New York, London, Milan, and Paris still reign, but Copenhagen Fashion Week is making an impact on the global industry, not only in terms of aesthetics but also brand power. Editors, buyers, and influencers from around the world flock to the Danish capital to see local success stories like Saks Potts, Ganni, and Cecilie Bahnsen—or at least they did pre-COVID-19.
This year, of course, things are different in Copenhagen. Fashion week is forging ahead, but it’s a hybrid model, with fewer physical shows and more events, talks, and virtual experiences. Discussion and community are the main focus. The pandemic has disrupted our industry, and all of us have been forced to slow down, pare back, and refocus on things beyond clothes, accessories, and It girls. The Danes are a step ahead in some regards, especially when it comes to sustainability. Earlier this year, the Copenhagen Fashion Week council announced a new action plan that promises to reduce its carbon footprint by 50%.
Designer Stine Goya and Barbara Werner, the founder of the local store Holly Golightly, have been central to the growing international influence of Copenhagen: Goya by attracting a global audience of retailers from Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Net-a-Porter; and Werner by selling local favorites like Emilie Helmstedt alongside international brands, including Marni, Proenza Schouler, and Dries Van Noten, in what was one of the first major fashion boutiques to open in the city.
Given the EU’s travel bans, I’m sitting out this Copenhagen Fashion Week—it’s usually one of the highlights of my year—so I scheduled a Zoom call with Goya and Werner to discuss the evolution of their local fashion scene and where it can and should go from here.
Stine Goya: When I started showing in Copenhagen shortly after we launched in 2006, there were very few brands participating in fashion week. There were only a few buyers from small boutiques in Japan, local people from Scandinavia, and little to no press from abroad. For a while, we stopped showing because it didn’t make sense at the time, but then we decided to do Copenhagen Fashion Week again in 2017 because it had really grown. I think the city of Copenhagen and our way of living feels quite easygoing for those who visit from abroad, and the same goes for the fashion here. But it’s also about newness and innovation, and I think people feel like it’s still quite an intimate fashion week to go to compared to the major fashion cities, but it certainly is more international now and more mature in many ways.
Barbara Werner: I opened Holly Golightly in 2001 and I’ve been going to Copenhagen Fashion Week a little bit since then, but not much early on. I actually don’t go to many shows in other cities because I like to do quick buying appointments and now there are so many seasons that the traveling can be quite a lot throughout the year. But I also think that the show schedule in Copenhagen has been edited down a bit in recent years, which is a good thing. Especially now, it’s so difficult to fund the shows; it’s such a big investment for brands. The very well-grounded labels can do it, but it is a challenge for the more up-and-coming, experimental brands in Copenhagen. Due to the pandemic, it’s going to be difficult for those smaller fashion labels to hold on. I even have my doubts around whether or not there is a strong future for a little shop like mine, because it’s getting harder and harder to grow a business. People have so many other avenues online through which they can access merchandise we sell or another small store sells. So I think we are definitely going to see different approaches to fashion, and fashion week, everywhere, worldwide, some for the better and there will be things lost along the way as well.
We’ve really tried to sharpen our online presence during the pandemic and just before it hit. We are investing more time and money into enhancing our e-commerce platform, because before, it was really out of necessity that we had one, but it didn’t measure up to the experience of coming to the actual store in Copenhagen. During the pandemic especially, since people were stuck at home, we really infused the site with more personality and updated it every day with new merchandise and content.
SG: For us, we’re looking at this new hybrid fashion week in Copenhagen and it has challenged us to think out of our comfort zone and it’s forced us to think differently. This is, for me as a designer, a very special moment because I won’t have this instant feedback from the audience that has just watched my show. All of this content will be shared immediately and I will miss the physical show but I also think this is not the time to do a fashion show. We have a film and for it we thought a lot about bringing in local teams, local creatives, and artists to help make and star in the film. It’s more important now than ever to empower your local community and help to pick them back up after this crisis. And only time will tell whether the digital shows will have as great an impact as physical runways.
BW: Buying in this environment too has been a bit challenging, but I do feel pretty good about the new process. I think the whole process is much more holistic now, with an approach to buying that is linked to the environment: Are you buying something that customers can buy and keep for a long, long time? Is it made and produced and manufactured ethically? I think going forward, buying and shopping and design will be more about the work and the way things are made rather than seasonality or trends. I think people still want to see beautiful things and be inspired by the creativity of the designers, but they are not greedy in the same way—they’re not hungry to spend and spend and spend and dispose and dispose, because, why would you want to? Everyone will be approaching and consuming fashion in the ways that feel right to them and what they trust is the right thing to do. And that’s a very good thing. Hopefully we will stay curious and creative, and I know everyone is excited to see what the designers will come up with, especially here in Copenhagen.
I think overall, whether we’re talking about shows or buying and consuming, it’s important to take the opportunity to use your voice and make your designs or your stores about more than just clothing and creativity. It’s about communication and creating conversations around sustainability, ethics, and diversity.
SG: We still have so much more to learn. The spring 2020 show where the LGBTQ and BIPOC ballroom community in Copenhagen performed was a starting point. But I think within the last few months I’ve realized how much more work there is to do outside of a runway show. I think we have a huge issue in Denmark as far as diversity and inclusion is concerned, and I believe that as a brand we really need to provide more opportunities for BIPOC talents and exercise true allyship. We have such a long way to go, but internally here at Stine Goya, we’re really taking in all of the criticism and using every opportunity to teach ourselves to create systemic change, to do things better. We want to create an internship program for the BIPOC community, as well as partner with social organizations for the long term, [and] create jobs for the BIPOC community. This is really a time to change, but we have a long way to go in Denmark.
BW: The pandemic, the social justice movement, this is all calling us to be more conscious as a society, and I think that’s what’s happening worldwide. People, especially in fashion, aren’t addressing things that should have been addressed a long time ago and should be addressed going forward. There is a new consciousness in fashion in terms of championing inclusivity and presenting a piece of work that one can be proud of. I think too that the pandemic has proven that we need to slow down and think about how we can make things better. Designers and brands are thinking more about how they can support their local communities and creatives, and I think consumers are wanting to support shops and brands that are struggling right now during the pandemic. I personally can see people investing in fashion in a different way. They’re buying more jewelry or timeless items of clothing because those are things that are for sure, in a way.
SG: I also think, business-wise, this pandemic has turned everything upside down and it has forced us to look at all of our operations. We consider everything in terms of collection sizes, partnerships with different social organizations, hiring practices, everything. I think, for me at least, it’s provided a new wave of energy and hope for the future. After months of uncertainty, having these clearer goals and ways of working has been invigorating. I also think across the board, it’s important for Copenhagen Fashion Week to showcase and highlight a spectrum of what is possible in these new times. The organization has always pushed the boundaries and offered the industry a taste of something different because the brands and the community behind it are open to change and evolution.