Danish fashion history

By Marie Riegels Melchior, ph.d.

The Danish fashion scene is inspiring and varied. It features good clothing at good prices, for him, her, girl and boy. As the CEO of Danish Fashion Institute has stated, it's about creating "Fashion for All." Danish fashion builds on a tradition of ensuring affordable price levels, combined with an accessible and fashionable form. Danish fashion sets its own aesthetic agenda, but is never loud or exaggerated. There are colours, graphics, and good cuts to be found in Danish fashion, and a predilection for the wearable. Danish fashion builds on a history that goes back to the end of the 1950s, when the original fashion week in Copenhagen emerged, with the belief that fashion design could just as well originate locally as enter the country from metropolises like Paris, London, or New York.

Fashion for All

Danish fashion has emerged from the clothing industry in Denmark's standardized manufacturing of clothes. Everyday clothes have been, and still are for many Danish brands, the point of departure. The clothes should be usable. Most Danish fashion designers stress that the pieces should not only serve a practical function with a single expression. 

For Danish childrenswear, joy, play, and outdoor life are the dominant features. Here, humoristic and colourful graphics are a recurring attribute, exemplified by brands like Molo and Danefæ. Other childrenswear brands like Soft Gallery, Okker Gokker, and Mini a Ture have chosen a more romantic and poetic tone in their styles.

Danish fashion seeks to inspire the modern woman and man with an active lifestyle. The clothes should be flexible, not too practical or too fine, too minimalist or too embellished, but rather strike a balance and be suited to the many different situations a modern life includes. For work, café visits, bike rides, at home with one's SO or family, or out partying. Fashion brands established in the 1990s and 2000s that exhibit this bohemian and carefree style include: Munthe plus Simonsen [now Munthe], Day Birger et Mikkelsen, Bruuns Bazaar, Mads Nørgaard-Copenhagen, Rützou, Baum und Pferdgarten, Whiite, By Malene Birger, and Karen by Simonsen.

The clothes must be flexible, not too practical or too fancy, too minimalistic or too dressy but hit right in between the many varied situations a modern weekday can offer. 

Other Danish fashion brands are characterized by a strong conceptual and graphic identity, as seen with the likes of Henrik Vibskov, Moonspoon Saloon, Soulland, Stine Goya, and Libertine-Libertine. Their contributions to Danish fashion are often more of a challenge to wear, and the wearer must not be afraid to stand out from the pack.

New fashion design buds, however, are making a more radically artistic impact on Danish fashion. Catering to everyday needs or accessibility is no ambition in itself. It's rather about avant-garde fashion design, creating experiences that challenge traditional silhouettes and norms of dress. In 2013, the fashion brands setting this agenda include Anne Sofie Madsen, Vilsbøl de Arce, Freya Dalsjø, Astrid Andersen, and Asger Juel Larsen.

Variations and new fractions seem the future for Danish fashion, and the slogan "Fashion for All" nods in the direction not only of accessibility, but also of diversity, in terms of style, fit, and price level.

Copenhagen Fashion Week

Since 2006, Denmark's fashion week has been marketed under the name Copenhagen Fashion Week. Its history however goes back to the late 1950s. The first Danish fashion fairs – Dansk Modeuge and Dansk Herremodeuge – were held in 1958. Since then they have developed and changed names several times. With Copenhagen Fashion Week, the fashion industry celebrates Danish fashion twice a year and works for increased attention both nationally and internationally. While foreign buyers are in town, a number of fashion brands present their new collections in runway shows. Since the turn of the millennium, Copenhagen City Hall has been the central show stage of Copenhagen Fashion Week. Along with the simultaneous, consumer-oriented Copenhagen Fashion Festival, it underlines the industry's ambition of making Copenhagen visible as an international fashion city.

Siden 2006 har den danske modeuge været markedsført under navnet Copenhagen Fashion Week. Modeugens historie går tilbage til slutningen af 1950’erne. De første danske modemesser – Dansk Modeuge og Dansk Herremodeuge – blev afviklet i 1958. Siden har de udviklet sig og taget navneforandring op til flere gange. Med Copenhagen Fashion Week fejrer modeindustrien hvert halve år dansk mode og arbejder for en øget opmærksomhed nationalt såvel som internationalt. Mens udenlandske indkøbere er i byen, afholder flere modebrands deres egne modeshows. Siden årtusindeskiftet har Københavns Rådhus dannet rammen om modeugens centrale showscene. Sammen med den parallelle forbrugerorienterede Copenhagen Fashion Festival, markerer det industriens ambition om at synliggøre København som international modeby.

With Copenhagen Fashion Week the fashion industry celebrates Danish fashion every six months and works to get increased national and internaiotnal attention.

The Danish fashion industry

Danish fashion is based on the Danish fashion industry, which at the beginning of the 21st century is a globalised export industry. Manufacturing and sales take place everywhere, mostly outside the borders of Denmark. In Denmark, the industry is represented by offices for sales, marketing, design, and administration. Since the 1990s, there has been a gradual rise in the industry's export revenues and export shares. That has happened concurrent with the beginnings and development of Denmark's biggest fashion company, Bestseller A/S, and the establishment of IC Companys A/S after a merger between two eye-catching Danish companies, InWear A/S and Carli Gry A/S.

Since the 1990s, there has been a gradual rise in the industry's export revenues and shares of Danish exports. 

The industry is challenged by tough competition, however. That has been the case through the entire 20th century. Not least since the 1950s, when the industry transformed from domestic market-based clothing production to export market-driven fashion production, in biannual collections with styles on a par with the zeitgeist.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the words "Danish fashion" entered people's vocabulary. Young fashion designers took employment as designers for the clothing manufacturers. That allowed for stories and front figures to sell the garments. The leading Danish fashion designers of the 1960s included Søs Drasbæk (Dranella), Margit Brandt (eponymous), Mugge Kølpin (Mugge Kølpin Design), Lise-Lotte Wiingaard (Kat Design), Bent Visti, and Lars Hillingsø, who each worked for different clothing companies. Several of these designers continued their careers in the industry through the 1970s and 1980s. Brands like Dranella, Margit Brandt, and Nørgaard på Strøget still exist, while many new have joined in later. The 80s saw the emergence of such brands as Sand, Ivan Grundahl, Elise Gug, Noa Noa, Jan Machenhauer, and Samsøe + Samsøe.

To bolster the development of the industry, it has historically been organised in various associations and organizations. In the beginning of the 21st century, the industry is nearly comprehensively gathered in the organizations Dansk Mode & Tekstil and WEAR and in the network Danish Fashion Institute. These organizations work for the continued promotion of exports, for branding of Danish fashion, and for strengthening the Danish fashion companies' social and ethical profiles. This occurs through NICE – Nordic Initiative Clean and Ethical – which develops guidelines and other tools for the individual company to use.