As mentioned in a recent Top 10 Comments, the author of these lines spent a few cold but memorable days in Denmark’s historic capital. Despite the Nordic country’s relatively small size, Denmark is home to some of the world’s most beautiful women who for no palpable reason know languages from countries half a world away and whose equally handsome men wear prescription eyeglasses made from the same materials used to send people to space.
Underneath Copenhagen’s quiet, unassuming way of life, however, lies a dynamic street fashion scene that goes hand in hand with the city around it and the world at large. During the warmer months locals can be seen skating, biking, swimming in the harbor, tagging, busking, and partying until the sun comes out – all of the ingredients necessary in creating a unique street culture. As a testament to this, the past couple of years have seen a handful of Danish brands explode on to the European market while some have even managed to sneak their way on to the US’s often insular streets. One of these brands is the young but upcoming Libertine-Libertine.
Situated in Copenhagen’s hip Vesterbro district, the company’s headquarters lie in a former pâté factory that still houses some of the city’s sausage stands, or Pølsevogne, which head out on to the local streets every morning to feed hungry passersby. Most of the building, however, has been converted into spacious, unadorned lofts that are now occupied by young creatives like Libertine-Libertine. Comprised primarily of trio Rasmus Bak, Pernille Schwarz, and Peter Munch Ovesen, the brand has seen both its collections and fan base grow steadily since its humble beginnings in 2009. What once consisted solely of a handful of shirts, now consists of a full women’s line in addition to their popular men’s line. Of course this growth didn’t come over night, unless you consider being on the road promoting the brand nonstop for the past 4 years over night.
Right from the start the brand’s CEO, Rasmus, makes it clear that they are content with where they are and where they want to go, chalking this up to the brand’s desire to stay true to their own personal beliefs and aesthetics which I later discovered range from existentialism and punk rock to Keith Haring and wildlife. At first, this vast range of interests seemed excessive – especially at a time where many labels brand themselves around one particular interest or lifestyle – but the more I studied the latest collection, the more it began to fall in to place. As a whole, the collection is distinctly streetwear, but taken individually, each piece works seamlessly in almost any context.
Retailers have caught on to this paradox, too. Upscale stores like London’s Goodhood and Copenhagen’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art stock the brand’s simple yet unique Oxfords alongside high-fashion brands like Kenzo and Carven, while Berlin’s SOTO and Boston’s Bodega pair the brand’s characteristic prints alongside streetwear brands like Norse Projects and NSW. We ruminate on this contradiction for a while before the conversation gradually turns to our other interests and hobbies. As we do, the label seems to become less of a clothing brand and more of a creative outlet for the trio akin to music or art that allows them to exercise their love of product design and quality while opening the door to many creative side projects as a natural addition to the brand.
All of this is done without the least bit of pretension. Quite the opposite in fact. Take their collaboration with Ugelris Wineyard for instance which involved drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and jumping repeatedly over a blazing bonfire resulting in a stylish and limited bottle of grappa. Or the years spent on the road drumming for a punk band up and down the US and Europe before settling down and working for Sweden’s Acne.
Somehow, these wildly disconnected stories make sense and fit into the label’s steadfast determination not to be pigeonholed. Even their logo, that unwavering symbol instrumental to a brand’s image, has been known to change from season to season. Why? Because fuck it that’s why. That attitude – not just as philosophy, but as aesthetic – has given them the unique ability to move through these different worlds with ease. Suddenly, our lively conversations, which range from things like travel schedules to the following night’s Iceage concert, come full circle. And before you know it we’re back to their signature trousers featuring elastic drawstrings around the leg openings carefully designed to make sneakers pop – the perfect complement to Copenhagen’s unrivaled, borderline obsessive sneaker culture.
After taking one last look at the upcoming Fall/Winter 2013 collection, Rasmus leads me to the building just in front of theirs housing a dimly lit bar. Amidst the soft glow of the street beyond, he explains how the bar once acted as a tavern for the district’s famed meat packing industry. For many years it was run by an old woman who would faithfully come in early every morning and close up shop once the last of the men had gone home. After she passed away, the bar was gently modified with respect to the past and now lies in the care of Rasmus and his fellow coworkers. Unlike most bars in the area though, theirs doesn’t serve any singular purpose. Instead, the trio use it to kick back with friends after a long day or to have a few drinks before hopping over to the city’s more alternative clubs just across the street – another fitting chapter in the peculiar world of Libertine-Libertine.
In a strange way though, the bar feels just as integral to the brand as the actual clothing. This abstract merger of genres and aesthetics seems to align perfectly with their belief of replacing the stereotypical with the complex – an idea which may now seem foreign and convoluted but which in the future may very well be the obvious.
So what’s next for the Danish brand? Rasmus floats the idea of opening a flagship store not far from their offices before quickly adding an open-ended “who knows?” Like every little step in the brand’s 4 years of existence, patience and timing is key. One thing’s for certain though: Libertine-Libertine and its fans have plenty to look forward to in the coming years.
Photography: Sacha Maric