Copenhagen Fashion Week’s Return to ‘Normal’

COPENHAGEN — Copenhagen Fashion Week returned to real-life fashion shows for spring 2022 — there were 30 physical showcases versus nine digital-only presentations — as well as street style frenzy and after-hours socializing.

Provided they had proof of a negative test or a vaccine certificate, local and international guests — who arrived from across Scandinavia, the U.S., the U.K. and France — could throw away their masks, forget social distancing, shake hands, hug and pretend that the pandemic was over.

There was a palpable sense of excitement at the opportunity to reconnect with colleagues, dress up and perhaps feed the egos deflated by long lockdowns, with a photo-op — or 20.

But along with the thrill of the big reunion came some harder-hitting questions: Is the fashion show format even relevant for these contemporary brands? Is it worth returning to obsessive picture-taking of head-to-toe branded looks? And should the industry really be going back to squishing onto front row benches so soon after the lifting of government restrictions and at a time when the Delta variant is spreading around the world?

A positive case of COVID-19 at the presentation of up-and-coming label The Garment — identified as an isolated incident — proved that it might have all been too much too soon.

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The Cape Makes A Return On The Runway

To Show or Not to Show? 

The designers who stood out weren’t the ones who had all the answers, but those who acknowledged the uncertainty in the air and tried to do things a little differently, without succumbing to FOMO and old, familiar ways.

Cecilie Bahnsen was one of them: She invited fashion week goers to her studio for a peek at her spring collection, which is set to be unveiled with a film and exhibition in September in Paris.

“I initially thought we were going to have a show and it took me some time to come to terms with this new approach. It’s about being quite self-analytical at every step: I finally realized that what I create right here in the studio is what counts,” said Bahnsen, who has moved to doing two collections a year and has been pouring her efforts into fabric innovation, to elevate her dreamy puff-sleeve dresses even further. “There’s still the pressure of the calendar, but we have more time to dwell on what we’re making.”

The move away from the catwalk hasn’t impacted her business: Sales are going strong, with the U.S. as one of the label’s biggest markets, and growing interest in new categories like knitwear and outerwear.

Stine Goya also chose to hold onto the democratic approach of a digital presentation. The day prior, she hosted an intimate, off-schedule show for a handful of friends of the brand, kept people safe by offering them sequin-embroidered masks, and made sure the catwalk experience was worth everyone’s while by joining forces with an all-female poetry collective to narrate a poem dedicated to the Bloomsbury Group.

“Digital solutions have been working well for us; it’s amazing how much more democratic fashion is becoming. But we had an inkling to do something physical, so we decided to do an intimate, secret set-up film and edit everything within 24 hours and launch an edited film not a normal livestream,” Goya said. “It would be so strange to suddenly sit with 400 people, it’s not the time for that. We wanted to have a few special people with us and dedicate this show to the creative community, which has suffered so much, so we included the art performance.”

Ditte and Nicolaj Reffstrup at Ganni, still the city’s biggest star, also went out of their way to ensure they returned to the catwalk in a meaningful way by keeping the physical audience tight, and taking them to the top of the Danish capital’s artificial ski slope, CopenHill.

London-based Amy Powney of Mother of Pearl, who participated in Copenhagen Fashion Week as part of the showcase’s Zalando Sustainability Award, wanted to make a point about doing things differently. Since travel is in many ways the opposite of sustainability, she directed everything from the styling to the hair and makeup at a distance and showcased pieces from the label’s seasonless range.

“We thought it’s an amazing way to set a precedent as to what can be done, and rethink the ways of planning a fashion show. I thought we’d never do another show again, but this was about raising awareness around sustainability and being part of a conversation,” Powney said.

“I definitely think fashion weeks as they used to be aren’t necessary. But attacking the events themselves isn’t productive either. It’s not the scheduled event that’s the problem but what we do within those events. Do we need a classic show, or can we create new formats with zero impact, have conversations, look at ethics and include a wider message?” Powney added.

“We need to be more than fashion businesses. Climate change is real; we need to realize that the world is on fire and so it’s distasteful to party and pretend it’s not happening. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy what we do, but we need to do it with respect.”

To that end, local darling Baum und Pferdgarten did a good job in partnering with humanitarian organization Ilga — following strict vetting of its entire supply chain — to create “Love Und Understanding,” a dedicated Pride capsule aiming to raise money and awareness in support of LGBTQ communities across the world.

Creative directors Helle Hestehave and Rikke Baumgarten wanted to have a real moment of celebration and took over one of central Copenhagen’s biggest squares for an outdoor show that engaged as many fashion professionals as passersby and captured an inclusive attitude that was both representative of the Scandi ethos and the new industry dynamics.

Fashion Dilemmas

Just as there were question marks about the most relevant presentation formats post-lockdown, there was equal confusion in terms of the fashion itself. What will women want to wear in this new world? More activewear? Or is it back to maximalism, skimpy silhouettes and revenge party wear?

Fashion designers are supposed to predict people’s needs, yet the uncertainty of the global landscape has made their jobs near-impossible. That resulted in a number of identity crises and brands completely switching up their aesthetics, or mashing up everything from loud party dresses, to cozy loungewear and minimalist staples.

One thing was clear though: The narrative around the return to decadence, ragers and the roaring ’20s that many tried to jump onto is coming out as forced and yet to catch on. It was the designers who embraced tranquility and a quieter confidence over forced optimism who managed to tune into the current moment better. Case in point: Brogger’s ethereal organza maxishirts, draped dresses and oversize quilted outerwear in soft sorbet hues. Or Mark Kenly Domino Tan, who offered super-sized blazers, chic shirtdresses and serene all-white looks that could function across many situations and lifestyles.

“We continue to develop on an existing wardrobe, adding new prime knit qualities, linen and silk, all ideal fabrics for the summer months. Styles that are designed to easily be layered in many various ways, creating new expressions and giving the garments movement. Now more than ever we want to underline a classic approach,” said Domino Tan, who is well-established on home turf and starting to catch international attention, too.

Saks Potts was another winner. After a year’s hiatus, the brand returned with a refreshed perspective. The sparkles, the ’90s references and the racy lace-up leather were replaced by sleek trenches, loose suits and elegant knits that one could easily imagine founders Barbara Potts and Catherine Saks lounging at home in. This was an honest next step for the design duo, who are growing up with their brand yet also kept their playful spirit alive with some bright floral patterns, crop tops and bikini tops peeping out from under loose, mannish shirts.

Men’s Wear Momentum

Copenhagen’s men’s wear scene is also maturing slowly but surely, offering the showcase a whole new avenue for growth and experimentation beyond the viral, candy-colored women’s wear looks it first became known for. Soulland is a clear leader in the space and made one of its most confident outings for spring 2022, taking over the Royal Arena, one of the largest indoor venues in Copenhagen. Despite the scale of the location, team Soulland showed respect for the current moment and kept it intimate, placing a handful of chairs across the arena and showing a coed range that featured sportswear classics, but also more traditionally feminine slinky knits for men, striking worn-effect leather separates and humorous Snoopy prints, as part of an ongoing collaboration with Peanuts.

They also featured a broader shoe lineup — including clogs, loafers and transparent sneakers in collaboration with Li-Ning — and plan to release one of their show looks as an NFT.

“It’s interesting to see how we can merge the digital world with the physical. The design process is the same. The same fabrics, prints and inspiration — but the look does not exist in real life. The fact that we do connect it to a physical show makes it more relevant to me. That way you can actually have the discussion about the contrast between cyber life and real life,” said Silas Oda Adler, creative director and cofounder at Soulland.

There are a number of rising men’s stars in the Danish capitals. Namely Berner Kuhl, who made his Copenhagen debut this week and caught international guests’ attention for his slim tailoring and utilitarian approach.

“Berner Kuhl, who was new to me and was a really strong show, as well as Nikolaj Storm, who won the Zalando Sustainability Prize,” said Ida Petersson, men’s and women’s buying director at Browns.

The Fifth Fashion Capital?

Despite the uncertainty of the pandemic looming over the event, there were still positive steps forward. Copenhagen continued pushing its digital agenda and broadening its reach around the world with hybrid presentations, livestreamed Q&As with designers and discussions on pressing industry issues, and a brand new partnership with YouTube, which livestreamed the full schedule of events on its fashion vertical.

More and more up-and-coming names are also popping up, turning the showcase into a more important talent discovery platform for buyers and press. As well as Kuhl, upcycled label D(i)vision has been building a cult following both on home turf and globally — Hailey Bieber and Kendall Jenner are fans — while Amalie Roege Hove is quickly gaining traction for her innovative approach to knitwear, zero-waste policy and flair for trendy, body-hugging silhouettes.

The majority of the brands are also forging ahead with their sustainability commitments, and on track to meet the 2023 sustainability requirements set by Copenhagen Fashion Week chief executive officer Cecilie Thorsmark, a benchmark-setting move that firmly placed Copenhagen on the map and set the bar high for other cities.

“Copenhagen should now be firmly known as the fifth fashion city; the Danes are truly setting themselves apart through their amazing commitment to sustainability and inclusivity. With this year’s new partnerships with CIFF, Revolver and YouTube they have stepped it up another notch and the operation is seamless and sleek with a natural shift between physical and digital alongside engaging panel talks,” Petersson added.

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