Norse play

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 August, 2011, 12:00am


Copenhagen fashion week closed earlier this month with more designers offering up clean shapes and uncluttered silhouettes hoping to rival their contemporaries Stine Goya, Bruuns Bazaar, Margit Brandt and Marlene Birger.

Since the economic recession of 2008, both the fashion and design worlds have embraced austerity, and the modernist, often minimalist, elegance espoused by the Danes is gaining momentum globally, including in Asia.

As those jaded by Italian extravagance or the mass appeal of French design turn to Scandinavian countries for inspiration, design-savvy Danish jewellery and watch brands are capitalising on their roots to grow globally.

'The ability to produce conceptual brands and collections, coupled with sound business sense and some of the world's most stringent rules regarding quality, creates the perfect breeding ground for international success,' says Christoffer Ritzau, director of Denmark's National Council of the Jewellery & Watch Trade.

Georg Jensen, a heritage brand that dates back more than a century, has been building in Asia for 35 years. With six stores in China at present that follow the Scandinavian Luxury Lifestyle Home concept, Georg Jensen will open a new retail area this year in conjunction with the upcoming Royal Cafe in Beijing, and next year will open its Asian headquarters on the mainland.

With its rich history and clear strategy for the future, it's little wonder Georg Jensen considers China a significant growth engine. 'With our track record in the East it would be a shame not to enter China,' says Georg Jensen's chief executive, Ulrik Garde Due.

In recent years, former Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LMVH) executive Garde Due has been busy transforming the stagnant silverware company into a leading Scandinavian luxury brand, and turning glowing red figures into bankable black.

'By respecting the heritage of Georg Jensen we can lead the brand into the next century,' he says. The use of Danish supermodel Freja Beha Erichsen wearing little more than jewellery, in the 2011 advertising campaign, is one of the steps the brand is taking to reposition itself.

Garde Due says he hopes the campaign will change the perception of the brand.

'We want to move the boundaries a little; provoke a little. Rather like Georg Jensen, Freja is one of Denmark's best exports and perfectly encapsulates what we stand for.'

And it seems to be working. With followers from genuine royalty (Denmark's Crown Princess Mary) to pop royalty (Lady Gaga), Georg Jensen has pervaded the mainstream. It's making its presence felt in fashion, with collaborations with respected designers; and online, with social and digital media activities and blogger collaborations.

At the opening of Georg Jensen's Tokyo flagship last autumn, the Japanese duo behind the brand Ambush Design reinvented Georg Jensen's legendary Koppel pendant watch to create a limited edition timepiece that represented not only the brand's values but also consumer zeitgeist.

Following trends, however, has to be a homogenous process when dealing with such inherent tradition, says Garde Due.

'It's dangerous for Georg Jensen to be dictated by trends. We attempt to tap into the DNA of certain trends and release new collections frequently, but our heritage is essential to the future of the brand and should always be a part of what we do.

'We want to take the Danish idiom into the next century by working with an array of international designers, who will play a part in determining the future of Danish design.'

Another Danish brand cashing in on the current popularity of Scandinavian design is the bead-on-bracelet concept brand Trollbeads. Since the first bead was created in Copenhagen by silversmith Soren Nielsen 36 years ago, the brand has gradually made inroads into the global mainstream and now has a presence in more than 50 countries, including Hong Kong.

Marketing manager Bettina Lovstrom Pedersen says Trollbeads is using social and digital media developments to cement its global success.

'Digital media is vital to our brand. We are blessed with very loyal customers, and have global Facebook pages with more than 100,000 fans who discuss our products on a daily basis, share images of their Trollbeads jewellery and, in general, take great interest in our products - it is almost a lifestyle for them.'

One such example is their recent collaboration with Hong Kong resident Denise Tong. Capitalising on the daily stream of suggestions from customers for new Trollbeads, the brand created the People's Bead concept in 2009.

From the 4,000 entries uploaded by aspiring designers to the Trollbeads Universe site this year, it was chemical engineer Tong's symbolic bead, entitled Rolling Waves, inspired by the power and unpredictability of the Japan tsunami in March, that triumphed.

'The ocean has given us many wonderful things... yet it can also bring about mighty power to do harm in such an unpredictable way,' says Tong of her design, which hits stores this autumn. 'We are indeed very small; we have to be humble and respect nature. This is the inspiration for Rolling Waves.'

Trollbeads' limited edition Chinese Collection was also a success when launched in 2009. Created by six Chinese jewellery designers, the collection played on Oriental traditions and materials, as well as natural and mythological motifs. 'Our collaborations with international designers will grow in the future. But they have to have a story to tell, rather than simply follow a trend. Our prime focus is on design and quality,' says Lovstrom Pedersen.

It's not just jewellery that is breaking the mould. Skagen Denmark sells more than two million products globally each year, making it one of the world's fastest growing affordable watch brands. Skagen Denmark was founded in 1989 on the very essence of the Danish design ethos: to create high-quality products at reasonable prices. The brand is bringing affordable luxury to the people with its designer collections of watches, jewellery and sunglasses for men and women.

And through its dedication to a Scandinavian minimalist aesthetic, it has created a global community of enthusiasts.

'Good products, good prices, at good retail locations is the mantra,' says Anita Jensen, commercial director in Hong Kong.

Skagen Denmark entered China in 2009. In May 2010 the brand opened its first Asia-Pacific flagship at iSQUARE in Hong Kong. In October, the consumer website will launch and profile Scandinavian Design - including selected items from Skagen Denmark, available for purchase.

The products are striking a chord with connoisseurs as well as consumers. Skagen Denmark's inherently Scandinavian style has garnered the brand three prestigious Red Dot design awards for design excellence in 2010 and 2011, and this coming autumn-winter collection contains a design created in collaboration with renowned Japanese designer Hiromichi Konno.

With Chinese consumer consumption no longer solely based on social status but also emotions, Skagen Denmark is working hard to understand the evolving Chinese consumer, says Jensen.

'We ask a lot of questions, visit the many different regions and analyse the feedback from the people closest to our consumers. Skagen Denmark presents about 50 new styles each season,' she says.

'We are rewarded by seeing the products leave the design house and end up on the wrists of consumers, who let us know how much they appreciate our efforts.

'Too many brands today are invented, cold and speculative,' adds Skagen Denmark's Jensen. 'Our products are born with thought and soul, and provide an honest product to the consumer. We will continue to listen to the consumers and stay loyal to our brand heritage.'