Han Kjøbenhavn have made a name for themselves with their almost willfully esoteric approach to streetwear. Sometimes their collections speak of an architectural, structural technique to silhouettes and tailoring, while with others, they might just do classic cuts with ultra obscure pop-cultural references thrown in.
Shot with in their instantly recognizable lookbooks that hover between the gritty and real, and the trashy and fantastic, and with a wealth of other projects to its name—from films, to its own eyewear line, and its work with Danish furniture maker Fritz Hansen on its own version of the iconic Arne Jacobsen Grand Prix chair—it's clear the brand has got their identity nailed, and we're into it.
For the Spring/Summer 2018 season, Han Kjøbenhavn and PUMA unite for their second collaboration after the resounding success of their first in SS17. With choice apparel cuts, the partnership centers, however, on footwear. You can see the structured, architectural (you might be tempted to say 'Danish' or 'Scandinavian') style of the Danish brand in the shoes' designs, but a decidedly adventurous and futuristic approach to footwear is something PUMA has perfected over the years. From its groundbreaking PUMA Fenty, to the McQ line of avant-garde footwear with the late Alexander McQueen and his continuing label, and finally most recently seen in its new batch of technical, chunky sneakers with the Thunder Spectra.
In that light, the enduring collaboration seems a natural fit. To understand how it all came about and what's next for the two of them, we sat with Han Kjøbenhavn founder Jannik Wikkelsø Davidsen to get his take.
What's the inspiration behind this collab?
My upbringing in the suburbs is the rough framework. I wanted to execute it through a device which could represent that period in a graphic way: the photocopier—actually an old Canon that my parents had when I was growing up. It's important to me that we bring something personal into it when doing a project like this—and when the core is personal and true it becomes "easier" to push the creativity to new levels while still being true to the initial idea. A photocopier is amazing: the machine gives you unlimited opportunities when playing around with it. It has this lovely gritty and analogue expression with so much depth and feeling even though its all greyscale.
What was it like working with PUMA?
We are still very much in it—and it's good. Of course it's a big company, but one of their strengths is that they work as a smaller unit and that makes the whole process lighter and more flexible than you would expect from a company of their size.
Furthermore, PUMA have done their homework on us: They know our mindset and what to expect. They know how we approach concepts, how focussed we are on storytelling, and how far we allow ourselves to take the idea—and they respect all of that. This makes the creative process flow because we let the project travel in different directions without putting too many obstacles in front of ourselves.
This is the second collaboration with them–why do you work with PUMA over another brand?
Like most people I grew up with them. I remember PUMA being significant in my late teen years, a period that was pretty defining for me. It has also been the platform in this process. I think now, PUMA is in kind of a challenger role. This role is always interesting, because it allows you to be a bit more aggressive in how you approach things—which really appeals to us.
Who is the guy in the shoot—he appears in a lot of your lookbooks, right? How come?
He's one of our guys, Steen. He has been with us almost from the beginning. I found him when casting for our second short film—I think it was late 2011.
When i first met him i thought: "that's a real face!". He almost looked like a man who had been burned down on sedatives for years—in the most beautiful way. We shot the short film and in the editing room you could just see him burn through the lens—it was ridiculous. After that we just kind of built on him and he became a big part of our stories across all channels.
I think Steen's biggest strength is that his face communicates a story, a story about a man who has lived a life. Steen is not fragile, he is older, but not fragile—that’s why he also bridges perfectly into the younger audience and why he works in the world we have created.
What's the deal with Han Kjobenhavn? Why do you do what you do? How, why, and when did you start the brand? Who's 'Han'?
Stories and human beings. Feelings. When we started out in 2008, we wanted to create a brand driven by storytelling. I felt it was missing back then. Most brand stories, campaigns, and films were told in a very traditional way. Of course there were a few brands who challenged the format, but the main part put the product on a pedestal and made everything revolve around it. I just think it makes it too one-dimensional, because it’s relatively limited how much story you can squeeze out of a product, without forcing it. Products can be amazing and there’s a lot of great stuff out there. But if we just stick to clothing, it will have a very limited lifespan—I mean, we get the chance to evolve and change our design every two-to-four times a year when we do collections. That’s why you have to create stories in and around the product that connects with the audience on a whole other level.
Is there such a thing as Scandinavian design really? And do you think it can be applied to what you guys create?
I don't know, but apparently a lot of people seem to think so.
I get asked this a lot, and I can say that we create stores and design from a very personal angle. Most of our collections are rooted in my upbringing, my personal experiences and surroundings. Our stories are more raw than the perception of "Danish design". The thing is that there is a very set image of what "Danish design” is—and Han Kjøbenhavn is not like that. I'm from the working class, in the suburbs of Copenhagen. Here you’ll find "Danish design” in the shape of designers like Arne Jacobsen, Wegner and Juhl represented in ordinary working class homes and even in the community schools. Because it's great functional design, and also looks great! That's Danish design for me: much more contrasted than the general image.
Do you have a favorite piece from the collab?
The 'Court Platform' sneakers.
Where can people get it?
In selected stores and obviously at Han Kjøbenhavn and PUMA stores.
What are you guys planning for FW18? What'll be different; what'll be the same? You guys are continuing to work with PUMA?
We are doing four projects and all four will be different—both in concept and execution. For us it's more interesting to create four unique stories than to serialize it. As this collaboration evolves we will push it further away from what is expected, so in that sense there will be a greater evolution. We will make fewer options and push the selected ones even further and make the whole concept tighter.