That HENRIK VIBSKOV, born in Jutland in 1972, chooses to create this living, breathing, drop-crotch-trousered Narnia away from the usual fashion capitals makes the Danish designer even more fascinating. While his Scandinavian peers prefer to churn out minimalist garments in greys and beiges, Henrik dares to punctuate his collections with glorious color and theatrical styling.
With whimsical names such as Land of Black Carrots, Big Wet Shiny Boobies, The Solar Donkey Experiment, and The Fantabulous Bicycle Music Factory, Henrik Vibskov’s presentations easily double as performance art. The Central Saint Martins alumnus, the only Danish designer on the official show schedule of Paris Men’s Fashion Week since 2003, has made multisensory, cross-disciplinary shows an integral part of his 11-year-old brand. While his Scandinavian peers such as Filippa K and Acne are content with season after season of minimalist threads in non-threatening neutrals or producing denim for all the world to consume, he dares to explore color and surreal showmanship. To wit: he has employed everything from a web of giant hamster wheels powered by an army of models in oversized Amish hats (The Human Laundry Service, Autumn/Winter 2009) to an uneven gangplank with levers that triggered mallets that, in turn, struck a wall of whitewashed drums (The Shrink Wrap Spectacular, Autumn/Winter 2012). For Style.com’s Matthew Schneier, “There’s no beating the avant-garde Dane for runway oddity.”
“I don’t think it matters where you are geographically, as long as you have an open mind and good people around you. But I like to be outside it all,” he emails from his base in chill Copenhagen. As the Danish fashion industry still appears to be in its teething stage—“We don’t have a long history in fashion, and a lot of black, grey, and beige”—Henrik Vibskov is the closest the land of Prince Hamlet has to a bona fide rising star. And he’s a reluctant one at that.
Although he spearheads an eponymous fashion label, he stresses that he does not regard himself as a fashion person and, in fact, sees himself as pretty normal. Henrik contextualizes himself and his influences in terms of an extremely orderly square. In one corner resides Comme des Garçons, Paul Smith, and other artists who do color very well. In another, are brands that create utilitarian objects, such as Levi’s and IKEA. The third is reserved for those with more avant-garde predilections: Bernhard Willhelm—“Always one of the most ‘enjoyable’ collections,” according to his blog—comes to mind. The final quarter is all about classic tailoring, the techniques, tradition, and discipline that have made London’s Savile Row and Jermyn Street bywords for bespoke. “I try to work in the middle of this square,” he told The Fader’s Chioma Nnadi. “Sometimes I go too far in one direction, or too far in another, but I want to have a bit of everything.”
“I don’t think it matters where you are geographically, as long as you have an open mind and good people around you.”
His garments share a kinship with designs by Walter Van Beirendonck, Stine Goya, MM6, and Anntian—conceptual labels that can also be found in his stand-alone stores in Oslo, Copenhagen and New York—in that they push anything you wear with them way forward. (I happen to own a printed jacket from his earlier years as well, a pleated poplin trousers from the Solar Donkey show. Both go with nothing, and therefore go with everything.) Pig, his final collection at Saint Martins in 2001, is the one he’s had the most fun with and he claims that the basis of his aesthetic has stayed the same. “I like detailing, knits, interesting color combinations, and unusual shapes. Maybe I am a little more tailored now than back in the day. The attention to detail has definitely grown over time.”
As a brave soul who follows his own conventions, he is definitely at the vanguard of a new generation of creative multi-taskers. Apart from the men’s and women’s collections he brings to life twice a year—marled, Missoni-like knits, tailored jackets, deconstructed brogues, bold-print jumpsuits, and drop-crotch shorts, largely wearable in controlled doses—he is likewise unafraid of quirky accessories. His online V-Store, for instance, stocks a black canvas “Seat” computer bag made out of red and cream beads, one that you can sit on for a butt massage. Notes The New York Times’ Jon Caramanica: “Over the years, he has made prams, beautiful weekend bags, children’s umbrellas, hats in the shape of bulbous nipples and socks.” Asked to pick a favorite item from his decade-plus career, he is stumped. “A lot. Hats and socks are just some of them.” Henrik Vibskov wears knee socks everyday, and if he had his way, so would you.
Lately, he has found yet another way to articulate his vision: unisex fragrances. Available at chic French outpost Colette, they serve as olfactory tributes to three places with totally unique temperaments. “It’s three cities that were interesting to us for different reasons,” he says. “Copenhagen, because it is my hometown; Berlin, [because it] has always been one of my favorites; and Damascus, because of its particularity scent-wise—the markets, flowers, and spices,” he adds. Developed over a period of a year and a half, this is “a modular project, so theoretically more scents could be developed in the future. Maybe Type H for Helsinki?”
Each of his talents and interests invariably feeds the other and “impact each other very much.” His pop culture touchstones? “I like sci-fi movies. I like crime books. For music, I’m pretty open, but dark-minded with a pop twist.” He has played at Coachella with Trentemøller—the electronic band that has remixed the likes of The Drums, Franz Ferdinand, and Röyksopp—for which he is the drummer. (Check out their 2007 track “Moan,” which is perfectly “dark-minded with a pop twist.”) Before he plunged headfirst into fashion, he was part of another Copenhagen-based band called Luksus, Danish for luxury; they sounded indie-ish à la The Smiths.
“The concept of luxury—these are categories and labels I don’t think in… I don’t think they can handle my twisted mind.”
Henrik Vibskov also connects dots you hadn’t imagined were connectible before via Vibskov & Emenius, a collaborative art project between him and the Swedish artist Andreas Emenius, whom he met at Saint Martins. In 2007, they began work on The Fringe Projects, ten works in the form of installations, objects, performances, video, and self-portraits, “exploring illusion, surface, and movement.” Completed in 2009, the team effort has been exhibited in Kyoto and Shanghai. The Circular Series is Vibskov & Emenius’ new series of artworks, which they began three years ago. This time, as the name suggests, the circle is used as visual glue linking all the projects to the same universe.
Launched in Copenhagen’s meatpacking district in May, his self-titled book presents his oeuvre in a collage-like manner, with sketches, candid commentary, inspiration shots, and behind-the-scenes images of his shows and art installations acting as signposts detailing his trajectory. While the monograph took eight months to edit and lay out, the whole thing is ten years’ worth of seamless, artistic expression. “We started with a raw concept, but soon I realized that my work could be divided in color ranges rather than chronologically, so that’s what we went for.” The foreword—written in tandem by Henrik’s brother Per, German professor of experimental fashion design Dorothea Mink, New Museum deputy director Keren Wong, Danish artist Jørgen Leth, and Röhsska Museum director Ted Hesselbom—sheds light on Henrik’s journey while referencing five seemingly random keywords that help define his career: “donkey,” “boobies,” “mint,” “tank,” and “shrink wrap”.
And so, given the recent shifts that make the fashion world so dynamic and surreal (see Raf Simons at Dior this year, Olivier Rousteing at Balmain last year), can Henrik Vibskov imagine his brand as part of a conglomerate, say, PPR, LVMH or the Prada group? “The concept of luxury—these are categories and labels I don’t think in,” he declares, almost as if it were scientific fact. “I don’t think they can handle my twisted mind.”
Story by Gino dela Paz
Photographed by Nils Müller