It’s no secret that Natasha and I have a thing for Scandinavian style. Although let’s face it, doesn’t everyone? If it’s not Nordic TV programmes, food or interiors, then it’s fashion with Danish and Swedish designers fast becoming the brands on the most-stylish women’s hips. Because of our fascination with Scandi style and because we’d heard that Copenhagen is something of a hotbed for incredible design talent, we wanted to get the inside story on the city’s style. Having discovered British journalist Cathy Strongman (pictured below with her two children) through her excellent blog Designs on Denmark, we asked her to tell us more about life in Copenhagen. After 5 years living in the city Cathy has just left Copenhagen for a new life in Houston, which she will documenting in a new blog soon (watch this space!) Luckily, we grabbed her in time to find out everything from the coolest local designers to Danish women’s attitude to their bodies…
“I moved from London to Copenhagen with my husband, Duncan, in September 2009. We both come from families who travel – I was born in California, have lived in Zimbabwe, Australia and the States and my parents’ home is Toulouse. After eight years of crazy hectic London living we were itching to escape and experience life in a foreign city. I’d been on a press trip to Copenhagen and loved it, so when Duncan was offered a legal position here we grabbed it. Since then we’ve had two little girls, made some brilliant Danish friends and fallen in love with the city.
We used to live in Frederiksberg, an area a bit like Kensington – beautiful parks, quiet tree-lined streets, a high street lined with high-end boutiques, lots of old ladies in fur coats walking their dogs and plenty of French accents because of the Lycée. But brilliantly it is sandwiched between Vesterbro and Nørrebro, two much cooler, edgier districts. So we were in the slightly staid bit but are 5 minutes cycle to some of the most vibrant and dynamic parts of the city. Sadly, we’ve just shipped out to Houston, almost five years to the day after we arrived.
How would you describe Copenhagen style?
Studied casual. You never see Copenhageners nipping to the shops in their uggs and trackies, but if you go to the Opera they’ll be wearing jeans. Both Danish men and women really make an effort, but god forbid anyone should know.
What differences have you noticed between the ways Danish and British women dress?
I’d say that a larger percentage look good but the fashion boundaries are much narrower. There’s almost an accepted code for dressing, which most women stick to. Greys and blacks, a bit of leather, cool sunnies, either a great parka or down jacket and maybe a pop of colour with your bag, scarf or trainers. In the summer the prints and colours do emerge for a couple of months but I need a few gins before my favourite red jumpsuit comes out the cupboard. A small number of fashionista push the boundaries. But in general I’d say that Danish women are better dressed but its much more conformist than in Britain.
Does style change from neighbourhood to neighbourhood as it does in London?
Yes, but again the extremes are smaller. Frederiksberg and Østerbro and known for their yummy mummies – think lux casual – while Vesterbro and Nørrebro are more hippsterville – more vintage and experimental labels. The central shopping street is pretty touristy, while in the northern suburbs, known as the whisky belt, you’ll find school kids with Celine bags.
Do you think that (in general) Danish women are led by trends or do they tend to have a distinct Danish/Copenhagen look?
More a look than trends. It’s always the more trend-led pieces you find on the sales rack, which is maddening as Copenhagen is a few months behind London when it comes to trends. I think a lot of Danes will buy their trend pieces from H&M, Zara and Topshop then rely on the Scandinavian designers for staples and classics.
How has your style changed since living in Copenhagen?
I looked at my wardrobe the other day and realised that I too have succumbed to the black/grey syndrome. Colour is sadly, but definitely, used more sparingly and in the past five years I’ve bought a lot more casuals than show stopper dresses. I also have a lot more boots (including Sorel), knits, scarfs, cycle friendly outfits and winter jackets. Acne has swallowed up a shocking amount of my bank account.
Are there any big ‘no-no’s’ when it comes to style in Denmark?
Not really, but be prepared to be stared out if you’re experimenting with a look. On the flip side the Danes are way more comfortable in their skin than us Brits. As soon as the sun comes out the parks are full or bikini clad and often-topless women.
What do you think is lacking when it comes to style/fashion in Copenhagen (if anything)?
When we first moved I really missed vintage. It was a huge part of my wardrobe in London and five years ago it was hard to come by in the city. However, this is all changing. There are now a few shops selling good quality and often-designer vintage clothing (Melange de Luxe, Prag, a few boutiques along Jægersborggade), plus certain branches of the Red Cross are now specifically aimed at a younger crowd.
Is there more or less pressure to look good in Copenhagen as there is in London?
More pressure, but a set code, so once you’ve got that cracked its easy to dress in five minutes when you have to.
When going out for dinner/drinks do women get more or less dressed up than they do in London? What would you wear on a typical night out?
Again it’s all about the studied casual look. You’ll see an amazing variety of black dresses with some sort of zip detail in Copenhagen and equally black and grey skinnies rule. The all-in-one is pretty popular and quite a few Danes are partial to a bit of sparkle or lace to jazz up their jumpers and tops. The last time I went out I wore some black leather loose fit trousers, Acne pistol boots, a Sandro white top with sheer pleated back and this brilliant pale pink quilted coat I found in Monki.
What would you wear on a relaxed Saturday?
Grey skinnies, New Balance black trainers, a light jumper and either my Won Hundred mac or denim quilted sports jacket … I have basically turned into a Dane!
Have you discovered any amazing Danish brands/labels/boutiques since living there?
Acne – not a new discovery and not Danish but a bit of an obsession. Acne Archive is a discount shop where they sell samples and previous collections at much cheaper prices.
Wood Wood – they do some great prints and shoes plus they stock hard to come by labels like Citizens for Humanity. They also have a discount store in the city called Wood Wood Museum where I’ve got some real steals.
Storm Design Art Fashion – super cool concept store that I occasionally convince myself I’m not too old for.
Filippa K for brilliant quality basics and knits
Won Hundred – Not too expensive and great for dresses you can just throw on over a pair of tights.
Storm & Marie – surprisingly affordable casuals with a slight edge
Henrik Vibskov – experimental cuts and amazing tights and leggings. This guy is brilliant.
Josephine Bergsøe – beautiful organic jewellery
Sophie Bille Brahe – I’m lusting after her ear cuffs!
Stine Goya – beautiful silks and again more interesting prints and cuts.
As for boutiques – Nué Notes and Zornig both sell high-end brands like Alexander Wang, Isabel Marant, Stella McCartney, Carven etc. ‘Shop’ on Værnedamsvej is run by five youngish Danish designers and has some affordable and unique pieces. Pede & Stoffer in town stocks lots of great Scandi brands and also has a great sale. YouHeShe has a lethal online store.
Where do Danish women go for their basics?
Moshi Moshi if you’ve got an unlimited budget. They do super soft cashmere and lux casuals. Ganni is brilliant. I love this shop. Not too pricey but great quality (a pop up shop has just opened in London). Samsøe & Samsøe and Stig P are both sure bets for basics and Cos seems to have a better selection in Denmark than in the UK.
Where’s your favourite shopping area in Copenhagen and why?
Gammel Kongevej, which is basically a stone’s throw from our flat, has lots of brands that I really like including Ganni, Storm & Marie and Filippa K, but it also has lots of independent boutiques with a great range of designers. I absolutely love the concept store Black, which has beautiful ceramics and jewellery as well as very paired down, but beautifully cut, clothing by Japanese, Italian and Danish designers.
Elmegade and Jægersborggade in Nørrebro are also favourite haunts. They both have quirky furniture and fashion boutiques including plenty of vintage stores. I love wondering down, with a caffeine injection from Coffee Collective – the best coffee shop in Copenhagen. In town the key area for me is from Pilestræde to Gothersgade.
HEALTH & BEAUTY
Do Danish women place more or less emphasis on beauty than British women?
I’d probably say less. Everything is much more expensive here, so a facial is a luxury. It took me an age to find a decent waxing lady, who I visit despite the astronomical cost and disparaging looks from all my Danish friends who still champion the razor. The big expenditure for most is haircuts and highlights.
As a rule do Danish women wear more or less make-up than British women?
Less. They very rarely leave the house without it, but it is normally super subtle. Interestingly they are heavily in to the organic makeup and body care market. When you’re pregnant even wearing perfume and using non-organic products is frowned upon.
What is the Danish attitude to the body?
I think the Danes have a brilliant attitude to their bodies and they have far less hang-ups than us prudish Brits. At the swimming pool, for example, the ladies changing room has no separate cubicles and everyone has to strip down completely and have a good scrub with soap in the communal showers before getting in the pool. They are much more liberated and I definitely feel more accepting of my body these days. Its something I really hope to pass on to my two little girls.
That being said, keeping fit is also massively important. They cycle everywhere, the city is brimming with lycra-clad runners, Cross-Fit has really taken off and spinning is a semi-religion. People of all ages exercise, so it is totally normal to see retirees in walking groups lapping the park or in yoga classes while the free crèche means parents can still go to the gym. I am addicted to exercise so I love the fact that all my Danish friends work out.
What is the general Danish attitude to eating?
Another really liberating thing about moving to Denmark has been the lack of fad diets. In London there was always some new supposed magic formula whereas here most women stick to the simple rule that moderation is key. They never snack between meals, never eat on the go and sit down as a family for dinner, eat very little processed and fast food, follow seasonal foods, eat truck loads of rugbrød and treat themselves to the occasional cake. They also drink less alcohol, go out less and chug down gallons of coffee.
GET THE DANISH LOOK
You don’t have to travel to Copenhagen to channel cool Danish style. Brands such as Day Birger et Mikkelsen, Ganni and Baum und Pferdgarten can be found online, while Wild Swans specialises in a whole host of Scandinavian brands including Graumann, By Malene Birger and Sibin Linnebjerg. Also try ASOS and Matches Fashion.
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IMAGES: Coach/ Signe Vilstrup