Danish brand By Malene Birger has always embodied Scandinavian style with its elegant staples and flair for modernism. Now it’s ready to make its voice heard louder with a refreshed image and a stronger design perspective.
Leading the contemporary brand’s revamp is new creative director Mathilde Torp Mader, an alumna of Sonia Rykiel, Mulberry and Marni who said her biggest aim is to create clothes that can stand the test of time and become women’s best friends.
Torp Mader, who took over at the beginning of the year, already offered a clue to the new direction with her fall 2018 collection, which she was tasked to design in a mere few weeks.
“I tried to think of what a wardrobe consists of, and visualize what you need to feel like a modern, empowered woman. I found that it’s pieces that are quite elegant or classic, yet have those special details that make them feel yours,” Torp Mader said.
“Those pieces then become friends and you feel safe in them, they can make you feel cooler or stronger or more feminine or more flirtatious depending on where you are. That’s what I call the 360-degree wardrobe and it’s what I’ve been trying to map out.”
She did so with a collection filled with fuss-free silhouettes, modernist designs and pops of color. There were long-sleeved satin midi dresses in classic black or playful lime shades, slim suits paired with duvet jackets and colorful intarsia knitted skirts and matching sweaters.
On Thursday, Torp Mader will make her official debut with a show held on the last day of Copenhagen Fashion Week, which runs today through Thursday.
The show will take place in an old factory in the Danish capital where trains used to be repaired. The brand plans to transform the venue with big, colorful sails suspended from the ceiling in a bid to celebrate freedom, imagination — and its new beginning.
“I saw this exhibition called Hippie Modernism [at BAMPFA] last summer in San Francisco, and it had a lot of references to the idea of making do and building from nothing, really. So we want to celebrate open-mindedness, letting your imagination run wild and having a bit of that same free spirit,” the designer added.
“Let’s not forget that Denmark was, at one point, really celebrated for being open-minded and liberal.”
It’s a good time for the brand to make its mark at Copenhagen Fashion Week, which has become a magnet for influencers and buyers alike with a clutch of hot-ticket shows.
There’s Saks Potts, loved for its vintage-inspired, pastel-hued outerwear; Ganni, which has developed a thriving business with its accessibly-priced, trendy day dresses and colorful knits; Stine Goya, known for its exuberant prints, and Cecile Bahnssen, an LVMH Prize finalist who plays with exaggerated volume and feminine silhouettes.
By Malene Birger wants to claim its own stake in this growing market by reaching a broader range of women, young and old, who are looking for clothes that are design-led, yet functional, and can stand the test of time.
“I want us to be part of that game, where we encourage women to dress for themselves. We’re getting to that point in the conversation where women don’t have to dress for men and they don’t have to wear an Eighties power suit or look like a man to be taken seriously,” said Torp Mader, an avid feminist who learned her craft by working for powerful female figures such as Consuelo Castigloni at Marni and Rykiel.
There’s also a growing demand for female designers offering stylish yet friendly pieces for women. Phoebe Philo’s die-hard fans, known as Philophiles, are still mourning her particular take on Céline, and Torp Mader has the opportunity to answer their needs within the contemporary space.
For her debut show, she plans to celebrate femininity by re-creating traditional silhouettes, such as corsetry, with softer pleats incorporated underneath to make the pieces more comfortable. She has also played with the brand’s archival prints and the new collection will spotlight a playful archival pattern of naked, lounging female figures.
“That print was so spot-on for me in terms of what the brand should be all about. It’s a female-friendly brand that is here to celebrate women and all kinds of shapes, sizes, religions and looks,” Torp Mader added.
Even though the designer is ready to shift gears and update the brand’s image, she isn’t looking to alienate the brand’s existing customer base or steer away from any of its core values.
“I’m not here to break everything down or to scare anyone off. I’m here to look at what works, maybe lift it a bit and build on top of that,” said Torp Mader, who has also been spending time updating some of the brand’s core pieces with more technical fabrics or sleeker lines.
“When you’re not part of a huge group, you can’t carry the loss of starting from scratch or pausing for the customer to figure out who you are again. We can’t afford that pause, and we’re not really interested in it either because we don’t want to change the brand to the point it becomes unrecognizable.”
Instead, she said she sees opportunity for change and rapid development when it comes to growing the brand’s accessories offer and reviewing its production cycle to ensure that clothing is produced in a sustainable way.
Torp Mader also wants to stay true to the accessible price points the brand offers: “We want to offer honest products at a good price with a fashion point of view, so you can still be part of the fashion conversation without having to take out a mortgage to get a dress,” she said, adding that while she is working on updating the brand’s retail concepts, she wants to ensure they remain in laid-back, unintimidating environments.
“We will always be an accessible brand. It also comes from being Danish and having a strong democratic point of view. That’s also why [our flagship store] is located in a place like Marylebone in London. Here, there’s a kind of coming and going and to-ing and fro-ing. You can pick up a sweater and then have your café au lait and then you go back and get a pair of trousers. That’s the kind of conversation I want to be a part of with our products.”