STOCKHOLM, Sweden/COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Identified by crude, neon-yellow duct tape letters stuck to an exterior wall, high budget it was not. But that didn’t stop the Space by RMH presentation being the most exciting thing at Stockholm Fashion Week. In fact, it was a welcome reprieve from some of the more deep-pocketed designers at the event that wrapped up last week.
Behind the thick, 300-year-old, whitewashed walls of Stockholm’s oldest industrial building — the strangely pastoral Scenkonstmuseet — six emerging designers were invited by RMH to present together in an enthusiastic mash-up. The thump of Scandinavian-inflected hip-hop set the tone at the entrance, where a hanging reel of industrial-grade cling-film became an obelisk, proclaiming the need for collaboration.
Fittingly, the creative concept agency behind the show, RMH, is so-called because it stands for "respect my hustle”. Unpretentious and somewhat irrepressible, the event’s participants ranged from RMH’s favourite grill maker, holding court surrounded by black replica jawbones and students playing Mortal Kombat, to an eco-conscious luxury streetwear label from Ghana called Hi On Life. Streetwear labels like Tafari Gold, STAI and Official Gallery were on hand alongside Die Monde, a convincing 1970s-inspired sportswear tailoring brand.
“The youth culture is growing so much [here and] ‘third culture kids’ are more connected, more viral; they seek a world without boundaries and borders. So for us, making this space available, it was important [because of ] the drive of these young people,” says organiser and RMH founder Babak Azarmi.
Today, thanks to the commercial demands of the industry, fresh, convincing ideas such as Space by RMH are thin on the ground. And as you move further from the fashion capitals, the problem gets compounded. It can be especially challenging in Scandinavia and East Asia, where much of what is shown on the runway falls within a contemporary price range.
Is it really possible to have this number of weeks in the long-run?
But there are bigger issues to consider beyond design or marketability. As Emma Ohlson, general secretary of the Association of Swedish Fashion Brands [ASFB], the organisation that co-founded Stockholm Fashion Week admits, “When you talk about fashion week everyone has the same question: ‘Is it really possible to have this number of weeks in the long-run?’”
Today, three factors call into question the effectiveness and long term viability of maintaining a traditional fashion week model in a minor fashion capital like Stockholm or Copenhagen. Namely, the reach and affordability of digital alternatives; the continuing consolidation of the fashion calendar by major brands; and the competition for buyers and press, created by the wholesale adoption of the fashion week model across the globe.
As a result, second-tier fashion weeks increasingly face a choice: consolidate or specialise.
Local Advantages and Limitations
Taking place back-to-back (with an overlap of one day) just after the haute couture shows in Paris and at the same time as the menswear shows in New York, the organisers of Stockholm [FWS] and Copenhagen [CFW] fashion weeks each put on well-organised showcases, combining big local names and the finest venues the respective cities have to offer.
Both of Scandinavia’s main fashion weeks have established international reputations, aided the development of local design business and driven national exports. The Danish fashion industry has seen the rise of major brands like Day Birger et Mikkelsen and has become the country’s fourth largest exporting industry, with 26 billion Danish Krone (approximately €3.5 billion) in exports in 2016 according to Danmark Statistik. Buoyed by the likes of fashion giant H&M, the Swedish fashion industry in 2015 had a turnover of 305 billion Swedish Krone (approximately €32.2 billion), which represents about 11 percent of Sweden's total exports.
In a pragmatic sense, [today] it is a market place for Scandinavian brands.
However, most brands shown at Scandinavia’s fashion weeks are far smaller. Where the region’s niche brands once lured international buyers who sought off-the-radar labels to help distinguish their stores and add variety to their offering, buyers were not typically loyal in the long term. And now that fashion weeks take place in Moscow, Mumbai, Sydney, Melbourne, Jakarta, Kiev, Berlin, Seoul, Shanghai, Tokyo and everywhere in-between, it has become an extremely competitive business to attract buyers from major global retailers.
“There are some international [retailers], but typically they would be from Germany, Holland, Austria, Belgium. The majority are from Scandinavian countries,” says Nicolaj Refstrupp chief executive of affordable luxury brand Ganni, which, only in its sixth season, has become one of the biggest draws to Copenhagen Fashion Week and one of its most successful international ambassadors in terms of prestigious stockists.
“In a pragmatic sense, [today] it is a market place for Scandinavian brands. We have 75 appointments this week alone. It is a very efficient platform for us,” he continues.
Across the border in Stockholm, a similarly domestic focus exists. “FWS has some international press onboard but their presence is still limited. I believe that showing in Stockholm mainly drives the Scandinavian business,” says Carin Rodebjer of Rodebjer, one of Stockholm’s biggest domestic designers, along with Fillipa K and J Lindeberg.
International Star Power
To drive and maintain interest from international buyers and press, both Copenhagen and Stockholm are seeking to identify and nurture a star designer, capable of maintaining consistent and bankable attendance rates.
Scandinavia is of course capable of creating international fashion brands — in fact it already has: “I envy Stockholm and Sweden in that they managed to produce Acne,” says Ganni’s Refstrupp, who also sits on the board of Denmark’s Fashion Institute, CFW’s governing body. “That is definitely what we need. The garment industry in Denmark is actually pretty big, but it is mostly more similar to fast fashion, and we definitely need to see someone like Acne, with a real international, design-led business,” he continues.
However, Acne’s decision to move its show to Paris highlights another inherent limitation faced by the Scandinavian weeks. Due to the relatively small size of the region’s internal markets (approximately 9 million, 5 million and 5 million people respectively for Sweden, Denmark and Norway), Scandinavian brands export to international markets far earlier in their development than some of their international peers. Establishing commercial relationships and bigger businesses outside of their modest home markets, makes showing in bigger markets a logical strategy.
“For Acne to be on the official schedule of Paris, we're proud of that. It's part of the development of the brand and we would like to see many brands get that success whilst supporting the growth coming out from the schools,” says Lena Patriksson of Patriksson Communications, one of the co-founders of FWS who sits on the board of directors of H&M and is the chairwoman the ASFB.
But the reality, this season at least, is that the most remarkable aspect across both cities was the prolific creative influence of Demna Gvasalia, as seen from many derivative designs on the catwalk. There were however some notable exceptions such as Stockholm’s Rodebjar, Hope and J Lindeberg, and indeed Die Monde from the Space RMH presentation, along with Copenhagen’s Tonsure, Cecilie Bahnsen, Henrik Vibskov and Ganni. But while these are either strong or potentially strong brands, none have a level of star power to draw the international industry’s focus to the region.
A Call for Consolidation
The most obvious solution is to consolidate Stockholm and Copenhagen fashion weeks, along with Oslo and possibly Helsinki, into a pan-Scandinavian, Nordic Fashion Week, pooling the best of the individual schedules. “There is always a fashion week going on somewhere and Scandinavia is, after all, pretty small and remote. We would make it easier to increase the presence from international press if we could combine them all,” says Carin Rodejbar. “Strategically, one destination would have clear advantages,” agrees Christina Exteen of By Malene Birger, one Denmark’s biggest design businesses, sold through 900 wholesale doors and 25 own branded stores, with a turnover of 355 DKK million (€47.7 million) in the 2015/16 fiscal year.
Perhaps because of the increased pressure on the traditional fashion week model, fashion week organisers are already collaborating across the spectrum, including in Scandinavia. “We're all part of the Nordic council and we meet on regular basis and I would say it's good,” explains Patriksson of Stockholm Fashion Week.
Similarly, in her new role as chief executive of Copenhagen Fashion Week, taking over from Eva Kruse, Camilla Frank recently reached out to the region’s fashion weeks and began dialogue with Stockholm. “There is a great potential for the Scandinavian fashion weeks to unite in presenting Scandinavian brands to overseas buyers on a strong united platform. We remain very positive about the idea of a future cooperation with both Stockholm and Oslo,” she continues.
But in the global context of consolidation across fashion weeks (the combination of men’s and women’s shows; the inclusion of Pre-Fall collections in main season shows; and a now-accepted elasticity as to what is shown when in the calendar), a consolidated Scandinavian fashion week might still struggle to make waves.
Opportunities for Innovation and Specialisation
“In my opinion, Copenhagen’s opportunity to have a really serious voice in the fashion industry, a place on the fashion map, is to develop the sustainable fashion summit [further],” says Kristian Anderson of the Copenhagen International Fashion Fair, the region’s biggest fashion trade fair. “That is where we are able to stand out among thousands of events around the world. Everybody is busy so if you can fit in one or two days to come here, it needs to be a serious agenda.”
Copenhagen’s opportunity to have a really serious voice in the fashion industry, a place on the fashion map, is to develop the sustainable fashion summit [further].
While CFW is a keen supporter and collaborator of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit – and up until this season the two events were in fact run by the same woman, Eva Kruse – sustainability is not its primary agenda. Promoting Danish fashion brands is. “That being said… we are looking very much forward to seeing the outcome of the Global Fashion Agenda with Copenhagen Fashion Summit in May to see how their results can be incorporated on the CFW platform — to the extent that it goes hand-in-hand with the overall CFW agenda,” says Frank.
However, closer collaboration, or perhaps even a merger, has potential. “The Summit has demonstrated an impressive growth and made an impressive impact in the world. In time, this will be more integrated in fashion, as people will look to Copenhagen in terms of setting the agenda for sustainability,” believes By Malene Birger’s Exsteen.
Although not as synonymous as its near neighbour with sustainability, Stockholm is no slouch either. The commitment to sustainability in both capitals is impressive. Combined, it is possible the region could establish itself as fashion’s sustainability hub and authority, an increasingly valuable and relevant resource.
Correlatively, in a bid to add a unique selling point, Stockholm will launch its Fashion Tech Talks in June 2017 as part of the Stockholm Symposium, a week-long festival including events such as the Polar Music Prize, culminating in the respected Brilliant Minds conference. “It's about solving future problems for the fashion industry, and about optimisation, reduction and sustainability, which Swedes have been in the forefront of for a long time. When we're talking about innovation, we're talking about sustainability,” Patriksson continues.
A New Injection of Diversity
In addition to leveraging the sustainability expertise of the region, Scandinavia’s current positive stance on immigration could also offer opportunity in an increasingly isolationist world.
“Scandinavia’s fashion scene is a lot about anxiety and to drive that anxiety out of it you have to find new energy,” says RMH’s Azarmi, who himself was inspired by the Swedish hardcore punk scene of the 1970s. “Immigration is super important for everything to grow. That is what is driving Scandinavian fashion. I don’t know what the purpose of Stockholm Fashion Week is, but I know what our purpose is. We want to make a change.”
Johan Lindeberg, who returned to his namesake label this season, agrees: “A very high proportion of Swedes are immigrants. If we start to involve integration here and bring that creativity out, I think it’s going to be a very interesting time. Using a mix of art and innovation and technology and fashion and so on to reduce borders and connect across them.
“We need to figure out a different angle,” he says.
Disclosure: Robin Mellery-Pratt travelled to Copenhagen and Stockholm as a guest of Copenhagen and Stockholm Fashion Week respectively.