Boy Meets Girl

Designer Pernille Engbirk discovers the softer side in today's tough girl. By Johnathan Lawhorne
Anyone lucky enough to catch any part of last month's Copenhagen Fashion Week knows that Scandinavia is quickly garnering the same sort of fashion cred of its nearby fellow European neighbors. And while Denmark might not exactly be Paris, it's become the starting point for some equally compelling design talent. The latest export to spark some industry interest—on multiple continents—is Pernille Engbirk, a young purveyor of androgynously dreamy creations that are perhaps more reminiscent of Belgium's fashion roots than anywhere else.
A 2004 graduate of the Danish School of Design in 2004, Engbirk has already established some signatures in her short time going solo—she's fond of muted, neutral tones contrasted with wintry blacks and grays, a classic stormy palette that provides just the right canvas for her sharply cut, beautifully boyish coats and slim ruched pants. And those hard lines spotted in many of her designs are no mistake. "I come from a family of architects and am very much influenced by the straight lines and simplification in Danish classical architecture," she says.
For her latest spring/summer collection, Engbirk embarked on a journey to the Far East, culling brooding elements from Chinese Communism. Her focus was the utilitarian signatures of the classical worker suit, which she keenly fashions for today's feminine form. "I was looking at the structure of the classical revolutionary suit," she says. "Mao Zedong inspired my materials and silhouettes, especially the collars of the shirts." From loose-fitting trousers and boxy overcoats to elegantly draped day dresses, the designer reveals a shrewd attention to shape and structure and how the two can coexist beautifully. "I try to break down ordinary shapes and use them in a new and deconstructed way, where the soft meets the hard," she says.
With two design honors already under her belt, this Scandinavian star is laying the groundwork for a pretty stellar fashion future, in Denmark or anywhere. Couture-like craftsmanship with commercial relevance…that's something any girl-guy could love.
Engbirk is available in Seattle at Polite Society, 1924 First Avenue; 206-441-4796. For more information, go to
Designer Pernille Engbirk discovers the softer side in today's tough girl.

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