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A Week Of Danish Design
Between a tenebrous sweep of cold winter days lasting up to six months and a benevolent three months of summer light to follow, divergent climatic conditions have been a force to be reckoned with amongst Scandinavian countries. Centuries past for those residing in detached provincial communities and far-distanced from quotidian access to city goods, the effect was more pronounced, which in the interim prompted the call for independent sustainability and economic sovereignty. The home became a central axis of operation, and the production of housewares and furniture with a functional usability drawing on the beauty of the surrounding nature, set the pace for what would follow.
In the 1950s in Denmark after the culmination of WWII, this idea really took off in design coming at an ideal time when economic and social restructuring were in place. Aesthetic values rooted in form and simplicity were indeed drawn from Bauhausian tenets, but whilst Le Corbusier was quoted saying: "The house is a machine for living in," the Danes instead implored a more humanistic approach. Working off a gentler functionalism, architects, designers, and craftsmen alike created with a backbone of rationalism, ergonomics, and democracy. This meant respecting the logic of materials so that it considered form but also the user, and in the end was accessible to all. It was the subliminal inception of what would become identified as Danish Modern.
With Arne Jacobsen as its most notorious proponent in architecture, construction projects began to employ contemporary materials such as steel and glass, but also turned back to nature with wood, natural stone, and brick; working with the openness of space to inject light in every edificial crevice. The thought process behind design and attunement to the environment carried on with industrial designers too such as Poul Hennigsen, considered Denmark’s “first expert in lighting theory,” and best known for his PH Lamp with intricately cascading shades that fell in a way which minimized glare. Not too far away, furniture designer Finn Juhl experimented vastly with teak, his ground-breaking 145 Armchair splitting with tradition when it released the seat and back from the shackles of a conventional frame. Although many like to associate this modernist movement with chairs, it was a major paradigm shift which catapulted Danish Design to the international arena.
This is when fashion design came to the fore. It was in the 1960s that the Danish clothing and textile industry began to pick up the pace. Breaking away from the Parisian-inspired haute couture aesthetic of designer Holger Blom, more independent fashion companies began to emerge such as Elson which promoted “praktisk mode” or practical fashion in an advertisement. Søs Drasbæk of the Dranella Brand and Nørgaard paa Strøget (now Mads Nørgaard) also ushered a simplistic direction with clean lines. These styles coincided with the concepts seen in Danish Modern and became a major sell-through to foreign markets who attached a specific identity to it, a sort of Scandinavian emblem. To their dismay, the celebration didn’t last long; with greater competition and prolific artistic movements on the rise such as Pop art and Postmodernism, the spotlight slowly began to dissipate from the Nordic scene.
The nineties saw a brief spike with newcomers such as Ivan Grundahl, DAY Birger et Mikkelsen, and Bruns Bazaar, but today the Danish fashion landscape is back with a supernova flair. Though the legacy lives on, designers of the moment are pressing further and giving it their own spin. You don’t have to look much farther than Henrik Vibskov, WoodWood, and Moonspoon Saloon or mega-talented NJAL residents Vilsbøl de Arce, Spon Diogo, Veroncia B. Vallenes, Vibe Johansson, Barbara Ì Gongini, and many more to notice something electrifying is in the air. Boundaries are being pushed but no so much that it is a complete digression. Refinement, craftsmanship, purity in form, and quality all remain central canons.
Design in the Danish sense is something which pervades the surroundings. Omnipresent in form, it is an extended concept which manifests itself in city infrastructures, household objects, fashion design, and many other applied arts. The old masters first looked to their immediate environment, from stone to wood to glass to steel, they laid down the trajectory for generations to come.