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Scandinavian Fashion Struts Its Stuff

(And, our intrepid reporter sights celebrities he doesn’t know)

Champagne was flowing copiously, as one expects it to do at the after-show party behind the catwalk of the impressively grand Sands fashion show in Copenhagen, held at the city’s castle-like 17th century Stock Exchange building. Most of the women at the glitzy mingle were impossibly chic as they fought their way like starving wild cats to the hors d’ouevre trays. A tall male model in tight pants, his spiky blonde hair rigid with hair gel, winked his biceps repeatedly as he downed beer-from-bottle macho-style.
“Who was that older lady model who kept getting all the applause?” I innocently asked.
“Oh, you mean Jerry Hall,” Mr. Biceps replied, his face a giant question mark punctuated with a slight smile. His expression said, “Who is this dumb clod who can’t recognize the most famous model in the world?” (Jerry Hall is also the former wife of Rolling Stone rock legend Mick Jagger.)
A few nights earlier, the crème de la crème of the Nordic fashion elite were fighting for good seats when Munthe plus Simonsen presented their autumn/winter 2003 collection at the historic Christian IV’s brewery. Minimalism was no where to be seen in the sensual, feminine designs, which seemed to be inspired by Vikings and harem dreams. I heard that world famous photographer Mario Testino was sitting in the front row. There were probably a lot of other famous folks there, too, basking in the glare of TV cameras, but I didn’t recognize them, either.
Oh, well. Celebrity is wasted on some people. But even an amateur fashionista like yours truly couldn’t help appreciating that some exciting things were happening at the Copenhagen fashion week this spring.

Fashions reflect culture
Many designers, for example, connected in surprising ways to Nordic culture and the values and traditions of their respective countries.
The fall/winter 2003/2004 collection of IVANAhelsinki, for example, has a print theme with a strong Slavic touch, reflecting the fact that Finland shares a long border and a common history with Russia. Shirts and coats by designer Paola Ivana Suhonen feature bold prints of Lada cars and Maatuska dolls, both icons of Russia. At the same time, the retro green and orange colors and the use of prominent repetitive prints seem to shout: “This is FINLAND!”
Nanso is another interesting Finnish name to watch; they showed their stuff in Stockholm one week after the Danish extravaganza. Founded in 1921 in Nokia (the town, not the phone), Nanso is best known in Europe for its nightwear, that is to say, pyjamas. Now, the firm has woken up from its slumber and is going after young future consumers, ironically, by connecting with the past. Nanso’s new Finn Collection for Spring 2003, a line of dark blue sportswear emblazoned with the word “Suomi” (The Finnish word for Finland) is an appealing, modern version of the gear worn by the Finnish national team in the 1955 Olympics. The age of hip-hop meets Cold War-era athletics.
Similarly clever is the new Son of a Stag label from Denmark, which incorporates some of that country’s old and modern traditions into its leisurewear. Designer Tommy Hjorth (whose surname means “stag,” incidentally) showed off a line of women’s wear he calls “Tool Bitch,” including details that hint of car repair shops and factories.
“Danish women of today can handle a hammer, and they can survive without men,” Hjorth observed.
Another firm that gives a cheerful nod to Nordic cultural identity is Svea of Sweden. How about a woman’s jacket with an American flag on one sleeve? On closer inspection, one discovers the stars-and-stripes are actually in the blue-and-gold Swedish national colors. I insisted on getting a photo of the company’s boldly striped women’s cotton underwear in Swedish national colors, which proudly bear the brand name “Svea” in large letters in a strategic rear position.
A photo? No problem. One of the Svea designers grabbed a camera from a bag and accosted a female associate busily chatting with a client. The young woman’s jeans were summarily yanked to half-mast from behind for an impromptu photo session. Everybody aims to please.

Norwegians make strong showing
When it comes to popular jeans and casualwear, there was no shortage of trendy Nordic brands represented, which would surely please many style-conscious American consumers. The new collections of Nudie Jeans Co of Gothenburg, trendy Whyred, Acne Action Jeans, and Tiger of Stockholm, as well as the brilliantly named Psycho Cowboy of Denmark seem well tailored for youthful consumers on international markets. It’s a pity the Americans haven’t discovered these brands yet. The same can be said about Redgreen’s casualwear with a nautical accent, as well as the sporty Danish-owned brand Peak Performance.
The Norwegians were mainly represented in Copenhagen under the collective name Design Street Norway. The designers didn’t seem happy about it, since they each had a miserly amount of space on the crowded racks in a single exhibit area to display the striking individual collections of SO HEE, KatK, Enkelt, Helt Grøn and Anita Leer. Hey, Norwegian Ministry of Culture: Why don’t you use a tiny amount of that state-owned oil wealth to promote what the young designers are doing in the fabulous world of fashion?
One brave new independent label that has made a splash in Japan and elsewhere is Gentlemen Take Polaroids (GTP), founded by 29-year-old Lise Nyborg Pedersen. This is menswear with a punk and MOD’s accent well suited to club-land. Pedersen’s sportscoat in white, with a swirling, floral pattern in black lines is unforgettable.
If you wanted to be enormously politically incorrect and make a striking fashion statement at the same time, you couldn’t do better than the luxurious sealskin frocks that were shown by Great Greenland furriers. A sexy sealskin top in shocking pink from Great Greenland can stop traffic in any big city in the world.
Not one but two large fashion fairs were hosted in Copenhagen in February. That adds up to a heavy suitcase full of glossy brochures and some mighty sore feet.
CPH Vision presented several hundred of the trendiest independent designers from throughout the Nordic region in Øksnehallen, located just a few blocks from the central train station.
During the same period, the much larger biannual Copenhagen International Fashion Fair (CIFF), held in Bella Center, attracted over 28,000 visitors to some 765 exhibitors from the Nordic region, continental Europe and the U.S.; altogether, a total of 2,883 different collections were exhibited. That’s a lot of collections to consider.
My sincere apologies to Norway, Sweden and Finland, but when it comes to showcasing Nordic fashion, those countries can currently barely hold the splendid coat tails of the trend-setting Danish capital.

Text: David Bartal
Photography: Courtesy Lene Sand
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