WHAT COPENHAGEN FASHION WEEK STILL HAS TO LEARN—AND WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM IT
Augsut 11th, 2014. Upon arriving in Copenhagen, I was asked by the driver picking me up if I'd heard of "normcore." (I didn't tell him I was actually quoted in the article that coined the phrase as a fashion phenomenon.) "I didn't know it had spread here," I said. And then: "The word, I mean." It's more likely that the normcore aesthetic—at least the fashion editor's version of what is now an overused trend term—originated here, in PC Scandinavia, than in our sexed-up States. I opted out of arguing etymology while jet-lagged, though, and instead asked about attractions. "The one place you have to see is Christiania," said Jonas. Noted, and later, checked off the list. But first, the shows.
“The word of the week is ‘edit,’” one journalist said after attending only a handful of what Copenhagen Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2015 had to offer, rolling his eyes at an “Armani moment” seen on a Bruns Bazaar runway. The comment was made in reaction to the inevitable Paris/Milan comparisons: Only Karl gets away with sending that many looks out, and only Giorgio dares send that many out at once. CPHFW (as it is hashtagged) has always played by its own rules, though, and continues to implement new ones—perhaps some we should all learn to live by.
This Fashion Week was actually edited down to three days of on-schedule shows, noticeably missing two of the city’s most beloved younger brands. No word yet as to why Stine Goya and Ann Sofie Madsen chose not to show this season, but one senses from surrounding conversations that it wouldn’t be outlandish to assume they simply didn’t feel like it. The week of August fifth in Copenhagen had near-perfect weather, which amounted to an influx of day-trippers seen from the piers to the parks, looking very, very relaxed. That so many of this season’s shows felt long may have said more about the large group of frenzied international press surrounding them, and less about liberties local designers take while trying to satisfy their laid-back customers. “Try harder” is often the most encouragement a fashion week not in the top four can hope for, and in a city as chill as Copenhagen—known for the sprawling, self-sustaining hippie commune Christiania—constructive criticism from outside will always appear a bit harsh. The community here is as loyal to its local brands as it is to organic and locally grown cuisine. Outside Christiania’s walls, Copenhagen’s tax-paying socialists care so much about the environment, they start to look conservative: The cars here are new (and electric), the clothing seen in the city center a Danish uniform of pale color: a loose-fitting top and shorts paired with comfortable flats fit for biking. The winning shoe this season was Freya Dalsjö’s fur-accented workout sandal. All runners-up, too, were sporty and flat, with spike heels seen at a few shows bringing up the rear by causing quite a few trips. (It’s not a cute look, those shaking ankles.)
The Copenhagen Fashion Summit, held earlier this year and in 2012 and 2009 has earned the title of “the world’s largest event on sustainability in fashion” and the Global Fashion Exchange, which promotes similar goals worldwide and year-round (next stop, New York this September) had its first installment the Saturday following CPHFW S/S ’15. These programs encourage not only recycling of fabrics but better furrier practices, factory regulations for high end accessories, and research in untapped natural materials—sort of a wrench thrown into the Adbusters vegan leather vs. mass-produced in China debate. Sustainable fashion can be chic, too, assert the programs’ advocates, including Copenhagen Fashion Week CEO Eva Kruse and Vice President Anne-Christine Persson, who sat front row at every larger show wearing head-to-toe Danish designs. Communications Manager Cecilie Thorsmark insists that eco-friendly fashion “doesn’t have to be all organic cotton,” and that the Danes are aware of damages the fashion industry can make on body image, too. A new program launched this year asks that models get a health check to be put on public record before accusations of anorexia plague the Danish youth. The check won’t be mandatory, but “a lot of these girls will want to do it, to show that they don’t have an eating disorder and shouldn't be ridiculed for being naturally thin. They've grown up with it.”
And, after a long struggle between the model agencies who poach from weeks such as this one and its fashion council, 18 will be the minimum age seen on most Danish runways. But despite—or perhaps because of—all this progress, the culture here is surprisingly covered up. Any hint of sex in shows this season appears almost accidental: the admirably robust rears (immediately noticeable as one of Denmark’s natural assets) of the model set only peeked out and moved independently of wide shorts, silk pants, and other attempts to mask or control.
The word “conservative” of course in this context has no political leaning, although it poses an interesting question specifically about Copenhagen: If this fashion week’s goals are as environmentally conscientious as those of the city’s biggest tourist attraction (the hash-filled crust punk paradise that is Christiania)—mainly, sustainability—why is each culture’s image so directly opposed to the other? This tension makes for an even richer appreciation for the brands that do push their lines into more distressing territories. Instead of getting too wild with the garments themselves, a few avant-gardists tried a performative approach with their shows: Barbara I Gongini's typically gothic looks were found on marionette-like movements complete with elastic strings, Ganni's tennis-inspired line walked on the Best Western rooftop court, and Wali Mohammed Barrech’s parking structure involved a sprinkler system set to wet only the plastic parka-wearing models in his lineup.
To end the week, recent Woolmark Prize recipient Asger Juel Larsen and local fashion hero Henrik Vibskov provoked our over-stimulated sides with back-to-back shows. Larsen’s neo-crust punks wore wetsuit-meets-Malcolm McLaren's Sex Store gear in his signature photo prints and neons, while Vibskov’s soldiers wore his hallmark pear shapes and loose layers made of intricate weaves. Here, too, the shows themselves were the real sites of divergence: Juel Larsen was backed by Stockholm hardcore band Grieved and sponsored by Redbull Studios (who provided earplugs to the front row), and the grand finale was a repeat of a National Ballet performance (choreographed by Alexander Ekman) inside Vibskov’s Paris Men’s runway this year. Models (and the front row) were splashed by a gorgeous dance under dramatic lighting, while stomping around waterlogged foam in resistant sneakers. True, our attention was mostly focused on the performers and not the clothes. But isn't that just like Copenhagen to direct our eyes elsewhere, to something a little more tangible than fashion?