Copenhagen Fashion Week Fall 2021: Still Buzzing and Raising the Sustainability Bar

LONDON — What does Copenhagen Fashion Week look like without the vibrant street-style scene, influencer-packed front rows and Ganni after parties?

Denmark’s popular fashion showcase, which debuted a digital-only format for the first time this week, proved that it can hold on to its relevance and grasp global industry attention, even without those viral Instagram moments that put it on the map to begin with.

“Of course, we all love Copenhagen’s street style and the buzz in the city during a live fashion week, but the team still managed to spread the Scandi vibe digitally with an amazing program,” said Tiffany Hsu, Mytheresa’s fashion buying director. “Other fashion weeks could definitely take a leaf out of their book.”

Any gap left by the absence of camera flashes, pre-show small talk and backstage frenzy was filled with live designer Q&As and panel discussions featuring the editors, buyers and sustainability experts who would usually frequent the event; benchmark-setting sustainability standards, and a growing mix of Scandinavian talent who, despite current market challenges, showed up full force.

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The showcase might be primarily known for contemporary women’s labels such as Ganni, Rotate or Stine Goya, but it has been broadening its reach to include men’s wear — with the likes of Soulland, Wood Wood and Rains adding a stronger streetwear flair to the showcase — as well as a host of up-and-coming talent and international visitors, such as London-based Rixo and Finnish label Marimekko. The latter chose to celebrate its 70th anniversary with a digital presentation on the Copenhagen Fashion Week platform.

“We are broadening our focus more and more on being a Nordic fashion week,” said Cecilie Thorsmark, chief executive officer of Copenhagen Fashion Week.

Its commitment to sustainability is another reason why Copenhagen has continued to hold its ground.

Last year, Thorsmark and her team implemented a sustainability action plan with measurable goals and a set of requirements that brands will need to adhere to by 2023 if they want to continue participating in the fashion week.

Ganni RTW fall 2021 LANA_OHRIMENKO

“With the action plan we swore to be not just a voice, but to also take action. What COVID-19 has shown is that a press forum like a fashion week can be used for more than the excellent and creative showcases of the brands. The platform can also be used to have some important discussions since all eyes are on fashion week,” Thorsmark said. “It’s about taking the brands on the journey, and getting them to a point where their sustainability efforts are ambitious enough.”

In its first annual sustainability report, Copenhagen Fashion Week outlined the progress it made with some of its own goals, including facilitating biannual seminars for brands to follow; pursuing partnerships to facilitate sustainable services and collection of waste after all shows; offsetting each event’s carbon emissions, and aligning its goals with the city’s big trade fairs, including CIFF, which has recently joined in on the action plan.

There’s also a new sustainability award, launched in partnership with the event’s new strategic partner Zalando, which recognized Swedish label House of Dagmar this year.

“Initiatives like this lead our industry into the right direction,” said model and activist Arizona Muse, who was part of the jury.

The good news is that all brands on the schedule, both big and small, were equally on board and ready to take their conscious fashion ambitions to new levels.

Danish star Ganni said it will be reducing its overall collections size by 40 percent and is aiming for its clothing to be produced by 100 percent certified, organic or recycled materials — it has gotten up to 80 percent with fall 2021.

“We are planning more frequent product drops that better reflect the season we are in — and once something sells out that’s it,” said the label’s creative director Ditte Reffstrup.

Stine Goya meanwhile, has shifted to sustainable packaging, opened an archive store, and is aiming for 90 percent of its fabrics to be recycled or sustainable by 2025; while Baum und Pferdgarten, another established player, said that it has surpassed its 2020 goals and will be releasing a report by an external auditor later this month.

“The standards outlined from Copenhagen Fashion Week are very important for all of the Scandinavian fashion brands — and we honestly hope they can even push for a global agenda. Our entire industry needs to adapt urgently and change the course of how we are running business,” said Baum cofounders Helle Hestehave and Rikke Baumgarten.

Remain RTW Fall 2021 Courtesy of Baum und Pferdgarten

Label-of-the-moment Rotate has also amped up the portion of sustainable fabrics in its colorful, party-inspired ranges by 50 percent, while its new Rotate Sunday lounge wear capsule features 99 percent sustainable materials.

For Soulland, part of the solution lies in shifting the focus away from the industry’s obsession with newness and adopting a “family of textiles” the brand keeps returning to every season.

“If we reach for new fabrics every season, it would be impossible to reach our goals. You need to change some of your fundamental ways of working and a textile family is the most extreme, from a design point of view. But you just need to step up your game and make sure you keep making the textile relevant season after season,” said Silas Adler, creative director of Soulland.

It’s clear that Scandi designers are becoming as well versed in talking about certified textiles, carbon emissions and waste reduction, as they are about design or their seasonal inspirations.

But what about the clothes?

There’s plenty to get excited about in that department, too: Brands responded to the current times, embracing comfort or the great outdoors, but at the same time adding just enough optimism and sense of renewal, with pops of colors, clashing patterns or more sensual, body-hugging silhouettes.

International buyers also came away feeling optimistic and even as budgets shrink, they intend to keep buying into Danish fashion.

“There will always be a place for Copenhagen’s aesthetic and contemporary price point. Every brand this week has clearly adapted to the tone and lifestyle change of the world, which was relatable and encouraging to see. There is also an element of optimism and playfulness in Copenhagen, which for me, is key when investing in new brands. These brands have been and will continue to be a crucial part of making retail fun again,” said Poppy Lomax, women’s and children’s wear buying manager at Harrods, pointing to the likes of Rotate, By Malene Birger and Holzweiler as the season’s highlights. 

Rotate, which first became known for its statement party dresses, maintained its upbeat spirit but reimagined its dresses with more comfortable fabrics, from a stretchy lamé to slinky satins or jacquard knits. As for sister brand Remain, it offered more of its go-to leather staples alongside some new, refreshed energy in the form of pink tie-dye and animal print galore.

Rotate Birger Christensen RTW Fall 2021 Courtesy of Rotate Birger Christensen

“It has been important for us to stay relevant in the current situation, so the collections, especially Rotate, has focused more on pieces for everyday use with a very cool twist on,” said Denise Christensen, CEO of storied Danish retailer Birger Christensen, which is behind both labels.

There was plenty of bright color and vibrant prints at Stine Goya, too, where the designer wanted to stay true to her maximalist spirit and offer an antidote to the neutral color palettes dominating the market. Ditto with popular Swedish outerwear label Stand Studio, which offered some of its classic puffers and shearling coats in glossy leather and bold lilac or zebra-print iterations.

“We have brought something new to the old and played around with the proportions, new luxurious surfaces and elaborate finishings,” said Stand creative director Nellie Kamras, who is also preparing a VR exhibition for the label’s local Stockholm Fashion Week later this month.

There were also those who embraced Scandi minimalism in all its glory, delivering tonal looks, perfectly oversize tailoring and monochrome knit sets.

By Malene Birger, which has a new design team and CEO in place, was one such label, with its flowy white tunics, monochrome suits and androgynous trench coats catching many minimalists’ attentions.

By Malene Birger fall 2021 Courtesy of By Malene Birger

“By Malene Birger is about mixing the minimalistic Scandinavian DNA with a contemporary and eclectic bohemian feel. We’re all about embracing high qualities and rich textures,” said Ellen Dixdotter, the label’s new CEO, who is focusing on “scaling down collections and scaling up quality” at the brand, moving the sustainability agenda forward and investing in new international markets that show potential, such as Germany.

Mark Kenly Domino Tan was another name on the schedule who managed to execute Scandi minimalism to perfection, with an array of oversize suits, romantic capes and quietly optimistic all-white looks.

“Mark Kenly Domino Tan’s monochrome looks were a definite standout. I’m a big fan of strong suiting, so I will make sure to keep my eyes out for Mark´s next collections,” Hsu said.

Mark Kenly Domino Tan RTW Fall 2021 Courtesy of Mark Kenly Domino Tan

Then there are the brands offering highly functional clothing for outdoor activities — which will be high in demand come fall 2021, according to buyers.

“We have noticed a real sense of embracing the great outdoors within the collections so far. Nature has been such an important part of everyone’s experiences throughout the past year and with that comes practical fashion,” said Net-a-porter’s Page, singling out Rains as a favorite.

“Rains did a fantastic presentation and offered strong opportunities for us to be able to understand the construction of the clothes and the woman that would be wearing them,” she added, pointing to the futuristic, sci-fi virtual runway hosted by the Danish label.

Rains fall 2021 Courtesy of Rains, Klaus Langelund

Rains started with a single waterproof poncho and has steadily been building an entire universe around the outdoors lifestyle complete with puffers, waterproof coats in all shapes and forms, bucket hats and bags.

“We are an outdoors lifestyle brand, creating garments and pieces for people who are stuck inside their homes. Yet the day’s resolve for so many around the world has been to simply get outside when possible and those daily escapes are usually the only opportunities for people to express themselves. For Rains, it’s given us an opportunity to rise to our mantra of mixing function with fashion,” said the label’s head of business development Philip Lotko, pointing to new lightweight fabric innovations and broader accessories categories in the works.

Oslo-based Holzweiler, which has always had a love of nature and the great outdoors at its core, has been seeing its knits, lounge wear and colorful puffers rise in popularity. For its fall 2021 presentation, looking ahead to a more open world, the label offered even more iterations of the puffer and slinky knits, but mixed them in with relaxed tailoring and cool glossy leather separates.

“Holzweiler was incredibly strong this season, in particular the more feminine aesthetic they showed was a real pivot for the brand and was exciting to see. There was a great mixture of informal to formal looks, which I believe in the end, consumers will react well to,” added Lomax.

Market challenges aside, the majority of the brands on show proved their resilience and ability to keep retail partners and end-consumers interested — perhaps a testament to their early commitments to sustainability.

Holzweiler Fall 2021 Courtesy of Fred Jonny

In the case of Holzweiler, the brand said it saw a 49 percent increase in its wholesale business, while its retail stores increased their performance by 38 percent thanks to continued local support. It’s now looking to expand into new markets like China, Japan and the U.K. and plotting the opening of a new Oslo concept store.

Rotate also has seen its e-commerce channels grow, new categories and collaborations are in the works, while its colored leather pants have been selling out and amassing waiting lists after catching the eye of the Kardashian clan.

So with things looking up and the industry giving the first all-digital Copenhagen Fashion Week a big thumbs up, are the Danes thinking of staying online in the long term?

“We have to respect COVID-19 measures at the moment, but with that being said I also sense that there is a common longing for the physical feeling of fashion and some more personal contact. As soon as it is possible and responsible for us to open up again and reintroduce physical elements to our fashion week, we will of course,” Thorsmark said.

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