By  on February 21, 2008

COPENHAGEN — It might not rank as a major fashion capital yet, but Copenhagen is certainly bursting at the seams.

During fashion week this year — sandwiched between New York and London on the international circuit — the whole city took part. Taxi drivers were equipped with show schedules and a giant plasma screen outside city hall broadcast fresh-from-the-runway images, as did countless cafes, for Copenhagen's style-hungry denizens.

Even the royal family pitched in. Escorted by the police from fashion show to trade event in a black limo with tinted windows, Crown Princess Mary stopped in on runway shows such as Day Birger et Mikkelsen and Designers Remix Collection, as well as the Naja Lauf and Wood Wood stands at the CPH Vision and Gallery trade shows held here concurrent to fashion week Feb. 7 to Feb 10.

With Danish unemployment at record lows and the seventh highest gross national income per capita in the world, it's easy to see why Denmark's fashion industry is booming despite looming international economic concerns.

Stroll down Stroget Street, Europe's longest pedestrian corridor and the Nordic city's main shopping artery, and discover fashion boutiques popping up in impressive numbers to cater to a picture-perfect, trendy population with an outfit for every occasion.

"Sixty new fashion stores opened in Copenhagen last year," said Ditte Reffstrup, women's wear buyer for Pede & Stoffer, a popular Copenhagen boutique that counts four doors in Denmark. "Each year Copenhagen gets more and more into fashion. There is a very high concentration of people that are fashionable, especially for a small city. Today clients also want brands coming from other countries, such as France and London."

Ganni, Noir and Stine Goya, as well as French hipsters Isabel Marant and Vanessa Bruno, are among the best-selling lines in Reffstrup's shops.

The Danish Fashion Institute, which organizes the runway shows, had 40 on the calendar this season, up from 28 six months ago.

"Customers are always looking for new brands," said Sabine Thomsen, buyer for the recently opened Badeanstalten (Public Bath in English), which is located in an old bathhouse off Stroget. Badeanstalten is owned by Samsøe & Samsøe, a fashion label and multibrand retailer with 14 stores in Scandinavia.Local retailers said they were increasing their European brand portfolio to diversify their offering and satisfy a sophisticated clientele.

In fact, there are so many Scandinavian fashion brands, multibrand stores struggle to house them all. That has prompted many local brands to open their own shops, said Pontos Bjorkman, sales director for Acne, which recently changed its name from Acne Jeans. Acne's fall collection, themed around South America and matadors, was buzzing with buyers at the show.

"Our retail expansion will go more towards monobrand rather than multibrand stores; it's the only way to expand in Scandinavia," said Samsøe & Samsøe sales director Josef Lützen. Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair and Hope are among Scandinavian brands to have recently opened freestanding stores.

The surging number of Scandinavian fashion brands has certainly caught the eye of investors looking for fashion labels with international expansion potential. Take the Icelandic behemoth Baugur Group. After acquiring shares in Icelandic label Steinunn by Steinunn Sigurd, it took a 50 percent stake in Day Birger et Mikkelsen in 2006.

Meanwhile, Copenhagen-based Baum und Pferdgarten also received a financial boost in 2006 from private investors. With around 30 points of sale in the U.S., the company has big plans. "We are going to continue to focus on the potential of the brand in Germany, the U.K., France and America," said Baumgarten. The group expects its 2007 profits to increase by 80 percent.

"We focused on having a very clean collection. We turned away from too much embellishments and volume and focused on lines," said Baumgarten. A silver swakara fur coat for $3,899 at retail was lauded by buyers at the show.

"We are very excited about sales during fashion week. We feel like we have a strong hold on the home market and now we are thinking about looking abroad," said Charlotte Eskildsen, designer for Designers Remix Collection.

Eskildsen spun a futuristic theme into her wardrobe for winter and revisited elegant eveningwear. "I wanted to think forward, take inspiration from the future instead of looking back," Eskildsen said. "Women are less afraid of their forms today," she added.

While a congested international fashion week schedule kept many overseas department store buyers away, key boutique shops with a penchant for Scandinavian styles attended the show in healthy numbers. Retailers applauded slimmer styles but, faced with a slowing economy, they took a cautious approach to order writing and sought more commercial collections sure to sell."Retail is down. It's very difficult. We are editing differently, we are offering more brand selections but fewer quantities," said Betty Riaz, owner of Boston-based Stil shops ("Style" in Danish), which sells Danish contemporary fashion lines such as Heartmade, Baum und Pferdgarten, Noir, Munthe plus Simonsen and budding London-based Danish designer Louise Amstrup in its three locations, including a Newbury Street boutique. "We were relieved to see less of the oversize looks. Americans are more body conscious; they want to show off their figures."

"Collections are slightly more body-conscious," agreed Eric Atkines, buyer for Polite Society, a 3,000-square-foot, Seattle-based concept store focusing on new international brands. Atkines lauded collections by Noir, Baum und Pferdgarten, One Hundred, Peter Jensen, Jens Laugesen and Heartmade. "There is a return to classics. Designers here are focusing and what they are best known for: comfortable and functional fashion at affordable price points."

As for trends, buyers said collections were monochromatic overall, with punctuations of bright pinks, electric blue and orange. Ultralight leather dresses and furs, especially cropped jackets and vests, were clear directions for winter, according to buyers.

"There is always something new and fresh in Denmark," said Riaz, mentioning budding designers Stine Goya and Louise Amstrup. Amstrup, who trained two years in the design studio of Alexander McQueen before launching her brand in 2006, showed off her line for the first time at Gallery.

"There's something very simplistic about Danish style that I think more people are craving," said Amstrup, who looked to David Lynch as her source of inspiration for her collection of short, feminine silk dresses. "We are a small country, but design will always be our heritage."

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