COPENHAGEN — “Welcome to a lessperate 2004.” Printed in large letters across the banner behind the Odd Molly booth at the CPH Vision Show, that promise of less desperate — or “lessperate” — times characterized the good humor and high spirits of the four-day fashion event.

Where else can you find collections with names like Acne Action Jeans, Arrogant Cat, Blazing Kitten, Blonde & Beyond, Gentlemen Take Polaroids, Gossip, It’sfashiondarling, Junk Deluxe, Lustwear, Nudie Jeans, Son of a Stag, Whipping Floyd, et al? The comment most often heard in Copenhagen was, “Fashion’s not all that serious, after all,”yet CPH Vision is definitely a working, versus a partying, trade show.

“This is a [geographic area] with 20 million people, not 100 million like Düsseldorf. But this fair is open four days and works four days,” said Niels Kongshaug, sales director of the designer collection, Elise Gug, Copenhagen.

Now in its 12th edition, CPH Vision is primarily a showcase for young Scandinavian fashion, plus international street and jeanswear collections catering to the fashion-forward Scandinavian market. Held in the spacious old Øksenhallen — livestock halls in former times — CPH Vision featured around 220 exhibitors presenting more than 300 collections. With 8,683 trade visitors, attendance was up 26 percent compared with last August, but down 4.8 percent in relation to last February’s show. The number of foreign visitors, however, reached a record number this season, CPH’s organizers said.

CPH Vision is an open fair, casual in style but individual in content — much like the attractive young Danes seen in and around the show halls. And while business is not booming more in Scandinavia than anywhere else these days, the positive mood at the show might be attributed to what manufacturers and designers say is Scandinavian retailers’ active interest and bottom-line support of the new.

“Scandinavia is known for being where the trend starts, especially in denim,” said Thomas Schrøder, the Danish sales manager for Diesel. “Consumers and buyers in Stockholm and Copenhagen don’t want to see the same things two seasons in a row. They always want a change, something new.”That means less dirty and destroyed denim for spring-summer 2004, with raw, clear blue and black denim on the rise, Schrøder said. “And while normally everyone wanted black, white and gray in the collection, now they want strong colors like pink, lemon and lime.” As for the military look, which he said started in Scandinavia two years ago, “it’s totally finished here. And fit in general is still low, not as low perhaps as it was, but for us it will never get high. Everyone is writing about the cigarette leg, and I think it will be back, but in Stockholm, the most trendy place of all, it’s not a big seller yet. It’s starting slowly,” he said.

“Copenhagen is where it’s happening,” exclaimed Katrine Kjersgaard, the Scandinavian agent for 120% Lino, Cacharel, Handmade and Betsey Johnson. “It’s the first time we have Betsey Johnson here with us, and the reaction has been great. People love these frilly, girly things, and the pink hangers just attract everyone.”

She said, in her dealings with the higher-end stores, “buyers are always on the lookout for something new, and if you offer it, they will take it on immediately. They might say no, no, no at first — we have 30 brands — but then they’ll come and look and pick something up.

“Scandinavians are so casual about fashion,” she continued. “What always strikes me when I come home is these beautiful Scandinavian girls on their bikes, each with their individual style. They were the first to pick up yellow shoes and are trendy in such a casual way.”

“Our clients are very stable, but business in general is very slow,” said designer Naja Lauf. “But the best way to come out of this is to be optimistic and positive with happy prints and colors. I’ve personally gone away from more romantic looks to more rock ’n’ roll, from dusty, beige-y tones to fresh colors and a style that’s a bit more sporty and fresh,” she said.

“On the streets, you see a mix of much more color and a play with layers and lengths. We have an easier way of looking at ourselves,” she suggested. “Fashion is not that serious, but more playful and fun.”The typical Scandinavian look per se is hard to pin down. For years, many of the collections featured a bohemian, romantic edge, and flower-girl dresses and lacy, underwear touches continued to attract in Copenhagen. At the same time, there was — and is — often a rougher side to Nordic fashion, and punk’s fascination remains unabated, at least as evidenced in the styling of the daily CPH Vision trend show. The clean, graphic heritage of Marimekko was also a prominent design feature, with many young designers at the show opting for humorous and upbeat prints in simple yet trendy silhouettes. And a certain ladylike aspect was also to be found in the Øksenhallen, but always with a slightly mischievous twist.

“We’re moving to more elegance,” said Blonde & Beyond’s designer, Lise Nyberg Petersen. “It’s okay to be a lady, as long as you’ve got a glint in your eyes.” In fashion terms, that translates to tailored coats and pleated skirts in babyish basket weaves; a coat-cum-dress with a swag of ruffles; ensembles in black and pink, and “fancy underwear colors that are a bit piquant,” she said.

For LIR Copenhagen, now in its second year, the look is “fashion meeting sportswear, Chanel versus Adidas — with some Sixties and Seventies touches” borrowed from Sears catalogs from the era. The big change for next season? “There are more bright colors, and all the collections have yellow, orange and green. And slim and graphic shapes,” such as a trim town coat, club blazer and HotPants with accent piping, or big, swingy A-line skirts in diagonal stripes. “We wanted it to be feminine and masculine, to do the best for both,” said LIR’s Kenneth Andersen and Pernille Frydensberg.

Vainio Seitsonen from Finland also was strong on bright colors and a mix of active-inspired and more dressed up silhouettes. “We are delighted to notice that the most ambitious things we do are the most popular,” said the design duo’s Merja Seitsonen. A case in point was a strapless dress of a cotton ticking stripe (from a tablecloth manufacturer), trimmed with pleated white cotton and attached black and gold net petticoat.Or the athletic striped cotton piqué dress, styled with a little flounce.Tikit, Helsiniki, was one member of the graphic contingent. The collection’s starring print of the season was based on an architectural map of Helsinki, portions of which were used for A-line and pleated skirts, both long and short, T-shirts and jersey dresses. Wholesale prices average around $58, or 55 euros, and the range, which means “stitches” in Finnish, have found a New York retail home at Smaak on Mulberry Street.

“In Scandinavia, you need to keep prices fair and affordable, for people like us,” said Susanne Manns, one of Tikit’s two principles. Like many of the young exhibitors, Tikit also shows in Paris, but, said CPH Vision “is a good way for young Scandinavian designers to show their stuff. It’s very compact, and has the best contemporary up-and-coming new brands. I think it’s unique.”

Odd Molly likes to call its playful take on casual style “Sunday fashion. For in Stockholm, that’s the best day of the week, a day when you can whistle and just be who you are,” said brand designer Per Holknekt.

“Our message is that girls don’t have to dress up to be appreciated. The whole idea of self-confidence has become too hard and aggressive. We feel it’s sensitive and warm, and want to take back the original meaning and package it” in looks like structured cotton coats and skirts to wear with T-shirts or Odd Molly’s signature bandanna tops.

CPH Vision wasn’t the only fashion game in town. Over at the sprawling Bella Center, the Copenhagen Fashion Fair drew 23,634 visitors to its mix of men’s, women’s and children’s fashion with 773 companies on display.

Here, too, color was the top story for next spring. “Everyone’s looking for color, it’s been black for too long,” commented Haidi Schäfer of In Wear.

Linen and canvas were In Wear’s best-selling fabrics and slim, cropped pants the number one item, followed by small tops and camisoles. She reiterated the region’s interest in new brands. “Five years ago, my [retail] customer said, ‘I’ll always buy a label I know.’ Today, it’s, ‘Oh, a new label. I’ll try it.’ And the consumer is also willing to buy a new product,” she noted. “It’s inspiring to go to the Øksenhallen,” she continued. “Today, retailers spend one day here and one day there. And they know they need both.”

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