Henrik Vibskov - Designer
I Love You Magazine, September 2014
Henrik Vibskov, 41 years old, closed Copenhagen Fashion Week Spring/Summer 15 in style with a show that several fashion critics speak of as his best show to this date – the Norwegian ballet dancing in a swimming pool in the centre of his catwalk combined with inspiring clothes made everybody’s hearts beat. I Love You got the chance to get a glimpse of the highly discussed Danish fashion designer, musician and artists’ universe and brand building.
It is just a few days ago since the end of a hectic, but fantastic fashion week in Copenhagen and I am heading to Christianshavn to meet Vibskov. Christianhavn is a part of the inner city in Copenhagen, is for foreigners particularly known for the free city Christiania. The entire peninsula is a fascinating mix of artists, families with small children, large companies’ headquarters, fancy hotels and hippies that you cannot find any other place in Denmark. On a small island connected to Christianshavn Henrik Vibskov saw possibilities that nobody had seen before him. No one considered the Paper Island as anything special and the old houses and halls located on the island were forgotten. He chose to move his studio to the one and only address on the island and now it has transformed into one of the hippest places in Copenhagen – what the designer describes it as mini-Ibiza. Along with the designer’s own café ‘The Spotted Pig’ there is now a large street-food market and deck chairs for people to enjoy organic wine and hang out. He has held his fashion shows on the island for a few seasons now.
I am incredibly excited to get to know more about the artist and designer that I admire for his art, his unstoppable imagination and his fantastic creations. When I enter his café that works as a part of his studio Henrik Vibskov asks me if I want a coffee and says: “There is kind of a hangover-atmosphere around here right now” with a glint in his eye. He is wearing baggy pants, a basket-shirt and a threadbare cap. We walk into what the designer calls his ‘flexible studio’ or ‘The Spotted Pig Concert Hall’ – the studio that works for textiles, rough work with tree and metal but also as a space for concerts now and then. He wants it to work as a studio with lectures and movie-screenings with different, inspiring people – but for now it is the place for our interview. While curious tourists stare inside from the transparent gate the designer lights a cigarette and seem nicely laid-back in his surroundings and happy that the stress and the rush from fashion week is over.
As Vibskov starts talking I expect that he will tell me that he is taking a break and relaxing a bit, but as he will do many times during our interview, he surprises me. His mindset seems to me beyond humanity and he is able to carry out several different tasks at once.
“The season is over and everything runs very slowly right now. I have two deadlines of theatre-projects, it’s not like the time has stopped. One of them is for a Björk performance on the opera in Brussels. Ten years ago Björk sent out a record called Medúlla and they have not set up a show around that album. I am going to create the set designs and the costumes. The other one is a children’s’ performance on the Public Theatre in Norway. My plan is to space it out, a bit like in the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I was in Oslo a few days ago, but everything is working slowly. But it’s good.”
What is both fascinating and inspiring about his personality is that he is not even close to sounding selfish or destroyed by his fruitful career. He is aware of the way he has developed and is only speaking of his brand as we and not as I. Vibskov also speaks of his business as loose and comfy and finds balance in the inspiration that new people bring to the studio. He might have found the key and healthiest recipe to success; his way of working and living is based on giving and taking. Not in terms of a base built on massive replacement of people but on a vision of making things grow naturally – new people start working for him from time to time but he maintains the connection to them.
“I think we are around twelve to fifteen people for lunch everyday… a mix of interns, workers and friends. We hire around six interns every season and for our fashion shows there are always old interns and friends showing up to help a bit. It is like a small family. The interns stay here as a part of their education in the creative field. We get around four applications a day. They all come with different references – some of them with references to architecture, knitting or graphics that they can bring into our work here. It is important for me to be able to teach people what I have learned. At one point I’m not here anymore or maybe I don’t want to do this anymore… then somebody else has to do it. So if I can learn my interns of how the business works in Paris and if they can bring me energy in exchange – then it’s great. It’s important. For a future perspective it is also good to learn from each other’s different experiences.”
Vibskov does not only help new talents by offering them internships in his studio. He also works as a professor on different art universities in Denmark, England, Spain and Belgium and goes even farer in his wish of developing new talents with a humble attitude. “When I work as a professor the university can donate the money to our union, P:i:G (Practical, Intelligence, Genius) that can donate it to a new talent – we’re not talking about several millions, but everything helps. That’s something I’ve that thought about for a very long time. It has taken a long time to figure out how to create the process for it, but now it’s up and running. I somehow want to stand up for the young crowd. I think it’s a good signal to send – everything is not just about me and it is important to make space for people to grow.”
Another important fact that is important to know in order to understand the brand and building of the business are the choices that Vibskov make in collaboration with his team. The money they make is spent on next season’s collection and artistic projects, not on expensive showrooms and fancy studios. The gold lies in the pure creativity and the wish of living it out – indisputable that involves inevitable, but natural, struggles. It is a choice that Vibskov makes to run his business in the way he wants too. He might not be the most commercial, best-selling designer and he needs to accept that he has to cut down on other things that other designers in the industry might consider as an actual criterion for getting along in the field.
“Sometimes we don’t have that much money here in the studio as well and are forced to create new ways for expressing our ideas. People think we have loads of money but we don’t have anything. We don’t spend money on useless stuff. I think we sometimes make room for projects that might be too big for us – I mean, we are quite a small company. When we show in Paris the show before us could be Givenchy and they have 250 people backstage. They have rented the location fourteen days before to be 100% sure that everything works out. Then we arrive and try to play against that.”
Henrik Vibskov has creative blood running through his nerves and it shines through everything he does. He wants to touch people and make them react in unexpected ways – he wants to make them think in different ways. It is possible to feel his wish of making a change, his strong spirit and enthusiasm in every word he says. At the same time he is aware of how the fashion industry works and is a hardened player in the game. A part of his education was found on what possibly might be the best design school in the world, Central St. Martins in London. On this school he was not the most popular student – people thought of his creations as weird and non-understandable. This education and an atmosphere of opposition might have made him even more resistant into shaping into what other people might want him to be like. Besides this he incorporated important, valuable financial knowledge.
“We had a tough professor on Central St. Martins. She said: “You’re not a fucking shit before you’ve done ten collections.” It was about the fact that everyone can go out, borrow some money and make a collection – but if you don’t have any consumers it can’t work out. You see a lot of people that are talk-of-the-town for a few seasons and then they disappear. It is all about the consumers. You have to harmonize with your projects cause if you don’t sell your brand can’t exist. If our company were more commercial we would go by a lot easier than we do It is a choice that we make – not everything that you see on the catwalk gets sold and some pieces only comes out in a few copies like twenty or twenty-five. That is a lot compared to the bill for the heat in our studio. We have a creative base.”
When he was about to create his final collection at Central St. Martins he chose to go on tour and play drums – a decision that his teachers truly disliked. He finds it important to create space in order to make new things happen, as he believes that creativity shall be pushed and developed naturally. When he showed his final collection his career kicked off and he was highly discussed in the British media. Although his success proceeded he chose to go back to Copenhagen. He sticks to his intrinsic values but is aware of his possibilities of expanding his brand.
“Why the fuck are you coming back?” people asked me when I went back to Copenhagen. I got a lot of press in England – Dazed & Confused, morning TV and all that – and when I met the same people in Paris a few years later they were wondering where I’d been. They said I disappeared and I told them that I went to Copenhagen, which is not that far away and on the other hand it actually is. 80 % of what we do is not sold on the Danish market. It doesn’t make sense at all to make a fashion show here. It would make sense to participate in a bigger fashion week. I can run around in Tokyo and do crazy stuff and nobody understands but people understand a show in Copenhagen and there is a social aspect of our business here. It is nice to show for our friends here but people tell me to go outside Denmark. We’re thinking of skipping Copenhagen and maybe do our show in New York, maybe that would bring something new to our business. It is cool that the Danish newspapers like the collection but how far do we get with that? It would be cooler to have a good review in The New York Times. But on the other hand – it is important for us to do it here. Our friends are here and it is fun and creative.
Making a show is a lot about acknowledgement. Not acknowledgement from people you don’t know but acknowledgement from people you care about – from family and friends. We want to fucking show them what we have created.”
It is clear that he is a very experienced man. I was curious of getting to know his process and get to know how he can transform an idea based on floating in water into a runway show, but in Vibskov’s situation is not that complicated at all. The way he works is the complete opposite of what his advanced, fluttering and colourful clothes radiate; no bullshit is to be found in his process from words into action.
“I make super fast sketches. I want the team to be with me. First the sketches, then we order the fabrics. We spend a lot of time on research and then things go really fast. We work really, really fast. Not that much of discussion. Sometimes we loose the perspective of fashion and it turns out to be pure creative display and experiment. The cool thing is if we get to produce some products that are valuable and sell. We are masters in creating things that are not sellable. But we’re slowly learning.”
I ask him if he ever gets inspired of centuries as many other designers do. Once again he reminds me that he is unique and independent.
“I think we could be more focused on fashion. Fashion is a pendulum that swings and we keep on seeing reflections of earlier tendencies. I think we could learn of focusing a bit more on that, but on the other hand it is a nice thing that we’re not – it executes weird things but also unique products. Of course one is always affected by this post-modernistic society that we’re a part. The media is bombing us with pictures, Instagram and all that and without even noticing our intuition are sensing. It’s interesting.”
Vibskov, born in the suburbs of Denmark is now well known and respected throughout the world. It is charming how his courage and unpretentiousness shines through as he speaks. As for a summary he ends:
“I’ve kept on doing things, no matter if I had any money or not. Just keep going – customers come and go. Now retrospective exhibitions are coming up, one in Finland and one in Korea. It feels a bit weird – am I suddenly this old?”
41 years old and a retrospective exhibition in Korea show once and for all what a genius Vibskov is. When I leave his small studio I feel a bit wiser, a bit more experienced. He has made my thoughts run fast and I feel encouraged to go out and work hard on my vision. Throughout his life he has created incredibly things and twisted people’s minds and imagination with his practical, intelligent and genius approach to fashion.