Denmark is having a moment. Again. As Copenhagen fashion week ends, Sofie Gråbøl is back on our screens in Fortitude; a national lust-in is taking place for chisel-jawed Game of Thrones actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau; Lego featured on the catwalk at Agi Sam’s recent menswear show; and Danish supermodels Caroline Brasch Nielsen and Freja Beha Erichsen are gearing up to dominate next month’s London shows.
Four years on from the global success of The Killing, Danes have never been more fashionable. And this time it’s not all about woolly jumpers.
A slew of Danish labels are now making their mark internationally, from Marie Ganni to Mads Nørgaard, Wood Wood and the affordable, if unpronounceable, Samsøe Samsøe. The Danish fashion industry is booming and Copenhagen has been touted by insiders as a rising European fashion centre. The buzz around last week’s shows was palpable.
“There’s a major focus on awareness and sustainability at the moment and the Danish take on fashion fits really well into this wave,” says Copenhagen-based fashion blogger Marie Jedig. “It’s about quality rather than quantity – we like simple items that last for ever.”
Danes have small wardrobes – not because property is at a premium (you can get a four-bedroom house for the equivalent of £150,000 in Jutland), but because there’s an emphasis on owning a few, beautifully made items of clothing that you’ll wear a lot. It helps that in Denmark, trends are less mercurial. Plus, there seems to be less of a distinction between “fun” clothes and “work” clothes in Danish offices as office wear is more informal.
The most noticeable thing about Danish style is the colour – or lack thereof. Style, for men and women, comes in black, white, slate grey or – if you’re feeling really racy – navy.
“Almost all of my friends have a ‘does this come in black?’ policy which really sums up the Danish mentality around style,” admits Jedig. Instead, there’s more of a focus on design, shape, tailoring and texture because decisions about colour are taken out of the equation. Plus monochrome means everything goes with everything. “As long as every item is kept simple and monochrome you can put almost everything together,” says Jedig.
This makes getting ready for work in the morning a doddle, which is lucky since Denmark has one of the highest proportions of working mothers in the world. Around 80% of women return to work, usually full time, after having a baby in Denmark and, because childcare is heavily subsidised by taxes, men and women can have a career and a family.
Emilie Delance, another fashion blogger, puts this focus on practicality down to cycling – Denmark is covered in 7,500 miles of bike paths, 50% of Copenhageners commute by bike and there are more bikes in the capital than people, “so our clothes have to be practical and fashionable”. She tells me that any Copenhagener worth her salty liquorice steps out in skinny jeans (“that won’t snag in oily bike spokes”), a chunky knit with a turtleneck underneath for warmth (“there’s turtleneck fever in Denmark at the moment,” adds Jedig) and an oversized coat, all topped off with the biggest scarf you can find.
Scarves are huge in Denmark – literally and metaphorically – and there’s a running joke that Danes wear them at all times to “keep their heads on” (though it’s possible that some of the hilarity is lost in translation). “The weather can turn in a moment,” says Jedig, “so you wear a big scarf and then you can wrap it around your shoulders like a poncho when it gets really cold.” The result is a top-heavy silhouette that keeps you warm, makes legs look wonderfully slim by comparison, and leaves plenty of room for a big lunch of pickled herring and pastries.
The men have a similarly practical approach to fashion: having invented the beard and checked shirt combination about a decade ago, they’re still working it, but the most striking thing is that in the UK hipsters tend to focus on individuality whereas Danes prefer more of a uniform. Shirts are always worn buttoned up to the top, and half or completely untucked. T-shirts are an acceptable substitute in summer, worn under a leather jacket with skinny black jeans, while hair can be as big and, when it comes to beards, as gnarly as desired, with a light dusting of stubble the minimum requirement – after all, the Vikings practically invented the fashion-beard.
Modern-day Danish gents fend off the chill in crewneck jumpers, scarves and military-style coats or rainproof parkas from Fjällräven, Andersen Andersen and Han Kjøbenhavn. When it gets really cold – from October until March – a beanie is advised, which in Denmark is worn, delicately, towards the back of the head and behind the ears. Paired with a pair of Scandi-issue architect-specs from the Danish Lindberg brand (the popularity of the super-stylish frames is growing and even caused a political rumpus last summer when the French president, François Hollande, was spotted wearing a pair and accused of being a traitor to Gallic design).
Footwear is equally functional: “Danes are crazy about sneakers because we get around by bike all of the time,” says Jedig. You can take your pick of Nike Air Max, Nike Huarache, Adidas Stan Smiths or Red Wing boots.
And if you want to look really smart? “You wear some clunky boots,” says Delance. Royal Republiq or Acne will do nicely. The overall look is a “what-this-old-thing? I-just-threw-it-on-and–was-out-of-the-house-in-10-minutes” type vibe. Warm, practical and stylish: what’s not to love?
Helen Russell is a freelance journalist based in Denmark and the author of The Year of Living Danishly