Vibskov's Twisted Universe

Photography by Viivi Huuska, Alastair Philip Wiper and Victor Jones
Story originally published in Volume Ten

It’s not a secret that fashion — to express yourself creatively with what you wear — has an impact on how we feel and how others see us. Not least is it a way for its creator to tell something, to paint a picture with choice of colours, patterns, cuts, materials, look books, runways and so on. When Henrik Vibskov creates, it always starts with a single idea and everything stems from there, eventually expanding into massive universes around anything from death rituals to Danish salami. 

Henrik Vibskov is a designer, professor, director, musician and father. His surreal and artistic collections have made him into a world famous designer. In 2016, the Queen of Denmark and the Academy Council from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts awarded Vibskov the Thorvald Bindesbøll Medal. Henrik calls himself a creative nomad, moving between various creative spheres — inventing, creating and showcasing a new collection every six months, in addition to touring the world as a drummer for bands like Trentemøller. In fact, he may as well have become an architect or a movie director, and he’s not quite sure how he ended up in fashion at all, but he thinks it was love. Or as he said it — det var nok kærlighed. 

..Right now the list goes as follows: opera tongue, drum-TV, geology propeller, flying machine construction, fishing trawler. 

How would you describe Danish design? 
That’s a tricky question. Looking at the history, Danish design used to be all about furniture and electronics. Verner Panton introduced a lot of colours in the 70s, before things became a little edgy in the 80s. But I don’t know. I think you have to dive into people’s brains and mindsets to see how they’ve grown up. I think that Danes are famous for being good with logistics and focusing outwards and towards the world. That’s really a result of our history and of how we live today. Denmark is a small country and we are very much dependent on the rest of the world. 

I also think everything floats together these days. You can see that Asian design is becoming more European and visa versa. You know, I’m a professor and a member of the Danish Design Council, and we are constantly trying to describe Danish design; what is our design DNA? And that’s almost impossible to answer, I can tell you. 

Do you think having a rich design history makes it harder for contemporary designers to make something completely different to what the world expects when they hear ‘Danish design’?
I can see why some designers and creatives feel trapped, at least in certain niches. Especially in furniture, where the history is really strong. It’s difficult to work around the classics. The furniture icons kind of outperform the industry. Every time someone puts together an exhibition about Danish furniture, the classics are always a huge part of it — Arne Jacobsen, Finn Juhl, Verner Panton etc. And that’s what the audience wants and expects when going to these exhibitions too. The history isn’t that rich or dominant when it comes to fashion. Historically, the approach has been very practical, based on agriculture and fishing, with a lot of work wear.

Compared to what people often define as Danish design, your work is very playful and colourful. How would you describe yourself as a designer?
I like colours. I like it when things are challenging, when it’s technically advanced. But I also have this surreal side, with some twisted and strange stuff going on. This is what people notice the most, I guess. I think the artistic approach is a result of me not really being a fashion designer and the fact that I got into the industry by an accident. I could might as well have become an architect or a movie director. I think I could work with all sorts of creative stuff, but somehow I ended up in fashion. 

I want to describe your work as a perfect blend of art and fashion, where graphics and prints play a huge part of your collections. Also your runways appear more like art installations. Is there even a line between art and fashion for you?
I think I’ve discovered a wonderful symbiosis. I’m a nomad who travels a lot between these different worlds of creativity. I don’t really think about what I create — whether it’s an object or a shape, or a pattern for a piece of clothing. I just use my eyes, my ears, my brain and try to focus on the purpose of that particular creation.

Where do all the ideas come from?
I have no idea. I have a note on my computer where I write them all down. Right now the list goes as follows: opera tongue, drum-TV, geology propeller, flying machine construction, fishing trawler. 

We usually build a collection around a concept with some sort of perspective. It can be political, environmental, cultural or religious, or anything else really. Our last runway was about salami— about our history as Danes vs. salami. How we have this Feinschmecker food culture with world leading chefs and on the contrary, you have people starving on the other side of the world. 

What do you consider the power of fashion? 
Fashion is largely about how we communicate with others. It’s a way we can get to know someone, or even feel attracted to someone, without speaking a word. It’s strictly based on the aesthetics. Everything that’s considered to be a part of a persons identity communicates in one way or another. The ID is of course a lot more than how we dress and cut our hair, it’s also what books we read or what music we listen to etc. Not least our history and genes. 

What’s your ID?
I don’t know. I think people think I put a lot of effort into it because I’m a designer. They assume I must really know what to wear. I mean, I always wear the same pair of pants. I guess it’s like a person working in a flower shop. Eventually he or she will become tired of selling flowers. For me, dressing is basically about feeling safe and secure.