As it stands, the word ‘Scandi’ means so much more than merely a region of Northern Europe. It’s an aesthetic, a school of interior design, a broad umbrella term that stretches from signifying hygge shearling cushions to a way of living life. It’s also extremely covetable. Place Scandi before ’chic’ and you can sell a thousand minimal dresses and DIY furniture to every spectrum of the population. At the centre of the beating heart of Danish design is a brand pushing the boundaries on what this can mean.
Copenhagen-based By Malene Birger was founded in 2003 when the cult of Scandi style was yet to really flex its selling power. Fast-forward 15 years and the label now has 400 stockists and makes a healthy £20 million revenue in half a year; it’s one of the most established labels on the peninsula. And, yet, it recently upped stix and moved its atelier to London. Why? Three words: Mathilde Torp Mader.
Before joining By Malene Birger as head of design, Mathilde mastered her craft at Mulberry, Marni, Sonia Rykiel and Vanesa Bruno. Though Danish-born and in concept transit between Copenhagen and London, she decided to make Britain her base, not least because its where she trained (Central Saint Martins) and has set up her life with her other half, a member of the electro band Hot Chip. But, it begs the question: as Ganni, Saks Potts and Arket and Wyred turn Scandinavia into a legitimate fashion capital, how can a brand that kickstarted the Danish fashion movement move away from its roots?
‘Being outside of Scandinavia makes it easier to see what people celebrate about it’, explains Mathilde as we sit in the monolithic By Malene Birger headquarters with the fizz of conversation flowing in from next door’s dining room, where all employees are treated to organic breakfast and lunch daily. ‘People have so many positive connections with ideas of what it's like to be Scandinavian and I think if you're here you forget that it's seen as something special from the outside, whereas I'm constantly reminded.’
Her design philosophy is simple but extremely Danish. ‘When you buy something you're letting it into your life. It's another thing to take care of, it's another thing to take to the dry cleaners or wash. Unless I feel like it deserves space in my life, I'm not gonna let it in and I think that's very much how I design.’ Marie Kondo would be proud. ‘I always put women in the front of my mind when I design because it's about women as a collective. There's a lot of pieces that I really believe in and want to wear myself, but there's also a lot of pieces that I've designed with someone else in mind.’ She leans closer and says, ‘the last thing I would ever want to do as a designer is for someone to walk into a shop and to feel like “there's nothing here for me.” That's not what we're about as a brand.’
‘Sometimes I wonder when men design for women if they can be inclusive,’ she confides. ‘I certainly have some insanely talented friends who I respect, but I suspect they have a specific woman in mind that, like their sister or their mother who they were really in awe of.’ Tactically Mathilde scratches as the idea that as a female designer she knows how to speak to women, not just a woman.
As a label it’s synonymous with Danish design values - quality and functionality working in tandem with decadence and playfulness - autumn/winter 2018 translates into 9-to-9 tailoring, striking geometric knitwear inspired by 1970s skiwear and bold separates in a cross between camouflage and leopard print, which sounds dreadful in theory but is delightful in practice. The monochromatic palette is peppered with lime green, hot pink, tangerine and rose and crafted into fuzzy sweaters and ruched dresses, tapered trousers and blouses, fluffy skirts and patch-work leather. Mathilde has mastered her concept: There’s something for everyone here.