Travelling during the pandemic: it’s a bit of a tricky topic, but if you got invited to attend Copenhagen Fashion Week, would you say no? Neither did I.
I’d received a number of show and presentation invites, as well as press passes from designers and their press teams and was faced with a moral dilemma of travelling abroad during the pandemic – a time of widespread uncertainty, mainly due to the British Government’s general lax attitude toward handling the virus, in addition to the inability to introduce effective measures in a timely manner.
I decided that this was an opportunity that I could not pass up – attending a fashion week has been a lifelong dream of mine, alongside travelling abroad on my own – so I was quick to book my flights and a hotel.
Arriving at Copenhagen Airport, I already felt much safer than I did in London. There were temperature checks at the airport and you had to prove to the Danish Border Force that you had a viable reason to be travelling to Denmark; already more measures than the British Government had implemented at UK’s airports at that point.I think it’s also necessary to point out that the Government failed to close the UK’s borders, and myself, along with countless others, were not checked or tested for symptoms, nor were we briefed on what we should be doing and where we should be going when we got to the airport. It’s almost as if Boris wants to make life harder than it needs to be.
Deaths from Covid-19 in Denmark were strikingly lower than they were in the UK at that point, with 156 new cases on the day of my arrival and 620 deaths in total. Masks weren’t required on public transportation – buses, trains and the metro system – unless you were travelling during peak time, and all the events I attended were either socially distanced or adhering to the Danish Government’s rules regarding gatherings of no more than 200 people.
The Copenhagen Fashion Week team made it crystal clear to show-goers that the necessary Covid-19 precautions would be taken throughout the fashion week, and ensured meticulously that brands were following the guidelines from the Danish Government. On the official CPHFW website, they said:
“Copenhagen has opened up to the degree that feels almost normal, but we understand concerns of people who are still living under strict lockdown. Copenhagen Fashion Week naturally follows the authorities’ recommendations concerning reducing the risk of Covid-19 and takes all the necessary precautions when conducting our own activities during Copenhagen Fashion Week. We encourage and expect all brands to do the same, making sure all events are adapted to the applicable Covid-19 rules and recommendations”. Everyone adhered, seemingly with no fuss, no drama, and no anti-mask protests, putting the British Government to shame with ease.
The presentationsI attended four presentations during my four days in Copenhagen: Ganni, Mfpen, Rains and Malaikaraiss. All of these took place in different locations across Copenhagen and all brands managed to make their events Covid-19 safe.
Ganni’s exhibition was held as a tour of their new collection through a building in groups of ten, and all headphones for the interactive experience were sanitised before every group. The staff at the Rains exhibition handed out disposable masks to every attendee, and the venue was full of leafy green plants to give it that ‘al fresco,”we have super clean air here” vibe’. Very fashion week.
One of Rains staff members gave us his personal thoughts about the social restrictions: “Wearing a mask gets annoying sometimes, especially when you have a hard time hearing people. I don’t have actual hearing problems, but I like being able to see people’s faces when they talk to me. You can read them better that way. But, I am happy to do whatever is necessary to stop the spread of the Coronavirus so we can get back to a completely normal life. I think our government is doing a good job, but I worry about what it will be like in the winter. Danish winters are harsh, and I think that we [Danes] might find ourselves in a bad situation because of a second peak”.
The private viewings
I was lucky enough to be invited to two private viewings, known in the industry as “re-sees” for any press and buyers who were unable to attend the physical runway shows. My experiences in the Munthe and Baum und Pferdgarten showrooms were probably the most relaxed of all my encounters during my time in Copenhagen. It was very much a one-to-one experience, walking around and chatting to the showroom manager, and occasionally being left alone to take pictures and notes of the collection.
What really struck me was how Copenhageners were dealing with the virus so well; during my time in the city, Denmark’s Coronavirus cases didn’t top more than 171 new positive tests per day, whereas the UK’s daily cases went above 1,000 consistently during the three day period. From the perspective of a Londoner looking at how Coronavirus was being handled in another country, talking so freely with people – without masks – was like temporarily living in a post-Covid-19 world, where everything was almost normal.
In May of this year, Denmark banned all large gatherings, closed down all non-essential shops and venues across the country and actively discouraged people from using public transport unless necessary – something that the UK also implemented. But why were Denmark’s cases so low?
I met with Dyveke Bahnson Angelo, Munthe’s showroom manager, on my third day in Copenhagen, and she candidly discussed the pandemic with me whilst showing me around the SS21 collection.“Covid changed this season in a way that no one could have predicted. I think the [Danish] Government handled it well because the Prime Minister locked everything down so early. We are lucky enough that we can even be here talking together, and it’s lucky that the season didn’t get cancelled completely. I think that would have caused some huge issues because most of our fashion houses in Denmark are quite small and known only within Scandinavia, so it would have taken a huge toll on their finances.
“We went from planning our huge show, which usually has at least 200 to 300 people in the audience [depending on the venue] as well as a huge production team and countless models, to having a handful of models presenting our collection in front of a camera and not a live audience. It’s been a strange season,” Dyveke said.
“I think what makes it easier is that we have a culture of cycling, meaning that more people are out in the air instead of being packed on the metro services and buses. A lot of people here seem to be more considerate of others, which is something that I have not seen during trips to other parts of Europe.”
I was living a life in Copenhagen that was not even comprehensible in London at that time. A temporary life, in fairness, but it raised the issue of why Danes were finding it easier to stick to the rules than us Brits?
The digital shows
There were also a handful of digital shows that I watched from the comfort of my Axel Guldsmeden Hotel bed, including Stine Goya, Whyred, Munthe, Baum und Pferdgarten and the iconic Danish fashion house: Samsøe Samsøe.
The digital shows provided fashion lovers from around the world the opportunity to attend the shows of their favourite Scandinavian brands in real-time, whilst also being sustainable and (obviously) Covid-19 safe.However, as the pandemic went on and affected more and more countries, putting some into strict lockdowns, the futures of fashion photographers around the world suddenly became uncertain. Michéla Casey, a London-based fashion photographer, told me about her original plans to go to Copenhagen for the SS21 season.
“Covid definitely threw multiple spanners in the works for a lot of us. We’re [the photographers] used to being in huge groups together, socialising, touching each other’s cameras and any other equipment. Most of us usually meet up to go out for dinner and drinks when all the shows are done. I know that Denmark handled the virus pretty well, and going out with everyone would have definitely been possible, but I did not find myself in a position where I wanted to put myself at risk. I don’t think it would have been worth the risk personally, especially because I knew that fashion week would always return. Me missing one season wouldn’t have been the end of the world, it’s just a minor problem in life,” she told us.
“The UK Government definitely could have done more for London Fashion Week. One of the biggest fashion weeks in the world, whenever you hear ‘fashion season’, London is always included in that. It generates so much money and it is just an overall iconic week for British culture, and for the Government to do little to nothing to at least allow us to do a hybrid fashion week is annoying and disappointing, especially when so much emphasis was put on protecting the football. Telling creatives to retrain in other fields to deal with the impact of the lockdown is disgusting, considering how much money we contribute to this country’s economy every year.”
She added that: “Boris Johnson wouldn’t retrain as a bus driver if he lost the election, so why should we have to retrain in something completely irrelevant to us? I didn’t get into an extortionate amount of debt for a degree if I can’t use it, just because the Government says so. It’s criminal.”
The show that closed Fashion WeekI attended one of the only physical fashion shows at Copenhagen Fashion Week, which was Henrik Vibskov presenting his menswear and womenswear collection for the new season, in a Covid-aware, picnic-esque set up.
The show was executed so efficiently, with adequate social distancing, and the chance for a nobody like myself to sit in the front row. Henrik Vibskov’s show operated on a time slot basis, allowing for as many people as possible to attend the show in the safest possible way.
The audience was greeted with a note on our “seats”: “TAKE A SEAT! Welcome to the Henrik Vibskov Spring Summer collection – ‘The Horse Power Takeaway’. Let’s help each other to stay safe – following the Covid-19 guidelines to prevent infections. Keep a distance, and please respect the time slots!” This was typical of the rather upbeat and enthusiastic Danish attitude towards their handling of the pandemic (and rightly so).
It put things into perspective for me – if British people as a whole had taken Coronavirus restrictions more seriously than we did, would we be in a position where our world-famous fashion week would be made digital – for the first time in London Fashion Week’s history?
A country that can allow its fashion week to go ahead because it has its Coronavirus numbers under control is a country I want to stay in. I found it hard to tear myself away from the Copenhagen bubble, and actually almost missed my return flight because I knew that I would be coming back to a place where we don’t take a pandemic as seriously as we should.
Despite the draconian restrictions and astronomically high Covid-19 cases and deaths compared to other countries, I was lucky enough to have been given a glimpse into what the future of fashion could look like, with fashion weeks following hybrid schedules of both physical and digital shows. It showed that we perhaps need to re-think the way we manage crowds, especially when the end to social distancing is nowhere in sight.
What we as fashion lovers need to remember is that the catwalk is king and it will make its much-awaited come back sometime in the future. But, as Coronavirus cases and deaths in the UK continue to climb into a peak for the second time this year, the comeback we so desperately want, and that so many smaller brands desperately need to stay afloat, the likelihood of the catwalk returning for the winter season seems unlikely.
A stab straight in the back of the countless British fashionistas waiting for fashion week to make its return.
Featured image by Sophie Victoria Brown.
Edited by Emil Brierley, Natalia Zmarzlik and Tom Tyers.