Denmark’s capital city boasts an extraordinary array of design talent and diversity. If true luxury is about craft, individuality and provenance, then Copenhagen is the place to find it, with an impressive array of quirky designs and one-offs, from chairs to jewellery, porcelain and clothing. The Danes design with a very individual style and, as long as you know where to look, Copenhagen offers a wealth of independent ateliers and owner-run boutiques.
Why is Copenhagen so accomplished in the applied arts? Kristine Munkgård Pedersen of CPHcool, which offers guided shopping and lifestyle tours of the city, says: ‘I guess it’s a combination of elements, including a consumer group that was brought up with a democratic design tradition going back to the 1930s with some of the great furniture designers. There’s also a very strong tradition of craftsmanship here.’
It’s not just the local design talent that makes shopping here such a unique pleasure; the way visitors get to know the city also plays a big part. Strolling its historic and largely car-free centre, or drifting from boutique to department store on a bike hired from a nearby hotel, makes it a serene and unhurried experience. Browsing streets that inspired the fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen is a journey of discovery in itself. ‘It’s small and cosy, with a nice range of individual shops,’ says Munkgård Pedersen. ‘Even though the city centre has the big brands, it’s easy to walk a little way out of Strøget [the main shopping drag] and find the little oases.’
In the space of an hour or two, visitors can get the measure of dozens of the city’s young creatives at collectives such as Workshop Copenhagen in Studiestræde, where some 25 artists and designers sell their own wares, including jewellery, art, lamps, ceramics and clothes. Nearby are the flagship stores of Denmark’s best-established fashion icons, including Malene Birger’s classic, sexy ready-to-wear line on show in Antonigade, or award-winning designer Charlotte Eskildsen’s sophisticated, structured tailoring at Designers Remix on Pilestræde.
Unsurprisingly for such a green-hearted city, Copenhagen is also the ideal place to buy ecologically sound fashion without a hint of sackcloth. Peter Ingwersen’s edgy, urban Noir and Bllack Noir labels, sold in the label’s concession at Illum department store on Østergade, adhere to strict eco-sourcing criteria. On nearby Kronprinsensgade, Sabine Poupinel sells Gudrun & Gudrun’s line of classic sweaters made from ethically sourced, untreated and undyed Faroese wool. Time’s Up, on Krystalgade, specialises in haute-vintage, surely the ultimate eco-fashion statement, offering carefully sourced stock by the likes of Chanel, Versace and YSL, as well as some classic denim and vintage accessories.
It’s not just clothing that’s being re-used and recycled. Workshop Copenhagen also concentrates on ‘upcycling’. It’s all about re-imagining and repurposing old interiors items by giving them a 21st-century reworking or, as with local designer Palepink, turning discarded materials such as old inner tubes and vintage packaging into bags and jewellery.
The city that gave us Arne Jacobsen’s Egg chair and Georg Jensen’s classic cutlery set is also a great place to hunt down some excellent home wares. The captivatingly beautiful ceramics and glassware at Stilleben Ceramics on Læderstræde, many of them one-offs and all made by the shop’s owners Ditte and Jelena, make it the perfect hunting ground for presents and souvenirs. Hay CPH on Pilestræde and Casa Shop on nearby Store Regnegade are both veterans of the smart interior-design set.
Before you leave town, it’s well worth making a trip out of the city centre to the massive Normann lifestyle showroom on Østerbrogade, where you’ll find funky, quirky and exclusive furniture, clothing, lamps, kitchenware and other home accessories, some of the own-brand goods being exclusive to the store.
Of course, shopping in Copenhagen is not an unending fairytale: inevitably you won’t find the breadth of choice that bigger European capitals can offer, and it remains an expensive place to shop even after the astonishingly high sales tax has been refunded. But if you’re attracted by a city that operates on a human scale, that’s in love with detail and individuality and that isn’t all about the big, global brands, could it be the best shopping city on earth? The answer, as one local brewery is fond of saying, is – probably.