The publication has two volumes: Status – Luksus – Velklædt 1660-1900 (Status – Luxury – Well-Dressed 1660–1900) by Venborg Pedersen and Chik – Smart – Moderne 1900-2020 (Chic – Smart – Modern 1900–2020) by Riegels Melchior. A wise choice as the two authors each have their own unique communication style, tone and approach to the historical material. The first volume reflects Venborg Pedersen’s in-depth knowledge of the Textile and Dress Collection at the National Museum of Denmark with its historical content and terminology, and this reader is delighted in the many historical terms – ‘sallow black’, ‘aigrette’, ‘dormeuse cap’, ‘eye cloth’ and others. This section is very much written on the terms of the objects, in great and illuminating detail, and the eye feasts on wonderful images of objects that are not always easily accessible. However, this focus also means that the stories revolve mainly around upper-class clothing rather than what the common people wore.
Riegels Melchior’s volume too is a great read, with her excellent ability to trace the link between everyday clothes and haute couture. Not least, the volume contains many illuminating stories about the role of clothes in the different variants of 20th-century popular culture, from swing dancers in the Bakken outdoor amusement park north of Copenhagen to mini skirts in the Danish town of Nakskov, colourful sweaters in free knitting, women’s lib symbols, Buffalo shoes and spiky hair or teenaged boys collecting expensive sneakers. This volume is valuable not least because it represents so many of the actors involved in shaping the Danish fashion scene over the past 100 years. Shop owners, celebrities, designers and magazines are all included, offering the reader a real sense of how we arrived at the current edition of Danish fashion, as it looks in 2022. The final section of this volume outlines a vision of new, sustainable age that is going to influence our future fashion choices – albeit mostly at an individual level rather than in terms of the general concept of fashion.
Although the two volumes deal specifically with Danish fashion, both writers also have a focus on the international trends that have influenced our fashion habits, not least our general concept of fashion. An understanding that is mainly framed by the Parisian fashion narrative and the concept of fashion as a phenomenon that has emerged in the West through increasing ‘democratization’. If I were to criticize any aspect of this generous and exuberant publication, I would point out that it is not exactly ‘woke’. It never considers the geopolitical history surrounding textiles and clothing, which does not exactly put Denmark in an exclusively positive light. It also does not address the Eurocentric fashion narrative that underlies the entire book, even though this perspective is currently under revision in universities and design schools around the world. Finally, it might have been interesting to learn more about the Danish traditions for crafts, frugality, recycling, remaking or the trade in second-hand clothes. These issues are only briefly touched upon in either volume but are hot topics in the contemporary debate on sustainability and the circular economy.
Despite these objections, the work as a whole is a very rich source, which can be recommended to anyone who wants a thorough overview of Danish costume history and fashion storytelling.
Review: Moden i Danmark (Fashion in Denmark). By Mikkel Venborg Pedersen and Marie Riegels Melchior. Published by Gads Forlag, 18 March 2022. Find the book here
Else Skjold has for more than 15 years worked to develop research methods to understand the practice of using clothes – the so-called ‘wardrobe method’, which is still the core of her research on sustainable transformation of the fashion and textile industry.
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