*Denmark’s crown prince of fashion doesn’t care what you think
I was sweating. Beads of perspiration were pouring down my neck, my face, and back. Rolling down my gold and silver sequin blazer. The hot Parisian sun was unforgiving. The man beside me was wearing a leather trench coat.
Others looked like lost cast members of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. We all looked ridiculous. But we didn’t care. For some, it was as if Christmas had come early. One man raved to another about how far he had traveled just to see the show. The soles of my shoes seemed to be burning into the tar of the earth. Yet, here we were, a bunch of misfits standing in glamorous costume on an abandoned school playground, like school children to be ushered to morning homeroom. To the gymnasium of Lycée Henri-IV, one of France’s most prestigious secondary schools. Waiting for a fashion show to start. And as I looked around at the line that seemed to swerve around corners, I began to understand. For Henrik Vibskov the world was a show. A fantastical, bizarre universe where at 47, Vibskov remains a leader. And we were his sheeple.
Having produced more than thirty collections since his graduation from Central Saint Martins in 2001, the Danish multi-hyphenate is so much more than a poster boy for independent fashion. How many fingers do you have? A typical month for Vibskov includes an exhibition in Chicago, a visit to his New York flagship, England for more exhibitions, and then preparation for costumes he’s designing for the Swedish Royal Ballet. How does he do it? “I just like to explore my brain a bit,” he says with a nonchalance that can only be described as distinctly European or “North Scandi” to be exact. “Getting out on thin ice,” he calls it.
With a whimsical boutique, selling more than 20 designers, from cult favorites like Comme des Garҫons to emerging labels like Eckhaus Latta, Vibskov has been in the business of doing it for yourself long before the notion of menswear received as much as head nod from a celebrity or discerning editor looking for the next big thing. Eons before entrepreneurialism became chic. For Vibskov, like many young brands, it was about survival. “It started many years ago when we didn’t have such big collections. We needed other products,” he says. “I like the mix of products, designers, colors, visions, and religions. Just as the world is.”
Visions that include a “Spaghetti Hand Job”, “Sticky Brick Fingers”, nude rhythmic movement, and most recently, “The Radish Arm Charm”, the designer’s Fall/Winter 2019 interpretation of futuristic farming. Of which Vogue called “amateur”. But the designer’s unique brand of eclecticism isn’t for everyone. “It’s not easy making cool commercial stuff that sells. But that’s not what I’m aiming for. I need passion,” he once told Scandinavian Traveler. “For graduation from Central Saint Martins I suggested to the teachers that I have real pigs on stage, but that was not an option,” he says, “So I made fake ones instead.” In case you haven’t gathered, Vibskov doesn’t care what you think.
Yet since 2003, Vibskov has been a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Mode Masculine, the official governing body of French menswear and is one of the most prolific menswear designers to come out of his beloved Denmark to date. Denmark is also where he lives with his family and where his studio is based. It’s also where Den Plettede Gris is, his café located in the center of Copenhagen, Danish for “The Spotted Pig”.
And if you’ve also noticed, the designer has a bit of an unusual fascination with the rose toned creature. Perhaps a consequence of being raised by pig farmers. He even based a collection on his four legged friends, called “The Salami Kitchen.” And founded the P.I.G. (Practical. Intelligence. Genius) Foundation. “The aim is to focus on outstanding new talent, selected from across all creative fields, and to help them financially proceed with their work,” Vibskov says. "I had been doing a lot of talks around the world, participating in juries at schools and so on, and I decided that I wanted to start donating the fees for those activities to help foster some of the amazing creativity out there," he continues.
In a landscape where change is the only constant, and funds always seem to be limited or non-existent for many independent brands, the Danish designer is somewhat of a unicorn. “There is always a limit,” Vibskov says, “but we always get our message across.”
The PR girl aptly dressed in black ushered everyone to their seats. The humidity inside the gymnasium was equally as oppressive as it had been on the playground. Some guests were fanning themselves with programs. Three women in modest muslin began turning windmills. The ocean of commotion ceased. The models began to walk. Silence. The show had begun.