Copenhagen Fashion Week is usually a highlight of summer and not just because of the city’s laid-back feel, effortlessly cool crowd and sun-soaked canals. Compared to fashion month’s Big Four – New York, London, Paris and Milan – Copenhagen is a much smaller affair and has thus written its own rules. Operating at a luxuriously slower pace, the shows are spaced out, lazy lunches punctuate the schedule and brands’ evening events feel more like family gatherings than corporate functions (guests often end up dancing on tables into the early hours). The Danes have always done it differently but SS21, kicking off in the capital today, is a world away from seasons past.
Back in January, Ganni, Scandinavia’s most successful sartorial export, used its AW20 collection to ask: "What will 2020 bring us?" The decade began with catastrophe – bushfires ripped through Australia; news of a contagious virus was rumbling across the West; tensions between the US and Iran reminded us how close nuclear conflict could be – but even so, none of us had any idea just how radically different 2020 would shape up to be. "It’s been a crazy year so far and it took a turn no one had expected," cofounder and creative director, Ditte Reffstrup, tells me ahead of today’s show. "I think everyone has been doubtful of whether they were in the right place, or doing the right thing – I know I have." Ganni, though, has always championed optimism. In the face of a terrifying start to the year, the AW20 show was a defiant and hopeful look to the 12 months ahead. Calling upon its community of creatives and teaming up with 20 artists across assorted mediums, deadstock fabrics were turned into exclusive products and pop-ups brought a slice of Copenhagen Fashion Week to the brand’s flagships in London and New York.
Where fashion feels turgid with unnecessary and uninspiring brand collaborations, Ganni’s approach always feels fresh, in part because they’re never about slapping two names on an item and hoping their customer takes the bait. Instead, Ditte and Nicolaj (her partner in business and in life) invite people from their network to look at things with a fresh pair of eyes. "It’s not about a brand moment for me; I love the synergy and new ideas that come from working together – it takes two! When you collaborate you don’t stand still, you keep evolving." Evolution is surely what we’re all hoping will be the silver lining of this dark, uncertain year. Searching for answers to the question posed last season, Ganni 202020 brings together a cast of creators – "a mix of old and new friends from near and far" – to launch a three-day exhibition exploring the decade ahead.
The exhibition unites Ganni's community – from Berlin and Stockholm to Montreal and London – through a five-piece multimedia installation (or Gesamtkunstwerk) brought to life by seven collaborators, and those unable to visit IRL can immerse themselves online, too. You can listen to journalist Marjon Carlos narrate her essay on the strange intimacy and catharsis of community under COVID, and watch the new collection float and fly around a video orchestrated by Maria "Decida" Wahlberg (also known as Robyn’s choreographer) in lieu of a catwalk show. Unable to congregate in person, the artist Rosie Marks has made cut-outs of Ganni’s gang to populate the exhibition space while elsewhere, Hayley Blomquist has created a larger than life, hand-knitted installation using vintage Levi's and repurposed Ganni denim. Recreating the idea of a museum gift shop, merch is available to buy, too: all the KIOSK products, from long-sleeved slogan tees to customised denim jackets, are upcycled from past collections, keeping the minimum waste ethos in line with the brand’s eco-conscious approach. "It’s like when you go to a concert and you love it so much, you just have to buy the shirt," Ditte says of the capsule. "A little memory from this bubble, this moment in time."
For Ganni, eschewing a catwalk show this season has "been like hitting the refresh button". Copenhagen Fashion Week was the first to announce a radical rethink of the way it presents fashion to consumers, with brands having to meet a set of sustainability requirements in order to show on schedule, aiming to reduce its carbon footprint by 50% over the next three years, and minimising travel to and during the shows. In offering a community-first, long-form "happening", Ganni is giving itself the time to slow down, reassess and breathe. "We have to do things more responsibly," says Ditte. "If you don’t, there won’t be a spot for you in the industry in years to come." The brand has long been working behind the scenes on impressive sustainability initiatives and practices but transparency is a new priority for 2020. "Is it relevant to do four main collections a year and produce 13 to 15 sample collections? Do we need a physical showroom and teams flying around the world? Honesty is something we really have to hold on to," Ditte muses. Over 50% of the brand’s collections are already made from recycled, certified or organic materials, and this season's "healthy pause" has only strengthened their goals.
Once again proving that collaborations aren't dead, this season Ganni has teamed up with Levi's on an ingenious circular capsule collection of rental denim. "Designed to be worn by many, owned by none," with the premise that denim only gets better with age, Ditte and the team handpicked every pair of 501s from the Levi's archives and upcycled and repurposed them to create a collection brimming with blouses featuring XXL collars, Western-style shirt dresses and, of course, jeans. With the aim of "sharing your denim and passing it on," you can sign up to Ganni Repeat to wear pieces before sending them on their way for another person to rent in the future.
While we’re savvy to bigger labels’ boasts and greenwashing, Ganni has always conceded that the road to a circular brand takes time and lots of small victories. It's this quiet commitment and candid transparency that has cultivated its loyal following. Of course you buy Ganni for the design – Ditte’s inherent positivity translates into sunny prints and playful silhouettes suitable for any and all occasions, lockdown or not – but also to be a part of the community. Whether it's seeing how people around the world style their blouses with XXL collars, leopard-print sports shorts and cross-body utility bags or absorbing the diverse perspectives from their global network through an immersive exhibition, community is and has always been at the heart of Ganni. And if 2020 has taught us anything, there’s nothing more important than that.