Denmark’s designer for all seasons

Do designers live past 40? Henrik Vibskov speaks out about the Danes, the French and being happy where you are right now

Henrik Vibskov, despite the accolades, recognises he's at the head of "a very, very small company"As the only Scandinavian designer whose menswear collections are included in the official schedule at Paris Fashion Week, Henrik Vibskov has secured his reputation in the fashion world. But should the 40-year-old ever decide he’s had enough, he’s got other talents he could fall back on, including as a drummer for musician Trentmøller and set designer. 

The Copenhagen Post managed to catch up with him in the midst of preparations for his CFW show to talk about his work and the differences between national fashion scenes.

CP: People often write about you as a bridge-builder between fashion and art. What do you think of that – both the distinction between the two and the fact that you are labelled as such? 
HV: I don’t think too much about that. I know that the way we work is very similar to what you might do in film or in architecture: it’s a similar research foundation. The crossover between disciplines I see more as a matter of taste.

CP: You once said that you are personally more interested in men’s design. Is this still the case?
HV: My studies focused on menswear and of course I have a passion for that. And if you zoom in on the details in womenswear you’ll find a lot of references to menswear. But in womenswear you can perhaps change the silhouette more and the designs are sometimes better at focusing on fabrics than men’s. I have assistants for creating the men’s and the women’s collections. It’s ultimately me who has to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but I am not doing all of this on my own. With production, but also with things like accounting etc, there are people helping me. 

CP: You have expressed admiration for the British tailoring craft and that it has an impact on your work as a fashion designer. How about French fashion?
HV: French fashion and the culture around it are a big part of the fashion scene, but they are especially important for us up here in Scandinavia. We just don’t have a fashion history in the same way. Take Denmark: it’s a small country and our background is mainly in farming and fishing. We’re just slowly beginning to develop a tradition for clothing design. As a small country we have to look abroad; we have to be aware of what’s going on. 

CP: What does it mean to you personally to be chosen as a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Mode Masculine?

HV: First, I was not really exactly sure what was going on. But the same year, Martin Margiela was also appointed as a member, and he has really been around in fashion for years. So that made me think: Wow!

The Chambre is like a roundtable of important people who have things to say and have a certain power. So, sure it’s great to be a member, but it is also a very old-school thing – to be part of it you need to have a ‘godfather’ to support you, for example.

I got a lot of congratulations from people from all over the world for having been chosen as a member – but sometimes I am still not entirely sure what exactly this association is and what being part of it means. I am the first Scandinavian in it, and there are people in the Chambre who can help me – which is of course good. I think most of the brands in it have something that they are really good at. Compared with the other members we are just a very, very small company, and that makes a big difference. I’ve heard that there are 250 people backstage for a Dior show [the fashion house Dior is also a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Mode Masculine]. And there are maybe six or ten people working backstage at our shows, plus the models. 

Vibskov eschews the black-grey-beige tone that characterises 'Danish design' - if such a generalisation can be madeCP: In an industry that is as international as fashion, is there anything identifiable as specifically Danish?
HV: We tend to focus on functionality up here and don’t do so many gala dresses and haute couture. What we are really good at is a more basic casualwear. There is the idea of a certain Danish ‘clean’ style, but I think ‘Danish design’ is a term that can easily create a lot of confusion. Personally, I am born here and grew up with a ‘70s aesthetic. But if you look at what I am doing, I am not really sure I should go as ‘Danish design’. Maybe that’s because I studied internationally – I am using way too many colours for being a real Danish ‘black-grey-beige’ designer.

CP: You have shops in Copenhagen, Oslo and New York. Are you aware of any items that go well in one place but not others?
HV: Absolutely. There is a big difference between the cultures – and also the markets. Generally, we are selling much more menswear in New York than we do here. In New York, anything that is more colourful, decorated, twisted, diffused or weirder works much better; the wilder and more screaming pieces go well. 

New York is a bigger city, so people need to scream more. It’s also a metropolis that attracts people who are more experimental: musicians and other artists. We have pretty wild types dropping by in the New York store.

In comparison, Copenhagen is definitely more basic. In Scandinavia it is more like: ‘if someone picks it up, then everybody picks it up.’ If you look at how we live as Scandinavians or Danes it’s very similar – and it’s also pretty similar to what we wear. In the beginning of my design years, and you could say that’s what created the brand, I was selling a lot of the same trousers – and only them. They had become a more general trend. Later, everybody was suddenly buying my scarves – mostly the same colour. I think it’s really good that we have Christiania [alternative commune] here – strangeness and Rasta dudes, right there in the middle of Copenhagen’s strict style.

CP: Finally, in an interview between you and Belgian designer Walter van Beirendonck a few years ago you said you’d continue with fashion until you’re 40.
HV: (Laughs) Right … that’s now. An old professor of mine used to say you’re not shit until you’ve done ten collections. So after ten collections I wondered: do I just continue with this or what’s next? Work in a bank? Or perhaps in a kindergarten? And I realised: I am doing music, I’m doing some arty stuff, I’m doing the fashion – I was actually feeling pretty alright. I’m having a good time. So I thought maybe I should just continue. Well … of course, I can’t do it forever.

This article was included as part of our Copenhagen "Fashion" Post style section in our Feb 1, 2013 issue