Forget French girls and their je ne sais quoi; over the past few seasons, the Danes have stolen our hearts with their sartorial offering, which – like the envy-inducing insouciance of Emmanuelle Alt et al – radiates the nonchalance of a life spent cycling around cities. Now that Denmark is the country we look to for the origin of trends, from the return of Havaianas to the pairing of chunky trainers with hyper feminine dresses, Copenhagen Fashion Week has grown from a small showcase of indie brands to become a real global contender, playing host to some of the freshest designers around.
Of course, the crowd that the shows draw is part and parcel of what makes Copenhagen so exciting right now. Gone are the days of Scandi normcore, where New Balance trainers and muted colour palettes lined the city’s streets. Instead, the likes of Jeanette Madsen and Emili Sindlev, Pernille Teisbaek and Stephanie Broek are making it a more colourful, joyous affair with their printed prairie dresses, beaded bags and pastel-hued suiting. The perfect advert for Denmark’s most-hyped brands, they wear their country’s designs with aplomb – and we duly add them to our shopping basket.
By Malene Birger was one of the first brands to put Copenhagen on the international fashion map. Founded in 2003, it’s now stocked in Net-A-Porter, Harvey Nichols and Flannels, has collaborated on collections with Social Zoo founder Teisbaek and, in August 2017, enlisted a new creative director, Mathilde Torp Mader.
Mathilde, who formerly held posts at Mulberry, Marni and Sonia Rykiel, showcased her first collection for By Malene Birger at AW18, back in February. Bringing an aesthetic brimming with contemporary femininity, she’s refreshed the house while simultaneously drawing new eyes to the brand via unexpected detailing, playful prints and sumptuous fabrics.
"Right from the beginning, I wanted it to feel really empowered, a celebration," she tells Refinery29 of her most recent collection, for SS19. "We added silver, glitter, punk-inspired detailing – I tried not to be too serious about it, and instead make it ballsy." The shows saw a gang of models storm the catwalk to a thumping soundtrack, wearing sequin-laden dresses and skirts, which made us consider the impact of heavy sparkle for summer.
Otherwise formal, feminine pieces – think suiting and prim dresses – were made bolder with rebellious cut-out body stockings and backless chunky trainers. This, she said, was inspired by Serena Williams' get-up at the royal wedding. "She was wearing sneakers under her dress, and I thought that felt so real. Although I want the brand to be aspirational, I also want it to be real," she explains. "I also think it's kind of funny – like, why shouldn't you wear both?"
Mathilde is clearly passionate about celebrating women, as seen in the intricacy of her designs. She reworked a 2009 hand-drawn Malene Birger print of a nude woman, blew it up and repeated it over silk ruched fabrics. Her pieces have already been worn by the Scandi style set, but who would she love to see in her clothes? "I find female entrepreneurs super inspiring, so I’d love for it to appeal to people like Emily Weiss or Gaia Repossi – women that have a real presence and feel good in their own skin."
For Mathilde, it's the Danish woman's penchant for having fun that has made the rest of the world sit up and take notice. "That’s very Scandinavian. We want to look fabulous, but we want to have a good time more. That will always come across in what we wear." That same spirit, she says, is also behind Copenhagen Fashion Week’s sudden boom – and growing interest from investors. "There was a time when fashion was really innocent – it was all about the magic of Galliano and McQueen. Then, all of a sudden it became big business, and fashion lost that. Here, we’re a bunch of people having a ball, trying things out and celebrating the process. Fashion can’t survive without that approach, because then it’s all merchandisers and margins, and no magic. I don’t want a product, we want a story."
With Mathilde at the helm and Denmark’s coolest women touting the clothes, there’s no doubt that the future is bright for By Malene Birger.