Emerging designers are a vital part of the industry, with those falling under this umbrella often deemed to be at the height of innovation, producing collections that transcend fashion norms and are sometimes considered ahead of their time. However, while the industry claims that its foundations are built on the minds of such individuals, rising up the ranks can still be difficult for those on the up.
In a bid to tackle these struggles, Copenhagen Fashion Week (CPHFW) launched its NewTalent programme in 2022 through a partnership with circular textile firm Cellulose. The initiative is designed to back emerging talent through mentoring opportunities, monetary aid and a spot on the CPHFW schedule. Participating in the scheme this year were P.L.N. and Latimmier, as well as newcomers Rolf Ekfroth and Nicklas Skovgaard, the Wessel & Vett Fashion Prize finalist 2022.
Funding of this kind is often imperative for these designers, many of whom are entirely independent and therefore rely on such projects to grow their business. Yet while this in itself comes with challenges, designers in this category are granted a sense of freedom established brands are not entirely able to replicate, as support enables them to explore creativity on their own terms, without having to answer to another presence. In an extension of its efforts, CPHFW hosted a showroom for the SS24 season, where the collections by handpicked Nordic designers could be viewed following their shows, encouraging press and buyers to discover their work throughout the week.
‘I realised I don’t have power over myself and my success…’
This season, for many of those participating, deeply personal concepts led the way, with themes revolving largely around intimate stories of designers’ past, heritage and upbringing. These kinds of themes are rampant in the emerging designer world, made possible by the independence they hold and translated into lines that hold significant meaning to their creators. P.L.N.’s collection, for example, explored the designer’s – Peter Lundvald Nielsen – search for companionship. Nielsen’s collection, therefore, consisted of experimental takes on silhouettes and proportion, inviting the viewer to interpret the garment in their own way. For Nielsen, this was the third and final collection as part of the scheme, marking the beginning of a new journey ahead.
Meanwhile, for newly selected Finnish designer Rolf Ekroth, it was just the beginning. Akin to Nielsen, this came in the form of sentimental storytelling, which in Ekroth’s case intertwined with his own upbringing. An integral part of the collection was the designer’s rose print, which was hand-painted by his girlfriend and referenced looking to the past through rose-tinted glasses. Other elements of the line combined sportswear, patchwork quilting and knitting, each of which were affiliated with periods past. Speaking to FashionUnited on the concept, Ekroth said: “It’s a lighthearted jab at myself for missing my teenage years. Every season I think this is the season where I start to think about something else but then I return to that time period.”
Ekroth said that he typically worked towards the menswear calendar, however his participation in the NewTalent programme has led him to restructuring his process. The line, created over the course of six months, was shown to an audience of 600 people during the Danish fashion event, a step up from his previous presentation in Milan, where the slew of highly established brands drew crowds away from his showroom. Speaking on his emerging experience, Ekroth said: “As this is primarily a menswear brand, being two months late makes it a bit difficult to sell at this point. But I haven’t been stressing about sales in a long while. For me, it’s more important that we do what we do, because every season there’s a new collaboration and a new chance to do something. The sales will come when they come. When we have more financial help, it’s easier for us to think in that way. Of course, if we want to grow at some point, we need to start thinking about sales, but mostly what we hear from the bigger stores is that they want to follow your career for three years. I can’t change the system.”
Another Copenhagen newcomer was Vain, a Finnish label that has already garnered a global cult-like following in spite of its short lifespan. This is in part due to past viral projects, including a capsule with McDonald’s last year or its collaborative Air Jordan 1 sneaker. Previously having shown at Pitti, the brand’s creative director Jimi Vain has his sights set on continuing to bolster this international interest, particularly in the UK, the US and Korea, where the brand has seen much of its traffic. While the ambitions of Vain are vast, he remains set in his intention to continue putting out collections that are personal and resonate with the brand’s community. This rang true for the SS24 line, formed through Vain’s own dealings with anxiety, referenced in laced up elements, funeral director jackets and body bag-inspired looks.
Vain, who is entirely self-taught, also noted that while he may have access to deadstock LVMH to create his collections and has established good mentors over time, the brand is still small and doesn’t have the capability to produce on scale. He doesn’t let obstacles define him, however – a mindset that can be seen in items like suit pants with adjustable clasps on the waist to fit multiple sizes, therefore reducing the need for mass production. It is this collection that will be the first Vain puts into the wholesale system, taking the brand beyond its online site and Helsinki store, yet the designer is firm on sticking to his roots, noting: “I want to produce clothing that I and our community like to wear. We are open to exploring but it’s more than the seasons. I don’t even look at other brands, I just create for our community. It’s so organic and so passionate. Me and my team, we want to create a whole world of our own.”
In a contrasting take, designer Ervin Latimer, of the Finnish label Latimmier, instead used his platform as a means to challenge the current climate in which emerging talents operate. With this being his final collection with the NewTalent programme, Latimer is now set to face the wider world outside of CPHFW’s backdrop, making him hyper aware of the environment he is about to enter. Speaking on the industry’s current state, the designer said: “I’m grateful that we [emerging designers] are being cheered on, but it often doesn’t translate into sales. There is a strange unalignment, where you hear you have the talent and the interest, but you’re still trying not to make the ship sink. I realised I don’t have power over myself and my success, and that made me feel strongly about delving into the world of people who are making big decisions for all of us.”
With this in mind, his collection entitled ‘Positions of Power’ took on just that, exploring those in power and the status that they hold. Taking cues from the lives of corporate executives through the lens of pop culture, such as The Wolf of Wall Street, Latimer aimed to break the boundaries of traditional menswear, playing with and restructuring staple items from the formal wardrobe – as seen in button-ups with exaggerated cuffs or blazers with a restrictive binding. One knitted sweater even depicted the exact trendline of the Lehman Brothers’ market crash in 2008, which Latimer noted wasn’t about celebrating one’s demise but instead appropriating it for the sake of discussion.
If there was one thing that Latimer has gained from the involvement in NewTalent it is the confidence in his own insecurities, the designer said, making him more aware of what to show on runways versus that of showrooms. Ultimately, this has led to the development of an unwasteful mindset, making the production of his collections more intentional and thought out. On his process, he said: “I do plan things out, but there is always room for this malleability. There’s room for change, and reacting to whatever is going on in the world. You truly have to be ready to react as a smaller brand, as quickly as you can.”
Now, like the aforementioned designers, Latimer is also preparing to further his reach, as he considers branching out into Asia, North America and wider Europe as the brand begins to outgrow its rather limited home market. He added: “We have a really small market in Finland, so from the get-go we knew we needed to go abroad if we wanted to get started. This is of course a challenge because a lot of the brands rely on the local market, but the amount of people we have in the country is not enough. We want to get a nice base here in Europe and then, hopefully, look elsewhere. You need to have that longevity, that’s something I have learned. It’s a matter of timing, and people having the right pairs of eyes.”
‘Responsibility shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of emerging talent…’
Conversation around this category of designer was also at the core of a panel discussion during CPHFW’s talk series, an added part of the schedule that looked to delve into different elements of the Danish and global industry. For this particular event, entitled ‘The Role of the Emerging Designer’ and led by freelance writer Lakeisha Goedluck, designers Elisabet Stamm and Cengiz Güdücu, who both founded their namesake labels in 2022, touched on their own experiences as emerging talent, with further input from Ane Lynge-Jorlén, the director of Finnish talent support platform Alpha.
The discussion initially started out with looking into emerging designers’ connection to sustainability. Stamm, who won the Zalando Sustainability Award for her debut AW23 collection, highlighted the accessibility of platforms that evoke a conscious mindset and the opportunities there are to work closely with small scale manufacturers. However, both Güdücu and Lynge-Jorlén argued that the weight of responsibility for sustainable change should not fall on the shoulders of such talent. Elaborating on this, Lynge-Jorlén said: “[Emerging designers] are often put in the front as those stoking rebellions. On a small scale you can’t really push the agenda.”
Her stance continued elsewhere in the conversation, where she later stated that these individuals hold a micro-level influence, providing small-scale change that aligns with the community they run in. Through Alpha, Lynge-Jorlén said her goal was to “change culture at large”, supporting designers through a network and widening the debate around the industry as a whole. Stamm reiterated the importance of organisation’s such as Alpha, noting that working with them was vital as they brought in people with a new perspective and connected the dots of a company beyond simply just the design aspect.
Like the NewTalent designers, Stamm and Güdücu also put an emphasis on their personal stories as a setting for their creations. While Güdücu, who typically falls back on his adolescence and culture to inform his designs, said that this was made possible as they were not as bound my numbers, Stamm added that there was a need to be naturally authentic, something that is reflected in the way she uses social media and her collections – the most recent of which was accompanied by a personal essay in place of a press release. Lynge-Jorlén reaffirmed the duo’s takes, adding: “Emerging talents are ingrained in community and authenticity, something we can all strive for. They need to speak their own language.”
Looking ahead, it was clear that both designers were not going to make a habit of staying in the ‘emerging’ lane. Stamm, for example, touched on her aspirations of establishing programmes to support manufacturers in a similar way to which she has been supported, in order to build bridges. She added: “For me, my purpose has to be bigger than myself. It can spring from me, but it has to be bigger than me.” Güdücu also expressed a desire that stretched far beyond himself, stating that in place of his brand influencing the industry, he would prefer to forward his knowledge to the next generation, ultimately becoming an educator that can “be the shoulder for an emerging designer to stand on”. He concluded: “The biggest goal I have is to inspire someone else to create something that is 20 times bigger than what I’ve ever done.”