In fashion, there are designers and then there are creative forces, individuals whose vision extends far beyond the runway and doesn't grapple with trends. Henrik Vibskov is one of the latter.
Like Rei Kawakubo or Miuccia Prada, Vibskov's passion and talent for creating reaches far beyond products or installations. He's an experiential designer whose work, currently being celebrated in a retrospective at Helsinki's design museum, asks to be lived with. Yes, you can simply wear a pair of Henrik Vibskov pants as easily as you can buy a Commes des Garçons button-down. But if you really start to sip the kool-aid you'll want to stop by the Henrik Vibskov café and reserve front-row seats for the Henrik Vibskov opera, all of which are executed with the same ecstatic verve. I sat down with the non-threateningly tall Dane to chat about Björk, paying rent, and the memories you have to delete.
FP: One of the things that’s most intriguing about you as a designer is the scope of your work. You seem to be producing constantly. Would you say that’s accurate?
HV: I’m a bit restless. I’ll say, “Ok, let’s do this…and let’s also do this.” But I’ve also been trying to say, “Ok, for the next three months I’m not going to do anything other than this one project.” Or I’ll work only on fashion. We’re constantly working on eight, maybe ten projects. Sometimes one thing from one project could give something to another project. I really like that. You’re constantly in a flow and like, “Oh what about the color of that one project was really nice, maybe we can bring it in here.” The paper patterns used for the construction of [a pair of] trousers could inspire an object.
FP: So you end up in a cycle?
HV: Yeah. It rolls on and feeds me with new ideas. Instead of like, “Fuck, what do I have to do?” and waiting for something, I like doing a lot of things at once.
FP: You did the costumes for Alexander Ekman’s A Swan Lake, but you have created some very visionary set designs over the years as well. Which do you prefer?
HV: Both. I’m working on Björk’s Medúlla. (Ed. note: The album is being reimagined as an “intergenerational opera” for its ten-year anniversary at La Monnaie opera house in Brussels.) It’s inspiring for me because maybe the costumes and the space work well together? And for some of the other projects I’m only doing the costumes. I’m doing all of that and a lot of exhibitions.
FP: And that's a retrospective?
HV: The head of the design museum wanted a full solo exhibition, so that’s more of a retrospective. That’s probably going to go to Seoul and maybe Stockholm. Then we’re of course constantly doing the shows. And for the show coming up in a month and a half I’m thinking there was some really good stuff in [A Swan Lake], and maybe we can bring that into the show. A Swan Lake had dancers in water—maybe that can be brought to the catwalk somehow?
FP: Do you have a team that helps you brainstorm? Or is it all you?
HV: We brainstorm a bit, but mostly it’s just like, “Hey, let’s just do it.” Boom. But I have a team, of course, researching, doing all kinds of production, accounting—I wouldn’t be anywhere without them. It’s a pretty flat structured company. It’s not like you cannot suggest anything. “Great idea, let’s just do that.” Easy. Next?
FP: When did you get your start as Henrik Vibskov the brand?
HV: Probably fourteen years ago? I’m a bit afraid of opening more stores. Maybe it’s enough with one in Copenhagen and one in NYC. Maybe I don’t need one in each city. There’s only a certain amount of people who can consume these products. It’s not like Gap. We have to be aware because it could be very costly.
FP: Did you start because of a passion for clothing and fashion?
HV: I don’t know how I got into it, but I got more and more into it [over the years]. I think I actually could’ve been in many different fields, [but] I ended up in fashion, strangely. To keep the passion for what you do I think, for me, it’s very important to do different stuff. When you’ve been doing the same thing for 15 or 17 years it’s like, “I’ve done this cardigan how many times?” My mind needs to be triggered. Something technical. How the fuck do you do that?
FP: How does something evolve that doesn’t need to be redesigned?
HV: It’s a little bit more messy, my style. Sometimes its super clear and other times it’s like whoa…if you take risks, sometimes you fail and sometimes it works out perfectly, sometimes it’s a little bit over the top. But I think it’s important to take the risks and try out different things instead of just saying, “Let’s do the perfect cardigan again, but we do it in brown this time.”
FP: What or who would you say inspires you?
HV: I really enjoy libraries and museums. It can also just be something like being on your own. Lying down or walking is really good for my mind absorbing or flicking through things. We get so overloaded in this post-modern society; [there’s] too much information. It's that process of keeping some memories, but you have to delete a lot.
FP: It seems that you do really well at "too much" information—at the fusion of ideas and very layered references.
HV: That’s very important that the layers are there. Sometimes I get really bored when I go to fashion shows myself. But that’s maybe also why I try to do something different. Maybe sometimes it’s a little off track, but you have to try.
FP: With the exhibits now and the runway shows and everything, where do you see—
HV: —it all going?
FP: Yes! It’s such a big question. But you’re not trying to be, like, Uniqlo.
HV: No, we shouldn’t do that. The bigger you get the more bureaucracy there is. We have a small team that’s flexible and we all do many different things. I don’t know where it all goes, but of course this retrospective is like, fuck, what’s that about? Like, whoa, how old am I? It’s a bit weird, but also good. I’ve been doing this for some years now and you need to have something to show.
FP: How does it feel to be an internationally-recognized Scandinavian designer?
HV: We have a very big history in design, though fashion-wise we’re newcomers. I don’t really see myself as a proper Scandi fashion brand. I think Acne is maybe doing it much better, but they’re now trying to do all kinds of show pieces and having shows in Paris…and they cannot just show their jeans. But in some ways I’m not particularly Danish—[there are] for sure too many colors. But it has some stuff, it has the functionality—most of it you can kind of wear. Some of the girls are like, you should do more sexy stuff. It downplays that…that could be a Scandi thing. Now I’m thinking of [being in] Miami a few days ago….and I’m not sure it would work there. It’s a very very different culture. It works more in the more northern, colder parts of the planet. When New York gets very hot people are coming in wanting something different, and we have wool…in August we get in our winter collection and they’re like, what are you doing? But that’s how it is.
FP: I think there’s a versatility there. You’re in Totokaelo in Seattle and on their site they present it in this way that’s not outlandish and that you can comprehend.
HV: And you can see some stores are…they skip some of it.
FP: Right, they edit it and they present a vision of who their customer is. But it’s good that you have that versatility.
HV: We also know it’s a company and that we have to pay rent. Like, let’s do those trousers again. We shouldn’t talk too much about it. Sometimes we have a few pieces that have been going on for some seasons and we change the fabric or try to make them better and maybe we fail and should have kept them the old way and why did we change them if they’re working? There are definitely items that, because it’s a store and we have to pay rent, need to sell.
FP: The other lines in the boutique…how do they come in?
HV: Here in NYC we cannot have the same stuff that we have in Copenhagen. There we have some Yamamoto and Issey Miyake and there’s too many stores around here [selling that already], so we cannot have the same vision. It doesn’t work in context. We sell much more menswear in NYC and its like, why? I think some of the guys coming here want to challenge the city—it’s much bigger and you’re afraid of drowning. And in Copenhagen you don’t want to stick out too much, it’s a smaller city. Generally people look a bit the same, they kind of have the same style. In Scandi you see nearly everybody looks the same. But then I’m selling a lot to Japan and they’re picking out some of the…noisier stuff, of course.
FP: And on top of that you show in Paris—do you feel that’s crucial?
HV: It started out a bit weird. I met a guy who said he was the president of the Chambre Syndicale and I was like, “Oh, and I’m the prince of Denmark.” But he was actually the president…maybe the most important guy in the whole Paris fashion scene. But he wanted to help me and then suddenly I was on the schedule and doing shows in Paris. It’s been 24 or 25 shows in Paris now, on the men’s schedule. They’re running up slowly—that’s why I had a retrospective. I still have fun with it. I still have a passion for it.
"Sometimes I get really bored when I go to fashion shows myself. But that’s maybe also why I try to do something different."