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COPENHAGEN — The appeal of the Copenhagen fashion girl, often found riding a colorful bicycle and sporting pearl-encrusted hair clips, is here to stay.

Apart from charming the world with their flair for candy colors, cozy decorating and quirky accessories, the Danes mean business: Pioneers in the contemporary category, they’re experts at offering trendy, fuss-free pieces at what they refer to as “honest price points.” Now, they are ready to shift up a gear.

Everyone from Ganni, Copenhagen’s breakout label, to newcomers such as the outerwear brand Stand and Instagram hit Rotate are in the process of expanding their retail footprints across Europe and the U.S. Some are broadening their ranges to include accessories.

They want to do it all with a conscience.

Sustainability in Denmark is less marketing ploy and more a way of life, so when Copenhagen Fashion Week’s newly appointed chief executive officer Cecilie Thorsmark laid out her ambitious plan of turning the three-day showcase into the most sustainable international fashion week, she found that local and international brands were quick to align with her mission.

Street StyleStreet Style, Fall Winter 2019, Copenhagen Fashion Week, Denmark - 29 Jan 2019

Street style during this year’s Copenhagen Fashion Week.  REX/Shutterstock

British label Mother of Pearl opened Copenhagen Fashion Week, which ran from Jan. 29 to Feb. 1, with an intimate presentation of its seasonless, sustainably made range. Creative director Amy Powney said the growth of the brand in the Scandinavian market and customers’ engagement with its sustainability mission encouraged her to get more involved. By showcasing a seasonless range, the idea was to make a statement that collections don’t need to be new to be exciting.

“It’s not just about creating a product correctly. We have a huge problem with sales culture and consumers seeing so many [fleeting trends] through influencers and the press each season, so we wanted to make a line that doesn’t make them feel the pressure to buy more every season,” said Powney, who is also working with BBC Earth to disseminate the brand’s “No Frills” message.

A look from Mother of Pearl's "No Frill" range

A look from Mother of Pearl’s “No Frill” range  Courtesy Photo

Local designers continued the conversation throughout the week. Among the highlights was Stine Goya, best known for her exuberant and affordable printed midi dresses, priced from 200 to 400 euros.

Instead of showcasing her new collection in its entirety, Goya chose to highlight a 12-piece capsule of sustainably made dresses created with recycled sequins and a new printing technique that only makes use of certified inks and no water.

“We wanted to see what it takes to work sustainably and to ensure we can continue, once we take the first step,” said Goya’s husband and business partner Thomas Herz. “We didn’t just want to make a T-shirt; it needed to relate to our design.”

The result was a feel-good collection of ruffled midi dresses or candy-colored minidresses embellished with sequins, hand-cut flower shapes and showcased on a group of performers, who laughed, danced and sang their way through the show, highlighting the sense of ease and feminine power that defines the brand.

“It had to be a clear message,” said Goya, who aims to implement some of the sustainable printing techniques into her main collections in the future. “It was a risk to take because there’s now a whole collection that people didn’t see, but having this intimate experience felt right.”

Stine Goya Fall 2019

Stine Goya Fall 2019  Courtesy Photo

Elsewhere, designers pushed the sustainability agenda in a more discreet manner: Stockholm-based Carin Rodebjer has been experimenting with waxed cotton on handbags, shoes and trousers, as a means of replacing leather; By Malene Birger’s Mathilde Torp Mader launched a sustainable denim range with a supplier that can create a pair of jeans using one liter of water instead of 500 liters; while Norway-based Holzweiler focused on presenting a tightly edited collection that stayed true to its origins in luxury scarves.

The Holzweiler collection was filled with luxe, cocooning knits made entirely out of recycled cashmere and wool, as well as streetwear-inspired puffers made out of recycled plastic. The ultimate goal is to become 100 percent sustainable. “As long as we get the suppliers on our side, it can be done. Also, the consumer has to understand that for something to be fully sustainable, they need to pay the price,” said Andreas Holzweiler, the brand’s cofounder.

Cecilie Bahnsen Fall 2019

Cecilie Bahnsen Fall 2019  Courtesy Photo

For Cecilie Bahnsen, another Danish darling known for her voluminous dresses, a sustainable approach is also about staying true to what she stands for and producing smaller, more focused collections.

“We are a young company so we managed to incorporate sustainable practices from the beginning; we never have any waste fabric, for example. It’s also important to be timeless — we don’t change the theme every season and I love that customers can mix pieces from different seasons,” Bahnsen said after her show.

“Cecilie doesn’t present radical shifts but an evolution to her signature silhouettes. In our fast-paced industry, this often gets lost, so it’s important that she continues to push that same dialogue,” said Moda Operandi fashion director Lisa Aiken, who pointed to Bahnsen’s show as a highlight.

Positivity is another key part of the sustainability puzzle, according to Ganni’s founder Nicolaj Reffstrup. The brand presented its collection — a mishmash of prints and textures that created an eccentric, vintage look — against big screens projecting the work of photojournalist Ami Vitale, to highlight the idea of diversity and “serving the world through a positive outlook.”

Reffstrup, alongside Mother of Pearl’s Powney and Copenhagen’s mayor of culture and leisure Franciska Rosenkilde, are also part of a new advisory board that Copenhagen Fashion Week has put together to brainstorm ideas on how to reduce the event’s environmental impact.

Ganni Fall 2019: A runway look created exclusively for Moda Operandi

Ganni Fall 2019: A runway look created exclusively for Moda Operandi  Courtesy Photo

“Sustainability is not just a motto for the season, it’s the way forward. We have a voice and an ethical obligation to use it. The same moral duty rests on influencers and the press,” said Thorsmark, pointing to the importance of bouncing ideas around people across the industry. “It’s a divisive issue so I want the ideas we put forward to come from a collective industry voice.”

Thorsmark has been looking at a range of initiatives from macro goals like encouraging brands to follow the U.N.’s sustainable development goals, to micro ones, such as stopping the use of single-use plastic water bottles at shows.

Electric cars are already being used to transport editors and buyers to and from shows — and are driven by stylish Copenhagen women, too, adding to the female-centric energy of the city. Most of the designers who showed are women and are offering an ageless, problem-solving approach to design.

“It’s part of the Scandinavian approach to life,” said Carin Rodebjer, founder and creative director of Swedish label Rodebjer, adding there is less emphasis on age and more focus on achieving a sense of “magic realism” — or highly functional clothes sprinkled with the right dose of creativity.

Her fall 2019 collection hinged on slip dresses in earthy hues; cool outerwear such as a white wool jacket covered in transparent PVC, and draped maxi pieces featuring a scarab print.

Rodebjer, which was founded in 1999 in New York, started to see the most growth following a recent return to home turf, which came with the opening of a Stockholm flagship, a presence in Copenhagen Fashion Week and a focus on the Benelux markets.

Rodebjer Fall 2019

Rodebjer Fall 2019  Courtesy Photo

It’s now well-positioned to expand further, with a Nordstrom partnership in the works and more interest from across Europe.

By Malene Birger has been receiving increased attention since Torp Mader took over last year. Her slip dresses, printed satin trousers and woven handbags were visible all over the streets and front rows and for fall she continued the same conversation, also adding power-woman tailoring, luxe capes and structured outerwear.

Copenhagen’s showcase also offered a fresh perspective around the issue of fur, with the Danes having a more open-minded attitude toward real fur as a sustainable, fully biodegradable product, which is part of the country’s heritage.

Supplier Saga Furs had a strong presence at the three-day event, having partnered with local designers Mark Kenly Domino Tan and Jens Laugesen. Violent anti-fur protesters were nowhere to be found here.

“Fur is a big export item for the country, so there is a lot of support for the material here [particularly because] we’ve long been working toward achieving the best environmental performance. For Danish brands, fur is functional and the young, old and everyone in between wears fur,” said Saga’s fashion business director Tia Matthews.

By Malene Birger Fall 2019

By Malene Birger Fall 2019  Courtesy Photo

Kopenhagen Fur, the world’s largest fur auction house, also highlighted the youthful, eccentric side to fur with the immersive presentation of its brand ‘Oh!’

Guests were ushered into an art gallery with house music blasting, colorful granitas passed around and models brushing their teeth, ironing or taking selfies in their Oh! fall 2019 outerwear, which included mink floor-length coats or pink and brown fox fur bombers.

Oh! By Kopenhagen Fur Fall 2019

Oh! By Kopenhagen Fur Fall 2019  Courtesy Photo

“We wanted to give fur a new context and put it in a universe where you wouldn’t expect it, mixing quirk with tradition,” said Siri Edit Andersson, the brand’s stylist. “There’s a gray zone when it comes to fur and there’s good and bad to both real and faux fur, but what we can do is stay focused that everything is produced as correctly and ethically as possible.”

It’s the right moment for Copenhagen Fashion Week to start this conversation, as brands are growing faster than ever.

International buyers have made the showcase a key part of their calendars, and are constantly investing more in Danish labels and seeing the country’s approach to sustainability as a means of giving the event a new global relevance at a time when the purpose of fashion weeks is being questioned.

Net-a-porter’s global buying director Elizabeth von der Goltz said she sees the likes of Stine Goya, Holzweiler and Ganni as being “at the forefront of fashion,” both for their commitment to sustainability and “the sense of ease” they promote through the signature Danish mix of prints and colors.

“Ganni stands out. It’s one of our top 15 ready-to-wear brands; we increased the buy by 40 percent since last year and we don’t see the appetite for it slowing down,” added von der Goltz.

Mytheresa.com had similar success with Ganni and the outerwear label Saks Potts, which have been paving the way for other Danish labels to prosper.

Baum und Pferdgarten Fall 2019

Baum und Pferdgarten Fall 2019  Courtesy Photo

The latest gem for Tiffany Hsu, the retailer’s fashion buying director, is Baum und Pferdgarten, which stood out for its magpie approach to dressing, with purple diaphanous coats layered over classic denim pieces or blazers featuring stiff plaid fabrics with contrasting printed silk panels on the back.

“Danish fashion is young and catered for the advanced contemporary market; they are truly pioneers of bringing new talent to the wider industry and keeping trends fresh and relevant,” said Hsu. “The more growth we see at Copenhagen Fashion Week and the presence of Danish street style stars on social media, the more it’s apparent that their style is dominating the international fashion scene. I’m convinced their chic and wearable ways of styling are here to stay.”

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