In Copenhagen, a Glimpse at the Future of Fashion Week

COPENHAGEN — All eyes were on Copenhagen as it hosted the first physical fashion week since COVID-19 forced the world to a standstill.

The biggest takeaway from the three day event? This wasn’t going to be business as usual.

For starters, this was an international event with very few international visitors — physical attendance boiled down to a smaller local group of editors, retailers and influencers, with just a handful of buyers and editors flying in from London, Paris or Stockholm where travel bans have been lifted for business.

Masks were provided, handshakes and kisses were discouraged and seats at events were placed at an acceptable distance — no more crowded front rows or backstage mayhem.

Copenhagen Fashion Week also tested a new hybrid format, combining in-person events with digital presentations, talks and designer Q&As, presented on its new digital hub.

The brief given to participating designers was that this is going to be a “no rules” zone: Everyone was free to experiment with whatever format they wanted.

And experiment they did. Scandinavian designers showed up in full force — there were very few visible absentees on the schedule — and they were determined to band together and keep the momentum the Copenhagen fashion scene has been enjoying.

“We’ve been getting so much positive attention the last few years, that we felt we owned it to Copenhagen Fashion Week to be here,” said Ditte Reffstrup, creative director of Ganni.

The difference this time around was that brands were approaching fashion week on their own terms. They looked to finding new ways of interpreting what a fashion presentation can mean and new means of connecting to their networks.

Some went all-digital or opted completely out of showing their new season collections in favor of more timely messages.

Oslo-Based Holzweiler was one such label: It stood out in the lineup for its decision to use its time slot on the calendar to deliver an activist message with an online film. Its spring 2021 collection, which has been designed and ready to go to market, will be presented to buyers privately instead.

“We had an opportunity to all stop and try to do something different, try to use our voices to talk about something other than the collections that will be in stores in six months. It didn’t feel important enough this time and we wanted to do something that felt right with the now,” said Susanne Holzweiler, the label’s cofounder, adding that the brand is working toward cutting down the amount of collections it produces from four to two.

Other brands that went all-digital included up-and-coming label Nynne, Stockholm-based Rodebjer and local favorites like Gestuz and Custommade.

The upside of these digital presentations was that all labels kept it simple, with short, straightforward films showcasing their new collections in movement.

Rodebjer presented a simple slideshow format featuring mostly monochrome looks of sleek tailoring, loose dresses and shirting, that was very much in line with the sense of comfort and quiet luxury consumers are looking for at the moment.

Ditto with Gestuz, whose film about an imaginary journey home showed a woman traveling in sleek bicolor trenchcoats, short suits and loose slipdresses.

“There is a split focus between practicality and elegance. Our customers are on a journey just like the rest of society, and their wardrobes need to embrace the path they are on,” said the label’s creative director Sanne Sehested.

Other brands brought their digital formats to life by combining them with intimate physical gatherings.

Stine Goya, which decided early on that it will be skipping the runway for at least the next two seasons, presented an upbeat film with dancers and members of its staff partying around the brand’s offices in signature brightly hued, printed dresses. To mark the launch, friends of the brand were invited to have a family-style lunch of jerk chicken and rice at the label’s showroom.

“We decided to make changes and take control early on, so it feels refreshing,” said Goya’s husband and business partner Thomas Herz.

Rains, another buzzy label that has been enjoying commercial success with its chic, affordable raincoats, also created a hybrid experience with a film featuring its new season collection — that offered a broader range of outdoors accessories and waterproof separates — being broadcast online and in a jungle-like space in the center of Copenhagen for the fashion week crowd to get together and watch in person with a beer.

“We wanted to examine which institutionalized methods of presenting fashion are holding us back from our future? And how we would present our collections in five or 10 years time,” said the label’s co-owner Philip Lotko. “The open-ended questions and free headspace catapulted us into accelerated digitalization.”

There was also another minimalist favorite, By Malene Birger, which chose a magazine format for the occasion, showcasing the world of the brand, its new collection and its vision of style over trends by doubling down on classics like sleek trenches, neutral-hued dresses and cozy knits. They complemented the launch with a drinks reception at the company’s backyard — a safe, budget-friendly way to host a fashion event in 2020.

Even those who opted for purely physical events, aware of the irreplaceable impact of in-person communication, were still keen to embrace change and think beyond the traditional runway format.

Cue open-air presentations across city landmarks, exhibitions and even picnics.

There was the city’s darling, Ganni, which replaced its blockbuster show with an exhibition featuring everything from essays to photography, films, installations and life-size cutouts created by artists from all over the world.

Remain Birger Christensen, a new label by the storied Danish retailer Birger Christensen and a quick-fire global success for its chic wardrobe staples, took over the outdoors space of the Thorvaldsen Museum and presented a small number of looks on a mirrored platform, alongside cold drinks and gelato.

It’s all about keeping it simple and injecting a dose of optimism, according to the company’s chief executive officer Denise Christensen: “This is what fashion needs. If you keep looking at everything with pessimism, then the industry will just shut,” she said, pointing to how she adapted the collections to include more upbeat colors and subtle details for customers, who are in need of small indulgences more than ever.

She is also maintaining the focus on accessible price points, which is gaining new relevance amidst economic uncertainty.

“You now need to get even more for your money, that’s why we are trying to incorporate more details in every piece, to offer that unique value for money. Pricing will still be the exact same, but we’re adding that little extra,” noted Christensen.

Soulland, another buzzy Danish label with a streetwear flair, took guests to a rooftop at the city center where they offered some of the best views of Copenhagen and a handful of women’s wear looks featuring breezy pajama-like sets, tunic dresses and mythological prints.

“We wanted to do something humble and honest, that showed the core of the company. The hybrid concept breaks down the expectations a bit, both internally and externally. Don’t get me wrong, we still want to make something special but base it on where we are at the moment and not where we wish to be,” said Silas Adler, the label’s cofounder and creative director.

Saks Potts also took guests up to a rooftop for a casual gathering with hot dogs, wine and vintage race cars, to celebrate the launch of their new biker-inspired capsule collection.

“We usually host these big shows with hundreds of people. Now we couldn’t, so we thought we’d just do a little party and keep it laid-back, Copenhagen style,” said Saks Potts cofounder Barbara Potts.

Catherin Saks added that the label is looking to start timing more of their shows and events with collection drops.

“We sell a lot on our own channels and those are also the people who would follow our shows and not be able to buy what they’re looking at,” said Saks.

There were also those who opted for the more familiar runway format, albeit in significantly smaller scales. And while new formats were welcome, seasoned showgoers were certainly giddy with excitement to watch a live fashion show again after months spent in lockdown.

Baum und Pferdgarten was one of the labels to host a catwalk show, attended by a group of approximately 50 people who were shown a smaller-than-usual collection of cool vinyl leather separates and breezy dresses featuring space-themed prints. It made for one of the most focused, spot-on ranges they’ve shown in a while.

“It’s the shortest show we have ever done with such few guests, but it’s also more intimate than any other show we’ve ever done,” said the label’s creative director Helle Hestehave.

Another standout included Mark Kenly Domino Tan, which opened the showcase, sending all-white collection filled with loose silhouettes and cocooning shapes down his runway. It felt symbolic of the Danes’ sense of optimism and will to press restart.

Catwalks were also being reimagined and opened up to the public, not just by way of a digital livestream but because of all the ways designers got creative when choosing the locations and setups of their shows this season.

Emilie Helmstedt, an LVMH Prize nominee, had her models walking around the city’s Kongens Nytorv square next to giant sculptures featuring the same cheery, child-like motifs that her clothing is known for.

The event drew as many curious passersby as industry guests and it was more in line with the designer’s aim to start exposing the more “emotional and artistic side” of her work.

Henrik Vibskov had a similar approach, showing his spring 2021 range at a park, with guests sitting on the grass to enjoy the show, alongside joggers or children who had come to play.

It made for a renewed, truly democratic vision of a fashion show — and the general consensus amongst guests was that this is a vision that will stick.

While the future of the catwalk show is being reimagined, street style is very much still alive and kicking in its original form: Even though there was a smaller, more local group of influencers they came out in full force, dressed to the nines and giving street-style photographers a reason to get back to work.

According to fashion search engine platform Lyst, searches for street-style-inspired pieces significantly grew as Copenhagen Fashion Week unfolded. Searches for balloon sleeves and oversize collars for instance, a favorite amongst Scandi street style stars, rose by 40 and 46 percent respectively, while searches for leather pieces rose by 31 percent with Ganni’s leather button down dress, being “the top viewed product over the past days.”

The renewed energy the Copenhagen fashion scene collectively offered has also been capturing key buyers’ attention, most of whom tuned in online this season but continued to commit to investing in the city’s fashion labels.

“I appreciate that the organization has built this new online space for all brands to showcase their collections, mini-films and presentations,” said Tiffany Hsu, Mytheresa’s fashion buying director, who was most excited to see the collections of the retailer’s existing partners such as Ganni and Baum und Pferdgarten, and is also keeping an eye for up-and-coming names such as Nynne and Domino Tan. 

“Domino Tan presented a well edited and dialed back collection, which might correspond well with our customers,” she added. “Nynne has also been on our radar for quite a while now and their spring 2021 collection was very exciting. The voluminous poplin dresses and blouses combined with the chainmail belts will for sure be a hit. I instantly fell in love with their oversize wide-leg pants.”

Net-a-porter’s buying team, which is also holding online appointments in the spirit of embracing change, singled out the likes of Ganni and Remain and praised the city’s effort to restart the industry.

“Regardless of whether we should or shouldn’t be doing physical events right now, Copenhagen has, as always, looked at what works best for them and they are often leaders in change during the fashion week format. The physical aspect of the fashion week allows the local community to access fashion, which as we know is key for local economy at this time — and digital takes it to a global audience, who can watch from the comfort of their home desk set ups,” said the retailer’s senior market editor Libby Page, adding that the Scandis’ laid-back approach to fashion is well aligned with consumers’ new lifestyles. “Whilst the brands tend to be quite eclectic and trend-led, they have always approached a more casual attitude to dressing that feels youthful and vibrant. This still encompass a big part of our contemporary buy.”

The final verdict?

As experimental and low-key as the spring 2021 season might have been it definitely paved the way for a more laid-back, democratic way of hosting fashion week.

The lighter, hybrid show schedule made space for as much conversation as new fashion and guests seemed relieved to no longer have to endure the same fast pace and make more meaningful connections — even if no one knew when they might meet again.

“See you on Instagram” was everyone’s final remark.

Launch Gallery: Copenhagen Fashion Week Spring 2021

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