Northern stars

Fashion from the Nordic region is rapidly gaining international recognition. Ashlee Beard discovers the hottest collections from the north

Feature

Monday, 29 November, 2010 by Ashlee Beard

Northern Stars

As Copenhagen Fashion Week’s spring/summer shows drew to a close last August, the city’s most fashionable native, Helena Christensen, led 220 models along a crowd-lined, mile-long catwalk. It was a fitting honour for the supermodel-turned-photographer, who has, since the 90s, been a tireless advocate of Scandinavian style. The event also helped underline Copenhagen’s status as a burgeoning world fashion capital.

The Nordic area has recently witnessed an interest in its sartorial style not seen since the 60s, when Finnish fashion and lifestyle brand Marimekko and the Swedish brand Hennes & Mauritz, now better known as H&M, revolutionised fashion throughout the region and beyond. Today H&M may be Scandinavia’s largest global fashion brand, but it is by no means the only one to have made it big internationally. Bruuns Bazaar, By Malene Birger and Day Birger et Mikkelsen are just a few of Denmark’s successful fashion exports.

With a personal endorsement from devotee Helena Christensen in the 1990s, Bruuns Bazaar quickly gained international attention, particularly among the fashion press. Since brothers Teis and Bjørn Bruun launched the womenswear label in 1994, it has grown to incorporate menswear, eyewear and accessories, alongside a younger diffusion line, BZR. Bruuns Bazaar’s philosophy is informal elegance, a look that was perfectly encapsulated in this season’s collection. Cropped pants and 50s-style, shaped sports jackets for men referenced classic American sportswear, while flirty little silk dresses and separates in olive followed the season’s military trend.

Copenhagen-based Malene Birger is best known for her relaxed, feminine silhouettes and attention to detail. Birger, undisputedly Denmark’s reigning queen of fashion, plans to expand her By Malene Birger womenswear empire, which already includes 18 stores both in Scandinavia and internationally. The company posted a turnover of €26.2m last year.

The beauty of Copenhagen’s International Fashion Fair is that, like the local style, it’s a diverse mix and a melting pot of looks and trends. These range from the monochromatic sobriety of fashion veteran Ivan Grundahl’s elegant yet relaxed, avant garde lines, to Danish designer Peter Jensen’s bold, childlike, back-to-school look.

Luxury fashion line Noir follows the alternative look inspired by Rick Owens that is popular among Scandinavia’s fashion mavens. Noir was founded by Danish designer Peter Ingwersen, who showed sexy shapes in shiny silks and slick leather that exuded glamour with a rough, rock-chick edge. Paola Suhonen’s womenswear line Ivana Helsinki is a more colourful, girlier alternative, but it’s certainly no less edgy. On the Copenhagen catwalk, the Finnish designer presented a nautically inspired collection of wool minidresses bearing Breton stripes and tongue-in-cheek toile de Jouy anchor motifs. Following Suhonen’s success in both London and Paris, this season the designer also made her debut on the New York schedule.

Few brands have managed to strike the balance between über cool and commercial success as successfully as Swedish jeanswear brand Acne. A collection featuring 100 different styles of jeans, all unisex, should certainly include something for everyone, but Acne’s success is built on more than simply variety. The brand’s creative director, Jonny Johansson, envisaged a lifestyle built on the brand’s various media channels, such as Acne’s newspaper-style marketing campaign. This was exactly what fashion-conscious members of Generation Y were looking for.

Fellow Swede and former Acne designer Ann-Sofie Back hopes to follow suit with Back, her latest diffusion line. Back is a more affordable, casual alternative to her successful eponymous ready-to-wear label, which returned to the London catwalk this season. Since the launch of Ann-Sofie Back in 2001, the designer has received critical acclaim for her collections, which appeal to strong, intelligent women. In 2009 Back was also appointed head designer of Cheap Monday, the phenomenally successful Stockholm-based jeans brand recently snapped up by H&M. With three labels under her creative eye, Back is undoubtedly one of Sweden’s brightest stars.

This season, all eyes were on Danish newcomers Hansen and Black Ascot. Denmark-based Norwegian designer Aase Helena Hansen’s new menswear collection looks to the growing, yet often overlooked, more mature generation of fashion-conscious customers. Black Ascot’s fun, stylish, yet exceptionally affordable range of bags and accessories proved a big hit among Copenhagen Fashion Fair’s increasingly youthful crowd. As Stephen Gan, founder and editor of fashion bible VMAN, recently noted, ‘It feels like Scandinavia is having its moment right now.’ In the cold north, fashion is hot.

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