Henrik Vibskov is not your typical fashion designer. At times, it’s hard to tell he’s a fashion designer at all — and perhaps that’s why he is perfectly bizarre
Story by Ken Miller / Photography by Mikkel Bache
It should have taken no one by surprise when Henrik Vibskov popped up at PS1 MoMA in New York last year, and created an installation called “Emergency Room.” He also performed live at the museum, which wouldn’t shock those who have seen him playing drums with the electronic musician Trentemøller at music festivals in Spain or on Danish television. Of course, seeing him on TV would be no surprise to the folks used to seeing his fashion shows repurposed into prize-winning experimental films. In fact, it’s almost gotten to the point where it’s most surprising to catch Vibskov at Copenhagen Fashion Week, though it seems like every time he shows he picks up an award.
If Vibskov were ever to skip out on showing in Copenhagen, it would probably cause a national crisis — as Denmark’s most successful young designer, he has single-handedly put the city’s runways on the global fashion circuit. (The nice Scandinavian summer weather doesn’t hurt, either.) Vibskov’s shows have consistently drawn raves, not just for his playful approach to high design, but for his willingness to create a spectacle beyond sending models down a runway.
In 2006, Vibskov caused a stir with a presentation titled “the big wet shiny boobies,” which featured many views of the eponymous body part abstracted as stage decoration. The effect was more weird than sexy, but so audaciously goofy it was hard not to applaud his bravado. His clothing had already caught the eye of critics; educated at Central Saint Martins in London, his brightly patterned apparel reflected the jumped-up atmosphere of millennial London, sharing a buzz with other young British designers such as Kim Jones and Carrie Mundane. His graduation from school was documented on Danish television.
His subsequent presentations have featured elaborate staging such as a runway made to resemble a neon-lit sea anemone and a giant thingamajig filled with bicycles being pedaled by models. The clothing runs the gamut as well, from modishly refined tailoring to whimsical reinterpretations of the human form. The one consistent element seems to be Vibskov’s refusal to take himself or his creations too seriously. In a way, he seems to be nudging his audience until everyone giggles along with him. He clearly can make a perfectly adorable summer dress, and he will if you ask him nicely. But really, why bother?
Vibskov’s determination to do whatever the hell he wants would be incredibly frustrating if he didn’t seem so sincere in all of his endeavors. He’s having fun, but he’s not being snide. Once you get over the shock of seeing a men’s cardigan in garishly bright blue and pink, it’s hard not to start thinking, “I wonder if I can pull that off?” And surprisingly, the answer is more often than not, yes! For all of his imagination and whimsy, Vibskov’s understanding of how to create a strong silhouette remains present in all of his designs. And thus, a dress with a built-in head wrap is actually quite wearable and, remarkably, classically refined.
Are neon-pattern print pants going to be the right attire for every occasion? No. But they do look strangely appropriate for smoking some weed and heading down to the deli on a hung-over Sunday afternoon. On the other hand, his Scottish golfing outfit, seemingly inspired by Groundskeeper Willie, would probably be pretty hard to pull off. What makes Vibskov’s work so consistently intriguing is his willingness to have it both ways — he wants to be both refined and ridiculous and he wants to create fashion that embraces both sides of his personality. The result is often confusing, like watching Grace Kelly make out with Jerry Lewis.
In retrospect, perhaps this determination to mix elements should not be so surprising. Early in his career, Vibskov exhibited with Banksy and Faile, and like those street artists, he is refusing to acknowledge the boundaries between haute couture and street wear. Give him a canvas and he’ll doodle on it – this fall, he even debuted a line of baby carriages with Canadian brand Quinny. His designs would remain amusing doodles if he didn’t have the skill and technical rigor to pull them off.
At the very bottom of Vibskov’s bio, you can find a telling detail: when he was 12 years old, he won a local breakdancing competition. Sure, the countryside of Jutland, Denmark is not exactly the boogie down Bronx, but in a weird way, his approach to fashion mirrors the skills of a great breakdancer. First you need a solid foundation, an innate understanding of the drummer’s beat. Then you need some flashy moves — some bright patterning and unique flare to catch the eye of the audience. But finally, you need to innovate and create a spectacle in order to stand out. That’s what makes Henrik Vibskov’s designs workfor him, and for his audience: they are kind of shocking at first glance, but will keep you staring in awe.