Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"Danish Design Icons" by Mikkel Minor

Denmark is very well known for design and architecture, e.g. Danish furniture is linked with iconic pieces and names – however this has not translated into the fashion industry. For many reasons Denmark has only a few brands and pieces of interest to the conscious male consumer. Very few Danish based brands have a history longer than 20 years, most production is outsourced due to labour costs and very few companies have succeeded in producing long lasting classics. However I have attempted to compile some of the interesting stuff that is out there – some already classics, some to be and some forgotten. 
Feel free to join the discussion.

1. Ole Mathiesen - watches 

Besides original Urban Jürgensen watches, which are hard to come by and very expensive, Denmark has not had any real production of watches. However, we have a strong tradition designing them. Ole Mathiesen is one of these brands and back in 1962 they created OM1 which hasn't changed the design since. It is a classic piece that will look as good in 20 years as it did 20 years ago. A beautiful love child between Swiss craftsmanship and Danish design. 

2. Sadelmager Dahlman - "Arkitektbæltet" - The Architect Belt 

A lesser known iconic piece. But it does deserve a place because of its minimalistic, Danish aesthetic. Handmade and handsewn in their old workshop in Copenhagen. Read more about in the "Factory visit", that ATD conducted some time ago - here

3. Mads Nørgaard - jersey t-shirt

Chances are that if you have been to Denmark - you have seen this piece of clothing. The design of this shirt is by no means original but it is a classic companion in the Danish wardrobe. Mads Nørgaard started shop in 1986 and began producing his own line of clothing and is one of the more well-known Danish fashion designers. His father Jørgen Nørgaard has a shop and a brand called "Nørgaard paa Strøget", which still produces its very iconic "101" long sleeved t-shirt and other garments in Denmark.

4. Duckfeet - shoes

The design is certainly not for everyone but this shoe has survived for more than 30 years. A comfortable fit combined with the best natural materials is hard to beat. The leather quality is good and the rubber used for the sole likewise. Not much more to say other than they also age really well.

5. JBS and Hammerthor - Underwear

JBS is a well-known under clothing brand in Denmark. Not so much fuzz - just affordable quality. Low key design and materials for the average Joe. What's not to like? Many nice products without spreading too thin. This is their classic basic t-shirt which has been worn by many Danish men since it was introduced in 1939. At a price of around only $20 you will have a trusty companion in your wardrobe.

Underwear since 1893! I will let Hammerthor speak for themselves: ”Back in 1893, when the original Hammerthor quality was established, following the latest fashion was not so crucial. In those days, customers were more concerned with quality. As clothes were expected to last for many years, it was important that they were durable and practical. These basic principles are what we still live up to at Hammerthor.” With that attitude, no wonder Hammerthor boxers are still the number one choice among many Danish men. Their website leaves much to be desired, but I guess Hammerthor is busy upholding their good quality. Hammerthor was considered to be underwear for an older generation, but they have recently had a comeback especially with their Ecorinigal line (using ecological cotton and a more contemporary design) and their collaboration with Comme des Garcons. Hammerthor can now be found on the shelves of many fashionable shops in Copenhagen and are being rediscovered by a younger generation who recognize the brand their father and grandfather used to wear. Some would call it heritage wear. Not all Hammerthor products, but some parts of their range are still supposedly made in Denmark.

6. Jaco - Shoes

Similar to the ’duckfeet’, this nostalgic design pleases the foot rather than the eye in most people's opinion. The design philosophy here is more concerned with functionality and comfort than aesthetics. But that was the vision, that the designer, Jørgen Keller, had with Jacoform.  These are often seen combined with washed out jeans, an Icelandic sweater, a backpack, crud eyewear and a beard. The history dates back to the 40’s. Originally the shoe was made of plaice skin, seeing leather was a scarce commodity during the war. The company was still family owned until recently and most production is outsourced nowadays. Luckily for the Jaco fans out there the quality and design hasn’t changed a bit, e.g. the upper leather is still hand sewn.

7. Randers Handsker  - Gloves

This is the oldest manufacturer on the list. Randers Handsker has produced gloves for more than 200 years which to my knowledge makes them no less than the oldest manufacturer of gloves in the world! Until recently some models were still being produced in Denmark. But it has now been outsourced – if you are lucky, you can still find them at retailers. The gloves will have a Danish flag on them if made in Denmark. Randers Handsker can still pride themselves on being purveyor to her Majesty The Queen of Denmark. The glove depicted was supplied to the Danish Police force for many years.

8. Kawasaki - Shoes

"Sport shoes in the 70’s, disco shoes in the 90’s, working shoes in the 90’s and today a trendy retro shoe."

Despite the name this has nothing to do with the motorcycle brand and is purely Danish. This shoe was originally made for the sport of Badminton but became the single best selling shoe in Denmark ever. These shoes had a brief revival in the late 90’s, but can still be seen on the streets – mainly on younger teenage girls. However that is really a shame seeing as it is a bang for the buck shoe not unlike converse. I foresee that they will likely resurface again from time to time. It is dirt cheap and durable considering the light suede/rubber design. The original shoes were white and then came black. But not soon after they could be found in multiple colours.

9. Lindberg - Eyewear

Lindberg is perhaps the most internationally acclaimed brand on this list. Known for their unique lightweight titanium design they have won many international awards. LINDBERG is a true representative of the Danish functional and minimalist design tradition. It all started in 1983 with architect Hans Dissing and optician Poul-Jørn Lindberg designing the AIR Titanium frame. Using titanium Lindberg succeeded in making a design that is lightweight (they claim to be among the lightest in the world), flexible and strong. Unnecessary details have been done away with and the frames are designed without screws, rivets or welds. All this makes the frames strong, deformation resistant and hypoallergenic-nickel free. Nose pads and temple covers made from medical silicone ensure that the frame stays in place, and is comfortable. The frames are handcrafted (used to be made in Denmark, but is now outsourced.) and can be customized in countless ways making each pair of glasses individual – but still consistent in their look. The simplicity of the design doesn't claim much attention, but you have most likely seen them on someone famous at some point. The subtle look and quality doesn't come cheap and besides sitting on the noses of famous people, they are mostly seen on scholars and businessmen who demand quality that isn't flashy.

10. SNS Herning - Knitwear

Besides Lindberg SNS strik is one of the few brands on the list that is known internationally due to a revival a few years back. True quality simply can’t be denied.
The company was founded by Soren Nielsen Skyt back in 1931 under the name SNS Herning after the town where it is produced. The name remains the same and so does the method of production - albeit the assembly now takes place in Latvia, it's still knitted in Denmark. SNS is best known for their classic fisherman-knit sweaters, with its characteristic 'bubble pattern' that provides good isolation and prevents the knit from getting to heavy even when wet. The quality is durable seeing as it was designed to be used by seamen.
Their clothes are being produced in exactly the same way and at the same machinery as when the company started, and still in Denmark. Somehow they have managed to keep the prices at a reasonable level. If you come by any SNS knitwear please notice the hang-tag, where you’ll be able to find the handwritten initials of the knitter who was in charge of handling the machine, when the piece was produced. Almost needless to say; the company remains family owned.

All words by Mikkel Minor

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