The winding, picturesque street of Krystalgade, with its chalky rainbow of buildings in shades of buttercup, terracotta and teal, runs beside Copenhagen’s central university and eventually leads to the more commercial Købmagergade. It’s in this bohemian district, dotted with cult music stores, art spaces, student hangouts and treasure-trove vintage stores, that designer Henrik Vibskov has made his home. The blend couldn’t be more fitting; in his 13-year fashion career, the Danish creative polymath has crossed disciplines between fashion, art, music and design like a veritable shapeshifter.
Inside his compact store, lit by enlarged, low-hanging bulbs and dotted with pieces from sets of previous catwalk collections (a stack of drums acts as a stand), the razor-cheeked, softly spoken Dane has created a meeting point of culture and style, selling his own renegade label alongside designers he admires and cult magazines he respects.
Since Vibskov graduated in 2001 from London’s renowned Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, the designer – who began in menswear before branching into womenswear – has gone on to define a new Scandinavian aesthetic that’s fearless and bold. ‘Yes, I’m Scandinavian and that is a big part of me, but in term of aesthetic I use way too many colours,’ he laughs. ‘We don’t have a fashion tradition here, we are farmers and fishermen, but slowly things are changing. Dressing up has changed in his past generation. From sticking to grey, black or beige we are becoming more colourful.’
If anyone has helped nudge this change along, it’s Vibskov. Taking a defiantly left-field approach to fashion, his designs are conceptual, witty, surreal and whimsical – vivid video-game-style prints on trousers, a kaleidoscope erupting over a poncho, cardigans in contrasting Aztec prints. This is not fashion for the fainthearted. ‘I feel very much that the place where there’s scope to do something different is working with materials,’ says Vibskov. ‘Can we weave something into it? Can we do a new structure in the knit? Can we play with the colour somehow? It allows change and a chance to experiment. Instead of doing everything in grey, I need to have a bit of something else going on.’ His autumn/winter collection nodded to a ‘tribal, native influence’ in zigzag prints and in clashing white, black and red tones, with suits covered in splashy dots or orange panelling.
Despite this bold approach to style, Vibskov has been surprised at the wide range of people he sees pass through his stores in Copenhagen and in New York’s East Village. ‘We have people in their 20s, customers who’ve gone on to be parents are a little older, we even have some grandmas coming in. It’s a really eclectic mix of people from different disciplines.’ The store itself is a showcase for international talent and emerging names that Vibskov supports, with brands such as Comme des Garçons, Hussein Chalayan, Opening Ceremony and Bernhard Willhelm appearing alongside lesser-known labels, many, including Stine Goya and Maria Black, local to Copenhagen.
This all-encompassing approach is nothing new for Vibskov, who balances fashion alongside his other talents; he plays as a drummer in a Danish band, has contributed to art installations, made a short film, designed interiors and created stage sets. ‘I need to do different things to stay visionary and feel excited – to break the cycle of daily life I need to attack other mediums too,’ says Vibskov, who has recently published a book of his work. ‘Of course, doing other things brings something to the fashion and clothing, but it works the other way around too. A colour from one project will find itself into another.’ He rarely cites direct points of inspiration. ‘It’s not something that can be turned on or off. It’s very intuitive, it’s connected to feelings, moods. We never sit down with a trend book and say, “Oh, look, blue is going to be the new colour next season”.’
Originally from the sleepy Danish region of Jutland, Vibskov now calls Copenhagen home. ‘It’s small, it’s easy, and it’s an easy place to do business in. If I need something it doesn’t take four hours of commuting to pick up that piece of thread, I just hop on my bike and go.’ He cites Christiania, the city’s renowned bohemian freetown, as a positive element in Copenhagen’s appeal. ‘It’s a strange mash-up between the Scandinavian cool, strict, controlled element and this incredible big hippy area. It’s like a ventilation for the city.’ With his riotous prints, electric bright colours and visionary approach to fashion, some might say the same of him.