Designmuseum Danmark (the Danish museum of Design)

During my trip to Copenhagen (19 to 23 April 2016), I’ve been to the Danish museum of Design (called Designmuseum Danmark) and I was amazed by the cultural wealth that Denmark offered and is offering to the Design and art world. I will share with you an insight of the Danish (and international) design evolution and history with a focus on the Fashion and textile collection.

Fashion & Fabric collection’s museum (world and Denmark)

“For the first time, the permanent exhibition Mode & Tekstil/ Fashion & Fabric at Designmuseum Danmark is displaying a large selection from the museum’s extensive fashion and textile collections. In terms of fashion and clothing, the exhibition showcases a selection of outfits from the 18th century to the present day, focusing particularly on Danish-designed fashions in the display of 20th century clothing.

The exhibition has been divided into three main themes: Design and Decoration, Handicrafts and Industry and Body and Identity. […] The first room is dedicated to the earliest fabrics and fashion and textiles from the 18th century. The second room is dedicated entirely to the 19th century. The third room showcases material from the 29th and 21th centuries.”

The 18th century 


Wedding dress in 1767-68 (Denmark) / Silk, Embroidery, Satin stitch

Designed (and embroidered in China) for the wedding of  Johan Frederik Lindencrone, Bolette Marie Harboe in 1768.  The bride wore this sack dress, a “robe à la française”, together with a petticoat.

The 19th century

The 19th century fashion styles

This century began with an enthusiasm for all things antique reflected in the décor of homes ad types of motifs used (flowers arranged in bouquets, garlands, vases…). Various different styles came and went during the 19th century, many of which were quasi-imitations of other styles: neo-gothic, neo-renaissance, neo-baroque and neo-rococo came together under one single style term: historicism.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the gentleman’s three-piece ensemble gave way to long trousers. After the French revolution in 1789, the centre of men’s fashion moved to England and the overwhelming trend in men’s fashion became discrete and exquisite tailoring without any embellishments. Men’s clothing was made using wool and leather whereas women’s clothing mainly consisted of silk or cottons.

In the 19th century, fashion accessories such as parasols, fans, shawls, silk ribbons, gloves and hats provided great scope for the fashion-conscious consumer to individualise his or her outfit. Stockings, embroidered calling-card and letter pouches, small beaded purses and sewing bags, representing personal tastes and preferences, were among the more intimate accessory items, which one could show off on special occasions. The large shawls popular at the time were perfect as warming outerwear.

During this century, women’s clothing experienced a long and varied period of change. Drastic changes were made to the silhouette, progressing from the long, neo-classical, column-like lines to the hourglass shape of neo-rococo. By the 1870s, the silhouette was a large gathring of lifted fabric supported at the back of the garments over a bustle – which enjoyed the height of its popularity.

Towards the end of the 19th century, people in cultured circles began to take an interest in Japanase art. This was to become an important source of inspiration for the new Art Nouveau style – characterised by its organic, elongated lines borrowed from the worlds of plants and animals.

A century of great evolution and changes

Paris saw the emergence of the very first fashion houses. Under a single roof, they combined fabric retailing, fashion creation, tailoring and the production of accessories. Fashion was presented as an art form created by artists (the fashion designers), who presented their latest creations to aristocrats and celebrities, modelled by living mannequins in customer-designed fashion salons. Like other respected artists, they also began signing their works.

In the second half of the 19th century, those interested in social reform began to question the use of heavily laced corsets. The reform movement first gained a foothold in the medical profession and in women’s and artistic circles. In Denmark, the women’s organisation ‘Dansk Kvindesamfund’ led the debate and, in 1897, Copenhagen’s Magasin du Nord department store introduced a department selling more rational and less restrictive women’s clothing.

At the same time, many architects and artists began working with different genres of arts and handicrafts. The idea that one and the same artist should produce all art, architecture and handicraft including textiles and clothing became popular. The notion behind this was that the resulting uniform style should be harmonious, collectively forming an artistic synthesis.

During the 19th century, handicrafts and industry underwent great changes. One new invention followed the next, and existing machinery and equipment were developed and improved. After many attempts, the Jacquard machine was invented in 1805. Having learned the art of printing textiles from India in the 17th century, so-called kattun printers were established, particularly in Copenhagen.

In 1856, the crinoline was patented. Unlike the hoop skirts of the 18th century, which together with the corset were structured using baleen, the crinoline was made of steel rings of varying diameter connected by thin bands of fabric. It replaced the heavy underskirts, which used a weft of horsehair and cotton or linen to maintain their voluptuous shape.

The mid-19th century saw great advances in sewing technology and these improvements had a profound impact on the fashions of the time. The double-thread sewing machine, the treadle sewing machine, then the steam-driven sewing machine which paved the way for the industrial-scale production of clothing were the most impactful invention of this century. By the end of this century, ready-to-wear clothing had become a reality.

The 20th century

The 20th century fashion styles

As in the 19th century, the 20th century witnessed varying waves of new fashion styles. These included: the kimono-inspired fashions of the 10’s, the prevailing tomboy look of the 20’s with short column-like dresses with unrestrictive sleeves that facilitated dancing, and finally the long floating lines of the 30’s.

During WW2 and the following years, scarcity of materials led to great invention among designers in terms of their designs and use of materials. In 1947, the French couture designer Christian Dior launched the New Look with its revival of the waspish waist and long, voluminous skirts. In the 60’s, Danish fashion designers began working with ready-to-wear clothing industry, which led to stylish and functional clothing. This style became a popular and internationally esteemed feature of much of Danish fashion and remains so nowadays. A particular niche for Danish clothing production was the hand-crafted garments. In the 50’s, weavers and textile printers had been creating textiles for clothing and followed the prevailing trends. But subsequently their designs began to diverge, distancing themselves from commercial fashion.

Textile printing

Textile printing is the art of adding patterns to ready-woven textiles. This technique is one of the cheapest, yet one of the most diverse methods of transferring coloured patterns onto fabric. Like other disciplines in the fied of handicrafts and creative arts, textile printing enjoyed a revival in Denmark in the 1920s. One of the pioneers who played a major role in Danish textile printing was Marie Gudme Leth, with her colourful, narrative and later silkscreen-printed patterns.

Danish textile printing enjoyed a particular broom from the 1930s to the 1970s with a wealth of creative designers. However, unlike in other European countries, textile printing in Denmark never really became a commercialed industry during the 20th century. Danish textile producers continued their love of experimentation, leading to a great deal of innovation – characterising Danish textile crafts.

In the 20th century, it was particularly in the areas of weaving and textile printing that Danish textile art made its name. The first decades of the century and after the WW2 witnessed the emergence of weaving workshops supported by Danish architects and furniture designers. The weavers worked on textiles for the home, carpets, upholstery and curtains.The success of Danish weaving stemmed from the skilled handcrafted manufacturing of those who created it in their workshops.

The 21th century

The 21th century fashion styles

The 2 common denominators for the many Danish fashion brands are affordable prices and a tolerant fit. Comfortable and functional everyday clothes, ‘easy to wear’ as interpreted by the individual brands. They do not require an ideally proportioned body but promote well-being and a relaxed lifestyle.

Key features of Danish fashion are a certain democratic character and broad popular appeal. The fashion industry is now the country’s fourth-biggest industry, with exports accounting for more than 90% of turnover. Copenhagen is on the global fashion map even if it’s not among the biggest global fashion centres

Danish fashion brands – fashion for all?

A tendency to flout conventions for appropriate attire is often coupled with a democratic mentality in Danish fashion. Further, diversity and individuality are coupled with an ethical awareness of environmental issues and social responsibility. Danish fashion companies are aware of consumer expectations of sustainable production and decent working conditions.

In the 1990’s, when Danish fashion came into its own with renewed confidence, ethnic bohemian look and picturesque and romantic stylistic expressions were core characteristics. The trend was driven by a picturesque maximalism with inspiration from Indian embroidery and other Asian-style ornamentation along with a casual feminine aesthetic based on contrasting materials and new designer prints.

In the new century, a minimalist trend and inspiration from streetwear contrast the picturesque style, driven by simplicity, quality and the mantra: form follows function. The expression is often masculine with inspiration from streetwear. A preference for classic design solutions, e.g: a return to previous designs in collection after collection is shared by many of the brand operating in the minimalist arena.

Avant-garde brands highlight the vitality of new Danish fashion with impactful designs. In their experimental and performance-oriented practice, they challenge all conventions. The avant-garde style is playful and displays a keen sense of humour with graphic prints, rich materials and colour effects in brands like Henrik Vibskov or Stine Goya. In the hands of Vilsbol de Arce, this style is conceptual, controlled and sculptural and places high demands on the wearer’s body.


Hour by hour, fashion bloggers can tell us what is hot right now. But still, the public space is where we can see for ourselves how we wish to present ourselves to the outside world. In all this diversity we can see how new, street-oriented menswear fashion is reflecting a much more individual approach and notions of fun and pleasure, identities are up for negotiation: what is feminine and what is masculine ?

The visually interesting diversity, the new experiences and the breakdown of immutable identities are key features of life in the post-industrial city of Copenhagen.

A little bit of Design’s history (world and Denmark)


1960-1975 – “Danish modern” and Interior-design & Pop

Danish design and crafts continued to develop on continuation of the “Danish Design” wave from the 50’s. The commercial success on the export markets brought with it a certain uniformity of design, characterised by sober simplicity, natural materials, and soft lines. The 60’s design scene was characterised by the rise of international mass culture and by the continued development of “Danish Design”.

The designs of mass culture constituted a landscape of bright pop colours, marking a break with the formalised post-war modernism. This was a celebration of consumer society, junk architecture of Las Vegas and Andy Warhol’s pop art with its advertising aesthetic.

The rebellion spread to Denmark, where Verner Panton or Nanna Ditzel among others provoked Danes by designing plastic chairs, seating arrangements and modular furniture in bright colours. This represented the international potential of the era, with new visions of physical liberation and anti-establishment sentiments.

The 60’s design and craft were characterised by national introspection engaged in clashes with new, international ideas. The two parallel trends – the pop design of mass culture and Danish Modern – reflect the desire to either refuse the visions of modernism or the need to continue developing them

1980-2000 – Ecology, recycling and sustainable design

Ecological design and design for recycling first takes on real significance in the 80′. This gives rise to a new kind of Utopia at grass-root level within the Western world.

Thoughts and notions about alternative types of housing, recycling, and ecology stem back to the late 60’s where the hippie movement reacted strongly against the escalating consumerism created by the economic growth and prosperity of that decade. Christiania is a Danish example of alternative way of living which can be seen as part of the anti-materialistic culture of the 60’s.

The Danish Environmental Act was introduced in 74, and today most agree that environmentally correct is a positive word. Environmental correctness has moved on to be part the established political agenda.

Designers who create sustainable products wish to slow the pace of frenetic consumer society, and to reduce the use of products which consumer and break down Nature’s own resources.

Environmental design also incorporates embryonic concepts for new patterns of consumption; right of use instead of right of ownership and focus on opportunities for upgrading or repairing existing objects instead of buying new ones.

1900-2000 – The contours of speed

The 20th century’s fascination with speed, acceleration and movement is intimately linked with the growing industrialisation. Technological society has its own Utopia, a dream about liberating Man, about removing all physical and geographical borders and abolishing gravity.

During this century, the pace of production, communication and work in general has increased significantly. This faster pace has had a decisive impact on the ways in which we perceive movement, space , time and materials and so has had direct impact design. Architects and designers have had to relate to the restless demands of modern society; demands for mobility, intensity and rapid movement.

The speed in designers’ and architects’ work was expressed by virtue of their fascination with spiralling movements, rotating elements, weightless materials and playful experiments with water, light and glass. Since the 90’s, designers have used dynamic, hyper-organic shapes and high-tech materails from the aviation industry to create products that symbolise speed and movement.

1900-2000 – Slowness

One of the major visions of the 20th century was to create a rapidly accelerating society with no sluggishness, slowness and inertia.

Within Danish furniture design and craft, however, a slow approach has imbued the many objects with their special character, helping to make Danish design famous all over the world.

With their extraordinary quality and finish, Danish architect-designed furniture is intimately tied up with slowness.

Slowness and careful contemplation are prerequisites for artistic design as well as for products of high perfection and longevity.

These artistic and functional values have often been successfully transferred to Danish industrial design. Here, slowness and speed, modernity and tradition interweaves in everyday objects of steel, plastic and other synthetic materials that reflect industrial society.

At the end of the 20th century, speed and slowness are no longer polar opposites. The dynamic forms of speed meet meditations on materials.

The digital era

Via the digital media, graphic design and image-based communication are in constant motion, influencing the way we use text and images to communicate. The digital space, with its associative networks, search engines and diverse platforms, blogs, Instagram… is creating unprecendented amounts and combinations of image forms. Out of this visual chaos, collective memories emerge, and the fleeting nature of the medium points to new paths in the world.

These digital and immaterial trends notwithstanding, the world remains profoundly material. While graphic designers are creating websites at an unprecedented rate and a Danish computer game becomes a global success, analogue assignments and communication live on. Digital and analogue elements engage in mutual aesthetic interaction.

Design in a sustainability perspective

Denmark is seen as one of today’s green nations. Danish wind turbine technology is renowned and an alternative energy with more than the half of Danish energy production coming from wind power.

Denmark clearly belongs in the league of highly developed countries where principles of sustainability are held up as indisputable. Sustainability has become a key paradigm in Danish industrial design and everyday product culture

Environmental awareness – a chance for survival

For decades Danish designers have advocated organic and sustainable solutions. In the 70’s the focus was not on creating more beautiful everyday products and growing wealth but on ensuring future generations “a chance for survival” – this was a new environmental awareness in Denmark.

The sustainable design paradigm

Since the 90’s, design criteria related to sustainable solutions have pushed to the forefront of Danish design. Responsible designers (fashion industry, high-tech …) face a number of crucial issues based on a product lifecycle spanning from cradle to cradle. The answers are to be found in minimizing the environmental impact

Responsible production – CO2 reduction – resource recycling

One of the key elements of the sustainable design paradigm is the vital call for materials to be recyclable, capable of undergoing several generations of material development. This means the use of local materials, the prioritization of ecologically responsible wood, energy consumption and pollution…

Danish designers mark a specific category of responsible products by engaging in sustainable development processes based on local materials and craft traditions.

© Design museum Danmark


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