INTERVIEWED BY POLINA BACHLAKOVA Photography by Polina Vinogradova
Henrik Vibskov eludes categorization, but perhaps he’s best described as a creative hybrid. Part fashion designer, part musician, and part entrepreneur, no area seems to be out of bounds for Henrik’s visionary mind to venture into. Although especially known for the surreal designs and fashion shows stemming from his Copenhagen-based fashion label, the list of other projects he’s involved in is impressive, to say the least. Henrik drums for Trentemøller, dabbles in costume design, and recently opened a café – and those are just a few of the highlights. Polina Bachlakova recently caught up with Henrik Visbkov to chat about his creative process, the fashion business, and Denmark.
POLINA BACHLAKOVA—You seem to be working on multiple creative projects at once, all the time. How does working on all these projects simultaneously influence each result?
HENRIK VIBSKOV—I try not to think too much about it. In general, I start by presenting what kind of project it is but I keep it flowing. That gives me things I can bring into other projects or small ideas. [Sometimes] it’s more about creating a space, or it’s more like an object, or it’s more like clothing… I just try to use my brain and my eyes and try to make them reflect on what I’m looking at, and not so much stressing on what it is. I’m always doing a lot, and that’s just how I work.
PB—What makes you pursue a creative project? Is there an “a-ha!” moment and you just do it, or do you carefully choose the projects you pursue?
HV—When you’re doing a lot of things, you get into a workflow and things just happen… but I’m not a working maniac, my work is really fun. People think I’m working 24/7 but we’re based in Denmark, where we have easy working conditions: I’m in at ten and out at five or six o’clock. Maybe a few nights we’re working on a super heavy project, but I’ve been doing it for many years. It’s very different in the first few years.
PB—So you have much more of a balance now?
HV—Yeah. And then I’m doing a lot of projects and trying to [organize them] in my brain; I’m clarifying colors or structures or techniques that could be used and the output. Hopefully it’s really strong, but you never really know. After a while, you suddenly realize, “Whoah! That was pretty strong.” Or, “OK, maybe that wasn’t the best one.” Some of the projects stick less than others after you’ve slept for a few nights. I have pretty high expectations of myself so it’s not like I’m taking it very easy; I am in some ways, but I expect a lot for myself.
PB—Speaking of being satisfied with a creative project… do you know what makes you satisfied? Do you have standards that you have to meet to make you happy or is it more of a natural thing?
HV—When I go through it, there’s probably something that makes me happy in the process. I think it’s the story, or a tiny bit of humor, or the technically advanced aspect. Those are the few things: a good story, a strong subject, technical advancement… a good picture overall. Then I’m happy.
In general, I’m educated more conceptually so I kind of need to clarify for myself what the reason for the story is and why. For all of the projects, I also need to somehow create that story. We research a lot and find problems that could be solved, problems that could be thought about. Normally I like a surreal, twisted world.
PB—What’s a story running through your mind right now?
HV—We are working on different things. The main thing is a new collection; we’re not really there yet but we’re getting into it slowly. We start researching. Normally we research in four different directions because the time is so short; we need something to trigger us. We make four different subtexts that can be researched. This time, we are researching about weird things that could happen in water. I’m also looking a bit into concrete machines, and concrete…
PB—So it’s always a variety of different influences for you?
HV—Yeah, and that’s just right now. Our interns and assistants start researching in those four directions. If someone comes back with something that could trigger a concept… we have to deliver fourteen, twenty artworks. We need something to inspire us. Sometimes out of those four or five directions something comes out of it and sometimes not. Hopefully in the end, everything melts together in a weird, strange way and creates a universe and hopefully a full story with different layers.
Our last show was called “Spaghetti Hand Job.” There have been a few where I’ve tried to look at different perspectives of cultures or political perspectives, and have been searching at all kinds of angles, like political or religious. It’s even looking to dance performance and ceremonies from other regions in the world; maybe something about the way you were dancing could create a pattern.
PB—You just described looking to other places in the world for inspiration and researching different cultures. How does your identity and perspective as a Scandinavian designer influence how you take on some of those topics?
HV—Good question. I’m based in Copenhagen. It’s not because of fear; I was educated in London in an international school. Fashion-wise, I’m not sure I’m part of Danish or ‘Scandi’ style. I’m maybe a bit too colorful. I don’t do tight jeans… there’s a lot of ways where I’m not really fitting in to the Scandinavian perspective. But for sure, my whole background, my whole way of thinking would be largely Danish. I’m showing in Paris and I think I’m probably the only one who is coming down from a farm! All the others, on the official calendar, are from mansion houses mostly in Paris. I’m part of this roundtable of twelve which includes pretty big names in fashion and I’m sitting there as the only one not speaking French and I have to fly in like some countryside dude.
PB—I’m actually moving to Copenhagen in July and have heard that’s why it’s great—you can have your strong creative scene but because it’s much smaller, it’s a bit easier to navigate that scene than in other cities.
HV—In bigger cities, it takes four hours to pick up stuff. Here you can manage pretty easy on your bike and you’re nearly everywhere within five minutes. It takes you fifteen minutes to go to the airport and bingo. But the Scandi/Nordic countries are very small and so we don’t have a fashion history. We are all farmers or fishermen… it’s necessary that because we are so small we need to look abroad. [For example], it’s a bit weird to meet some young dudes in Copenhagen who know about some indie band in Brooklyn before the band knows it themselves! I think maybe that’s one of our strongest sides: we are very aware of what’s going on elsewhere because we don’t have much.
PB—It forces you to be a bit more global, which is always a good thing, I think.
HV—We are the countryside. Copenhagen is one of the biggest of the Nordic cities but there are a lot of young people sitting out in the mountains or on farms trying to figure themselves out… It’s not that big. We don’t have any production left. The only thing we have left is our brains. And a few potatoes and some fish.
PB—Speaking of having to use your mind to make something new… What’s more important for you in your creative process – inspiration, or diligence and hard work?
HV—That’s a good question. I’m also teaching as a professor in different schools, and sometimes I see someone come up with a really strong concept or story and you think that’s going to be the end product. And then when you see the end product, somehow, the vision has collapsed. I think the difficult part is to have some kind of equal transparency through the whole story so the story is strong but you also end up with a product that’s strong. And then sometimes, you see someone have a really shitty concept and have amazing execution, but the story lacks. For me, being a teacher, I think it’s really important you have some kind of balance between the inspiration and the concept but also the final result.
PB—Speaking of your creative vision… I assume there are a lot of rules and regulations in fashion about what’s right to do and what’s taboo or not OK. How do you maintain your creative vision but also function as somebody in the fashion business following those rules?
HV—The most difficult part is navigating that. We are not particularly focused on trends and all that, but intuitively we are still aware of how the world is changing. We do a lot of stuff because we think it’s interesting but the rest of the world doesn’t always think it is. At our branch in Copenhagen, some of our stuff we don’t sell much of and then sometimes we create something that is more commercially strong. It’s a coincidence and it just happens to be the right spot. I wish it could be much easier. If you just knew. But for the whole industry, I don’t need much. If it’s kind of running, the company, then I’m alright. It’s not my passion – I like to create. I’ve been doing that for many years.
PB—You mention how some pieces end up doing really well and some don’t. Is there a vast difference to how people react to those designs in New York, Copenhagen, and your different boutiques?
HV—For sure. In our own store in Copenhagen we are selling much more womenswear than we are in New York. And in New York we are selling much more colorful menswear than we are in Copenhagen. It’s a little bit opposite. Many keep saying we should do more sexy stuff for the New York girls. Maybe we should, but we don’t really. I think that’s the difference. One of our strong markets is Asia, where we’re selling a lot of stuff. You cannot make everybody happy in the end. I just have to do what I think is right and hope we can manage for the company. Maybe we don’t earn millions, but if it goes on sale and we have a good time, then I’m alright.