Big but nowhere near Milan, New York and Japan

Copenhagen a fashion capital? Maybe in another decade, says London-based designer Peter Jensen

Fahionistas get ready – the biannual Copenhagen Fashion Week is here again. But while organisers are busy branding Copenhagen as ‘The city that breathes fashion – Scandinavia’s Fashion Capital’, it would appear the city still has a fair way to go until it can be considered one of the world’s leading fashion capitals.

Last year, Language Monitor’s annual ranking of fashion capitals put Copenhagen in a lowly 29th position, with the usual suspects, London, New York, Paris and Milan, taking the top spots respectively. Indeed the organisers’ claim that Copenhagen is Scandinavia’s fashion capital even appears to be loosely woven, with Stockholm scraping in above Copenhagen.

In spite of these damning figures, Copenhagen is playing to win. With 2,706 different brands represented in this August’s Fashion Week, it will in this respect become the second biggest trade show city in the world, second only to Paris. And not willing to rest on its well positioned heels, it will have a record number of 50 catwalk shows from five different countries, as well as 14 designer shows from four different countries.

Danish Fashion Institute chief executive Eva Kruse believes it is these unique points that are bringing Copenhagen to the centre stage. “Our fashion week can achieve things that other fashion weeks can’t,” she explained to media. In combining the fair with shows, Kruse sees the Copenhagen Fashion Week as vastly different to those in London and Paris. “[They are] mostly built around shows. Ours is both a fashion and marketing week,” she said.

But Kruse might be a little biased, so for a more balanced opinion on how Danish fashion is doing internationally, we caught up with one of its biggest overseas stars, the Danish-born, London-based Peter Jensen. Originally hailing from Løgstor in northern Jutland, Jensen has been carving out an impressive international career since 1999. His designs have been heralded time and time again by the international press as “cleverly conceived”, “technically brilliant” and “visually and conceptually captivating”.

The last time he spoke to The Copenhagen Post in 2005, Jensen expressed his contempt for Danish women’s approach to style.

“Danish women dress like a jumble sale … they just don’t have a classical sense of style anymore,” he said. Not stopping there, he claimed Danish women looked like they thought “I’m having some children and that’s it.”

Peter Jensen's show is scheduled for Thursday 9 August

Looking to see whether the years have softened Jensen’s view on Danish fashion, we met with him to discuss his latest project and Danish fashion as a whole.

You certainly didn’t hold back in 2005 with your views on Danish women’s approach to fashion. Have your views softened over the years?

What I think I meant, and I still stand by, is that Denmark is a small country, and I think by being a small country it sometimes turns into what I call Legoland. That is something I’m a little bit against because I think that individualism, people being whatever they were meant to be, disappears a bit.

There’s always been a fair amount of criticism about Danish women dressing the same. What’s your take on it?

It’s that whole culture I think of not falling out of something that’s been agreed on, and that is how you’re looking. I think in Denmark there are rules.

Criticism aside, what do you think Danish fashion does well?

Danish companies have a very strong approach of being commercial. And they’re very price-orientated, and I think they know how to build a company. Basically, I think that is a strength.

Why did you decide to leave Denmark?

I studied at Denmark’s design school for three years and I found it too difficult being there. I wasn’t keen if I’m being quite honest. There was a rule about being embarrassed about being a fashion designer, there was a rule saying you couldn’t be proud of saying “Well I’ve come into this education because I actually like fashion, I actually like garments.” You had to do so many other things. I just had no idea what the hell I was doing, and it was such a disappointment for me.

Do you think that’s a Danish mentality or do you think it’s more a reflection of the time?

I think it’s probably both. What happened in that educational system, and I can say this because I went to [Central] Saint Martins [in London] and did my master’s and have taught there for the last ten years, is that it’s so different. Here I remember you had to have meetings about God knows everything, every bloody day. You had to have a meeting about this and this and everybody had to be happy – that is a Danish mentality.

Do you ever think you’ll come back to Denmark?

No I don’t. First of all, I’m married to an English man and I think my mentality now (I’ve been there for so long, 17 years) and my humour – the way that I run my business, the way that I sort of go about my whole life – is very English. I think I would very much feel frustrated if I came back to Denmark, and I can tell you again, it’s something to do with the rules: you have to be part of a union, if you have women in the company you have to have some kind of pregnancy payment, and so on.

You’re obviously more London and UK-orientated, but do you think you could say what direction Danish fashion is heading in?

That is really difficult for me because I feel very much like an outsider. I do think that they do good things and they do bad things as well.

Bad things … like what?

Sometimes I think it would be very good for them to take a step back, look at what it is that they’re doing, what they’re actually sending out, and try to be a bit more critical. I’m not saying it to be a snob or anything like that, but that is just the way that it is at Staint Martins and having my company in England. It is something that you get all the time – be critical about your own work.

Despite being London-based, you are Danish, so do you incorporate any elements of Scandinavian design into your work?
Well I certainly think I can’t run away from being a Dane. I think that I do incorporate elements, and that it has some kind of simplicity for me: in what I do and what my work is. I grew up in the 1970s, and where I grew up, you had all the women doing knitting. You were always wearing home knitting and all that, and that I very much like and I’ve taken with me.

How would you describe your style?

I think the Americans have always called what I do ‘daywear’, and I like that. I think that what I do well in daywear, and what people have embraced, is the humour and quirkiness of it.

You have a new show at Copenhagen Fashion Week. What’s it about?

It’s a continuation of what we always do, and there are two muses because we’re showing men’s and women’s wear in this collection. The two muses are Tippi Hedren and Mick Jagger. It’s a unisex collection. We did a unisex for pre-fall and I think it worked really well, and I think it’s a sign of the times. It’s jackets, shirts, trousers, coats, knitwear, oversized satchel bags, ties and shirt holders.

Why come and participate in a Danish fashion week?

We did a show here two years ago and then we got invited again this time. I said yes because I felt like: “I’m Danish, and I feel like I’ve had so much support” – I have to admit that. I think it’s nice to come and show your face here sometimes.

What do you think of Copenhagen Fashion Week? Does it compare well to other cities’ fashion weeks?

Well, I think it’s the little sister who’s trying to grow up, and I think it must be difficult because all the other ones have been around for so long and they’ve got such a long history that it wouldn’t surprise me if it takes at least ten years for somewhere like Copenhagen to catch up.

What do you think the next big thing in fashion will be?

Quality over quantity is coming back into fashion. Maybe don’t buy as much, but buy one good thing.

The following question was submitted by the paper's fashion expert Ann Charlotte Vengsgaard: The fashion/clothing industry is one of the most polluting industries, and also harmful in how it has enforced a ‘buy and throw away mentality’. Copenhagen Fashion Week is trying to address this but is it something you care about?

Do I care about it – yes, but I can’t care about it so that it becomes a life-changing thing – I think that’s impossible for fashion. And I certainly think that it is, sorry Copenhagen, but a bit rich coming from a place where they are so focused on prices. I certainly don’t know how you can sell clothing at the price level that they do here and then still come out with things.

  • How internationals can benefit from joining trade unions

    How internationals can benefit from joining trade unions

    Being part of a trade union is a long-established norm for Danes. But many internationals do not join unions – instead enduring workers’ rights violations. Find out how joining a union could benefit you, and how to go about it.

  • Internationals in Denmark rarely join a trade union

    Internationals in Denmark rarely join a trade union

    Internationals are overrepresented in the lowest-paid fields of agriculture, transport, cleaning, hotels and restaurants, and construction – industries that classically lack collective agreements. A new analysis from the Workers’ Union’s Business Council suggests that internationals rarely join trade unions – but if they did, it would generate better industry standards.

  • Novo Nordisk overtakes LEGO as the most desirable future workplace amongst university students

    Novo Nordisk overtakes LEGO as the most desirable future workplace amongst university students

    The numbers are especially striking amongst the 3,477 business and economics students polled, of whom 31 percent elected Novo Nordisk as their favorite, compared with 20 percent last year.