by Louise Damgaard Shami wears Henrik Vibskov

In theory, the juxtaposition of mesh, lace, velvet, teddy fabric, nylon and fur doesn’t sound like a visually pleasing idea. In reality, that’s the exact combination that won Astrid Andersen’s streetwear-inspired menswear line this spring’s Newgen sponsorship, a British Fashion Council initiative to help young designers. 

To suggest that the creator of such Hip Hop reminiscent clothes would be a girl born and raised in Denmark seems farfetched. But it is nonetheless the truth. She’s part of a recent surge of menswear designers with roots in the smallest of the Scandinavian countries that is turning Copenhagen into an attractive hotbed of innovative men’s fashion.

What is it that makes the Danes such menswear experts and what do they all have in common?

According to Copenhagen Fashion Week’s development director Anne Christine Persson, the reason for the success can be found in the calm and confident nature of Danish people. “Danish menswear designers do things their own way, like it or not, and fortunately it works. In many ways I think Danish fashion represents the core of Denmark and the Danish mentality: unpretentious, democratic and inclusive,” she says.

Having been part of the team behind CFW since the beginning in 2006, she should know. Casual is a favourite adjective for describing the general feel of the collections presented during the three days that is Copenhagen Fashion Week. But the diversity goes beyond.

As part of its kick-off today, we’ve been allowed a preview of the most promising menswear creators present at CFW – new, as well as established.

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Photography by Louise Damgaard Shami wears Wood Wood

Wood Wood

Being one of the Danish brands that have actually made an impact nationally as well as internationally, Wood Wood has created their own group of followers all over Europe. Not only are their clothes comfortable and unrestrictive, their ability to transform trends to fit their casual universe is unique. “Wood Wood is about real clothes, it’s not like we’re reinventing any shapes or something like that,” co-founder Karl Oskar Olsen modestly notes. “I think we have the most honest brand of all. It’s not only a brand, it’s a lifestyle.”

Started in 2002 by Olsen and his partner Brian SS Jensen, Wood Wood was initially a concept store selling their own graphic t-shirt line as well as trainers, toys, books and other collectibles. When the duo designed a fullrange line and presented a collaboration with Adidas in 2006, they went directly to streetwear hall of fame. “We didn’t think of it as a brand in the beginning, it just happened. In 2005 we started taking it more seriously,” Olsen says, portraying the laid-back attitude that is the spirit of Wood Wood. The brand now owns six stores internationally and has collaborated with the likes of Barbour, Eastpak, and Fred Perry.

Their SS14 collection is based on a day visit to both Chateau de Versailles and Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye. “We built the collection around this architectural approach and then added specific sport and performance references to create the Wood Wood feeling. There’s obviously a good mixture of tech materials, printed taping, taped zippers, and mesh and all the prints have been build upon our trip to Versailles: a lot of marble and pyrite stone print.,” he says, not wanting to disclose too many details.

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Photography by Louise Damgaard Shami wears Nicklas Kunz

Nicklas Kunz

Nicklas Kunz's designs quickly captured the attention of the international press, when the US rapper Kendrik Lamar wore a Kunz original in a press photo that went viral. With a Masters in fashion from Kolding School of Design in Denmark, the 31-year-old decided to start his brand right out of school. “I saw a hole in the fashion industry, which my vision could fill,” he grins. Kunz isn’t lacking the courage or selfconfidence it takes to run a fashion brand. “I have an aesthetic that isn’t out there and a vision that hasn’t been seen before,” he says.

Kunz’s sportswear-inspired collection takes a fresh angle on the much interpreted theme. His collection is a hybrid between classic tailoring and American Hip Hop wear. Especially his futuristic neckline - a cross between a turtleneck and a regular crewneck - alongside the juxtaposition of fabrics to create shapes and details bear witness of a designer with potential to create a noticeable menswear label. “I always focus on four elements when designing a collection: personality, strength, attitude, and sex,” he says, describing his brand.

Strength and sex are also two of the words he uses to describe his SS14 collection. “I got my inspiration from basketball boot camp. There’s a lot of power and bare flesh,” he says. With a base of white, the collection is focused on enhancing the male figure by using cuts and materials to broaden the shoulders. Leather and soft cotton is used throughout to underline the masculinity of his pieces, that will be in all solid colours. “Prints can easily take over the collection,” he explains.

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Photography by Louise Damgaard Shami wears Henrik Vibskov

Henriv Vibskov

Had there been a male equivalent to the term ‘Grand Dame’ it would have been appropriate to describe Henrik Vibskov’s role when it comes to Danish men’s fashion. In 2003, just two years after graduating from Central Saint Martins, the designer became part of Paris Fashion Week. Ten years later, his talent and success was further confirmed as he was inducted into the Chambre Syndicale de la Mode Masculine in Paris as the only Scandinavian menswear designer, ever. Despite all the international acclaim, Vibskov’s still based in Copenhagen.

“My international platform is Paris, but Copenhagen is a good sales ground for Northern Europe and Scandinavia for us,” Vibskov, who still shows twice a year in his home country, says. “We come from a very small country where we have to be aware of other cultures. Our strength is to be open to new things, take in inspirations from everywhere and then work with them our way,” he says, when asked why Danish menswear is on the rise internationally. Vibskov finds inspiration every; in the death of a donkey, a French bakery, dinner parties, detective tales and the list goes on. He doesn’t abide by any rules and critics often find it hard to pinpoint his collections, which has earned him many ‘avant-gardes,’ over the years.

“Visual trickery is a key inspiration for the shapes of the collection: overly proportioned silhouettes and oversized constructions play with the layers of the garments, while 3D surface structures made out of neoprene and contrasting tapes add to the ordered disorder of ‘The Bathtub Observer’,” Vibskov says, describing his SS14 collection, which was of course shown in Paris in June. His show tonight will be a mix of his SS14 mens and womenswear.

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Photography by Louise Damgaard Shami wears Wali Barrech

Wali Mohammed Barrech

His MA from The Royal Academy of Fine Art in Antwerp gives Wali Mohammed Barrech immediate one-to-watch status as a CFW debutante. After graduating in 2012, Barrech knew that Copenhagen was the place for him. “What makes Copenhagen Fashion Week so unique is that it’s still small, very professional and very ambitious,” he explains, proclaiming that good taste is synonymous with Denmark. The young designer isn’t actually a native Dane, he isn’t actually Danish at all. He was born and raised in Pakistan and didn’t come to Europe – Germany to be more specific - until the age of 14. “I love Copenhagen and my lovely friends here,” he says, noting that he finds Danish people very attractive.

There’s a strong futuristic reference point in Barrech’s clothes, which has previously been barren of all gender specific details. “I keep coming back to the clinical as it confronts me with the end or death. It has a very clarifying function for me and visually underlines what I try to express in my concept,” says Barrech, describing his perpetual source of inspiration. He’s of a more abstract nature, and his student collections depicted a designer with a highly refined aesthetic.

“I’m working around the idea of surveillance - surveillance of the worker,” says Barrech about his SS14 collection, explaining that to him workwear has a unifying and social feature to it. Build around durable fabrics like denim, Barrech uses isolations foams and windbreaking materials to play with graphic lines on the body. His goal is to depict a new uniform for the modern day worker. “Worker not being the profession, but being the state of mind,” he says.

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Photography by Louise Damgaard Shami wears Soulland

Soulland

Silas Adler started his brand Soulland at the mere age of 17, selling nothing but printed t-shirts. Ten years later, Adler has developed his brand into a fullrange menswear line coveted worldwide by the likes of Jay Z and sold in Opening Ceremony and Colette, to name just a few. “I dropped out of high school and just wanted to make t-shirts with my friends and skateboard all the time,” he said, noting that he has no official schooling in design or anything related. “You can say that ten years with Soulland, without filing for bankruptcy or anything like that, is my education.”

Having successfully adopted a more classic take on menswear, his background in skateboarding is becoming less evident despite suits and tailored jackets being given a twist towards a more casual feel. What really drives Soulland is Adler’s thirst for innovation: not only are his prints becoming increasingly brand specific, but he has put on some of the most innovative presentations during CFW. Last summer he held a static presentation, where guests could use their smart phones to read QR codes for short films of each look. This year Adler is staging a one-night-only pop-up restaurant in which his SS14 will be presented.

“This year we were inspired by the Bauhaus movement and ‘Das Triadische Ballet’ by Oskar Schlemmer. I have been a fan of the movement for a long time and now it made sense to do something about it,” Adler says, explaining how the geometry of Bauhaus have been turned into hand drawn prints. Summer wool, embroidered poplins and technical nylons from Limonta are the main fabrics of SS14, which will be based on a “classical silhouette,” as he says not revealing more than necessary.

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Photography by Louise Damgaard Shami wears Han Kjøbenhavn

Han Kjøbenhavn

When asked what inspired their SS14 collection, Han Kjøbenhavn co-founder Jannik Davidsen simply replied “our childhood in the suburbs.” The collection takes direct reference point in the sweat pants and tops him and partner Tim Hancock were always wearing in their early teens. “The lines in that specific type of sportswear was so clean and innovative, which almost gave it an architectural feel,” he continues. By reinterpreting retro track suits, the duo has designed a sportswear collection featuring especially made typography to simulate their 80s sports club jackets.

Han Kjøbenhavn wasn’t originally a clothing label, it started with sunglasses when Hancock and Davidsen saw a niche for themselves in the market. “At the time, you could buy cheap shades with Plexiglas lenses or expensive designer glasses," said Hancock back in February when opening their first store in New York. It wasn’t until 2010 when approached by a denim manufacturer that they started designing clothes. “Our ideology is based on Danish design virtues with strong references to the lines in Danish Furniture design,” Davidsen says. “We have had some great designers in Denmark. Arne Jacobsen, Hans Wegner, Poul Kjærholm, Finn Juhl and so on,” he says, stating that they’ve all helped create a buzz around Danish design.

Han Kjøbenhavn’s straightforward yet playful retro-inspired clothes is the epitome of Danish design: inclusive, simple and very usable. It’s fit for men of all ages and they have regular clients way above the age of 50. Brand expert Davidsen will drive his and his partner’s creativity far when it comes to business. A statement emphasized by the fact that the just 5-year-old brand already operates three clothing lines.

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Photography by Louise Damgaard Shami wears Martin Asbjørn Bjerre

M.A.B. Martin Asbjørn Bjerre

“Martin Asbjørn Bjerre gives us hope for the future of Danish fashion,” read the headline of Danish menswear magazine Euroman’s interview with the young designer last month. It highlighted his clean and tailored silhouette, which is very much the essence of the brand. “The fit is definitely my forte,” Bjerre agrees, noting that the core of his brand is masculinity and selfconfidence. Currently on his second season, 27 year old Bjerre, born and raised in the Danish capital, is amongst the newest generation of Danish menswear designers.

Having worked in the industry since the age of 18, he’s no fashion newbie and knows how demanding fashion can be. “I simply couldn’t help myself,” he said, when asked why he chose to start his own company. Bjerre holds a degree in classic tailoring where he has learned to understand and respect the male anatomy. “M.A.B offers a modern approach to classic tailoring for men who wants to look and feel sexy, and still feel the component of a well cut piece,” he repeats confidently.

For his second (and first spring/summer) collection, Bjerre has taken direct inspiration from the characters of Don Johnson in Miami Vice and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, using pastel colours on a 50s inspired silhouette. “Full looks in mint-died denim, blue and crème striped cropped aviator jacket and trousers, a light blue linen jacket with a pair of super tight bleached denim jeans, crème knit mohair, pastel pink and black and white staples,” he describes, depicting a collection abundant with materials and colours.

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Photography by Louise Damgaard Shami wears Common

Common 

Emma Hedlund and Saif Bakir aren’t the regular fashion freshmen; their curriculum vitae lists Kanye West, Wooyoungmi, House of Holland, and COS. Needles to say, the couple were both initiated, when they decided to start their own label Common in 2011. “We first met in 2004 in London,” says Hedlund. “But it wasn’t until we were setting up Kanye’s studio in Paris that the desire to run our own label was triggered.” Being from Malmoe, Sweden the Common co-founders are as close to being Danish as can be. “The city has a special place in our hearts… It has a young and exciting fashion scene,” Hedlund says about Copenhagen.

In January, Hedlund and Bakir took home H&M and Swedish Elle’s newcomer award as the first ever menswear line. “Together they create a modern metropolitan collection for men, which girls also like to wear. It is well tailored, simple and minimalist with clear sporting influences while being produced in

Sweden,” stated Ann-Sofie Johansson, head of design at H&M. Their classical tailoring stands out by being influenced by East London street style and broken with bold prints often created by artists especially for the brand. This year, Swedish born graffiti artist Rubin created two canvases for the brand.

The play between fashion and masculinity in photographer Luke Smalley’s book Gymnasium is what inspired Common SS14. “He mixes cool minimalism with nostalgia and his photographs of young athlets exude a feeling of playfulness and youth,” Hedlund explains. For this collection they’ve focused on making their collection lighter giving it a more athletic feel than previously. Heat sealing tape in black and orange was used to create the idea of a sports team. “The taped stripes in Common’s team colour of black and orange can be found on shirts, trousers, jersey and jackets,” Hedlund finishes.

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