2019 is shaping up to be a mega year for Ganni, the Copenhagen-based label that put Denmark's fashion scene on the global map. Not only is it the 10th anniversary of husband and wife duo Nicolaj and Ditte Reffstrup joining the brand, injecting some contemporary cool in the process, but in the next 12 months, Ganni is opening between six and eight flagship stores around the world – including London this week – a timely expansion that feels fitting for a brand that has evolved and grown up with its legion of #GanniGirls.
There's no denying the influence the brand has had on our shopping habits over the past decade. Whether we're stalking the aforementioned hashtag (tracking the plethora of women who post photos of themselves wearing the brand's Western boots, ruched dresses and patent sun hats, it has accumulated thousands of Instagram posts – and counting) or becoming more joyful with our wardrobe thanks to the label's vibrant hues, contemporary silhouettes and statement prints, Ganni has been an unstoppable force, injecting inimitable Scandi aesthetics into a booming mid-range market that marries affordability with luxury design.
"Normally, I'm not the type of person who looks back, but it felt very natural to revisit what's happened over the past 10 years," creative director Ditte tells me just hours before the SS20 show. "It's a family company, and so our private life and work merges together. There has been so much love: we've had three children in those 10 years, but also grown as a company from two to eightysomething. That's why we called the collection Double Love."
We're drinking ice cold bottles of Coke (much-needed fashion week caffeine) in a nondescript hotel in central Copenhagen, which sits, as Nicolaj points out, at neither end of the accommodation scale: this isn't a rough-and-ready spot, hosting cool kids from out of town, nor is it one of the many bougie boutiques offering Campari on sunny rooftops.
"This venue was built by a flamboyant businessman in the 1970s," he explains, "who lived here and wanted a tennis court in his back yard. Since then it's turned into a shabby business hotel. For our first catwalk show in 2014, there was a definite sense of embarrassment from the guests arriving here. We got everyone out onto the courts, had guys in very short tennis shorts serving vodka, and it was boiling hot – everyone got a bit tipsy." And the show? "It was a huge success. Justin O’Shea [then fashion director of MyTheresa] posted 'Epic' on his Instagram account, and everything just came together."
"It’s very special for us to be back here, because we were always the outsiders in fashion." Nicolaj is referring to the fact that he had no previous background in the industry, while Ditte came from the buying sector, rather than traditional design. So how did they take a brand previously unknown outside its home country and turn it into the cult favourite we know today?
"For me it's about creating clothes that make women feel comfortable in their own skin in," Ditte offers. "It's simple." At first, support came by way of influencers based in Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo – the likes of Jeanette Madsen, Thora Valdimars and Emili Sindlev – before influencers further afield such as Monikh, Imani and Tiffany Hsu started repping the brand. Then followed the celebrity clientele, with Gigi Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski wearing head-to-toe Ganni at Coachella this year.
While Scandi style used to mean monochrome, neutrals, luxurious basics and more generally normcore or minimalist aesthetics – fairly austere, fairly serious – Ganni changed the game by offering women who wanted to have fun with their clothes a slew of pieces that fit seamlessly into their existing wardrobe while garnering gasps of "Where did you get your dress?!" whenever they wore them.
The brand is certainly synonymous with playful prints, patterns and pops of colour, but the collections shown at AW19 and SS20 felt slightly more grown-up than previous seasons. Butter-soft burgundy leather shirts met mix-and-match snakeskin boots, ruched desk-to-bar dresses sat alongside sleek wraparound suiting, while camel coats were paired with balloon-sleeved blouses. Yet while the collection was more elevated, Nicolaj and Ditte hardly scrimped on the fun.
Battling the rain that persisted throughout Copenhagen Fashion Week this month, guests were given theme park-style waterproofs, but spirits weren't dampened thanks to Danish musician MØ, who ran around the tennis courts bringing her signature on-stage energy to the show. By the close, guests and models alike were dancing to the music, unbothered by the bad weather.
The pair have been known to throw a Ganni afterparty or two in their Copenhagen home, inviting customers, colleagues and press to celebrate the shows come nightfall. "We both have a passion for parties, so it felt very natural for us," Ditte says. "It's a nice way to meet people when you're in your own environment." What makes a typical Ganni party? "Lots of dancing! We've never had a DJ that plays for themselves, they always play for the crowd. It's not like a typical fashion party – everyone gets on the dance floor straightaway."
That's the thing about Ganni: you want to wear the clothes but you also want to hang out with the people behind the brand, from the showrunners to the models. Luckily then, the London store looks set to be as close to home as they can recreate. "We've started opening a new type of store, starting most recently with Stockholm, where we take inspiration from our own home," Nicolaj explains. "It's a reflection of how we live, with pine wood floors, lots of colour, interior design pieces from Danish stores."
"I love London and the UK," Ditte says of the upcoming opening. "I came from a very small fisherman's town where there wasn't any fashion or magazines, so there was no window to the world, although I was into MTV. Luckily, my sister moved to Liverpool to be a dancer, so that was my first trip outside of Denmark. I immediately fell in love with the music scene and how everybody was dressed. Everything was so sporty and white. There's so much inspiration to be taken from the UK."
One of the initiatives that the London store will feature is Ganni's garment take-back scheme, through which customers can drop off their pre-loved clothing (from any brand, not just their own) before I:CO collects to give new life through its renew and recycle scheme. With around 300,000 tonnes of used and discarded clothes heading to UK landfill each year, and the fashion industry taking its place as the world's second largest polluter, responsible fashion is naturally at the forefront of Nicolaj and Ditte's minds.
Unlike a host of other brands which, as the conversation around global warming becomes more and more urgent, have scrambled to rethink their business and output, Ganni has slowly but surely been making real changes behind the scenes. Back in 2013 they hired a sustainability officer, and the brand uses a C02 carbon compensating system, which means they self-impose a carbon tax, using the resulting money to support UN-approved social projects that specifically promote clean energy. To date, one such initiative has provided 2,250 energy-efficient cookstoves to families in Ghana and Nepal.
"We never really talked about the things we were doing, because it didn't seem like something to shout about," Nicolaj tells me. "Then, everybody realised that they needed to address it, and started launching capsule collections made of dead stock and things like that..." It's easy for consumers in 2019 to be sceptical of brands' moves towards tackling their role in climate change. For every sustainable capsule collection, a £1 bikini comes out and people buy it in droves. The existing frameworks mean it's impossible to have real transparency in production lines, working conditions and material sourcing, so for every positive step taken, it can feel like we're being greenwashed and not hearing the whole dirty truth.
"It was – and still is – a very sensitive topic," Nicolaj says. "It's cynical, but for a long time there was always high risk and very little gain in speaking out about sustainability." What was the turning point for him? "Twenty years ago I studied business, economics and philosophy, and I came across game theory in a particular business dilemma, which is kind of a mathematical way of describing how humans act extremely opportunistically. They think it's better for themselves, but it's worse for people overall. At the same time I was reading books on how we've been exploiting the Earth's resources since the 1800s, and the combination of both of these realisations was a real sliding doors moment for me."
"I started sending doomsday emails to my friends," he laughs, "until I understood that you need to tell positive stories to change people's minds, or they shut down, which is counterintuitive to the outcome you want. Thankfully, that attitude has changed a lot recently. It's okay to talk about the mistakes you're making, and it's a much more nuanced debate. For us, being honest is more important to us than being perfect."
While we all know that the best solution would be to halt clothing production altogether, we also know that's incredibly naive. What we can do is buy better. Shopping secondhand is no longer a pursuit saved for charity shop trawls and warehouse kilo sales, but as thrilling as buying new thanks to platforms like Vestiaire and Depop. Armed with the knowledge that a used garment reduces 30% of its C02 footprint per shopper, Ganni is currently trialling a repeat buy system that will see customers able to rent pieces from the brand. It's also been giving fans a chance to shop old seasons since 2015 – a step that may not feel super radical, but in light of news that big fashion houses have been burning dead stock, truly is.
Between carbon mapping and UN initiatives, Ganni is refreshingly honest. "We do what every player in the industry does, which is supporting disposable behaviour, there's no denying that," Nicolaj tells me frankly. "In fact, we're very far from having created anything sustainable in the truest sense of the word, so I prefer talking about us being responsible instead. What is the responsible thing to do? That's what's frustrating people: do I buy a brand new Tesla car or a 30-year-old diesel car? No one person can answer those questions, it's too complex. So it's better to be totally transparent than to risk people misunderstanding you."
None of us is perfect: our lives have been shaped by the convenience culture of late capitalism and now we're trying to disentangle ourselves from its environmental fallout, whether that means turning vegan or shunning cars. We can't expect fashion brands – big businesses – to radically change overnight, but we can hold them accountable and expect real steps to be taken now.
The topic of sustainability, and fashion's role in tackling accelerated climate change, is white hot, brimming with contradictions and complexities that will take some time to fully understand. But with Ganni's 30 initiatives – which range from signing the Ellen MacArthur Foundation New Plastics Economy Global Commitment to rolling out free reusable and recycled packaging for customer returns, to ensuring 100% of their swimwear offering is made from recycled polyamide – you get a real sense that this isn't just hot air. Here's hoping they can inspire and influence their peers on this front as much as they have done over the past 10 years with their brand of Copenhagen cool.