About a month ago, we came across Danish brand Hærværk and reviewed their Autumn/Winter 2017 presentation at Copenhagen Fashion Week. In the time since, we’ve grown remarkably fond of designer Niels Gundtoft Hansen’s portrayal of uncompromising teen ennui. A recent graduate from the Royal College of Art, his work showcases an idealized melancholia particular to the lonely youths of urban cities. A wonderful fit for this week’s Young Blood feature, we reached out to the 29 year-old creative to dissect both his brand and brain. Hansen and his team were exceedingly gracious and more than kind enough to share.
Alex. Hello Niels. Thanks again for doing this Q&A with us. Let’s just start with the basics: what’s the Hærværk boy like? Who exactly are you designing for?
Niels. My muse and the foundation of the Hærværk brand is based on Copenhagen kids growing up in the Danish welfare state. The Danish upbringing is based on freedom. We were all told that we can be whatever and whoever we want to be. [It is] a philosophy that gives us great comfort but also results in kids having no respect for authorities and exploring all aspects of adolescence [both] good and bad. Hærværk is about the balance between pure beauty and raw edge.
A. With Hærværk less than a year old, how would you describe your experience in establishing a new brand? Was it everything you had imagined it would be?
N. …It feels amazing to work with such creative freedom and to trust solely in your own gut [instincts]. After a two-year master’s at the Royal College of Art being told nothing else but to create my own language [in design], I wanted to continue working on my own aesthetics after graduation. The first collection from last summer was the RCA graduate collection and I was super proud of it. I was naturally excited to show it in as many places as possible. Straight after London, I went to Italy for the International Talent Support competition, then to Copenhagen Fashion Week and further on to the Berlin Alternative Fashion Week.
After one month of touring with the collection and [gaining] lots of publicity, I was at the point of no return. My experience so far is [realizing that] the real struggle is in [attaining] long-term relevance. I am still working on branding strategies to maintain the perfect balance of originality and being a part of the industry.
A. Although there’s only two collections so far, there’s already such a strong and consistent influence of youth culture in your brand. What do you think it is about youth and adolescence that’s so appealing?
N. …Being 29, I am getting increasingly hard to entertain and tend to overthink every situation. I don’t even enjoy going out that much anymore. …I am passionate about youth culture and tribes because it embraces identity and storytelling. Kids around 10 to 13 years of age inspire me the most. They still possess naivety [and] innocence which I think is a beautiful thing. They are unconsciously goofy because they haven’t learned to behave themselves, but they also get curious and are excited about anything unexpected. For me, that is where the pure and original beauty lies. I am interested in the kid who is stuck in his imagination and hasn’t [yet reached] the point of self-awareness.
A. Immersing yourself in this industry, what’s something that has been an unexpected highlight for you?
N. I am truly grateful and appreciate every expression of interest towards my brand. I am honored to be a part of the Copenhagen Fashion Week and am even more grateful for being able to choose my own slot on the program. Winning the OTB [parent company to brands Diesel, Maison Margiela, and Marni] award at ITS [International Talent Support] and being praised by Renzo Rosso in front of thousands of people was definitely an unexpected highlight. Part of the prize was a six-month internship with Diesel in Italy and they have been welcoming like I have never experienced before. I have been working on my own Diesel Capsule collection with lots of creative freedom [as well as] my own team to manage. Parallel with my job at Diesel, I designed the Hærværk Vol.2 collection during the solitary nights in my romantic Italian flat in a small village in the hills. Then, I was given a month off to produce the collection and show it back in Copenhagen.
My [whole] Diesel experience has been unexpected. I never imagined myself living the Italian country life. The other day Mr. Rosso even introduced me to John Galliano. That was unexpected and felt kind of cool. I am mentioning it here because none of my friends or family know anything about either of them! [laughs]
A. There are so many designers. Every year brings a new graduating class. Do you feel like emerging designers should fight to get noticed, or is it more about waiting for the recognition that will come once it’s deserved? What’s your approach?
N. You have to fight to get noticed, of course. For my generation, it is not only in fashion but also in most other fields that you have to fight and prove yourself. No one will come and knock on your door unless you are extremely lucky. It is not like the world needs more brands or clothing, so you have to make yourself relevant and find an excuse for yourself to be in the industry.
For the past two years, I’ve worked on building my silhouettes, creating my own fabrics and figuring out what I am about as a designer. Now, I am working on my branding and how to reach the consumer in an innovative way. Because of the abundance of designers, just having the right product is not enough anymore.
A. What’s one piece of advice that you’ve learned/were told that’s had the most lasting impact on either you personally, or your career?
N. My brother has always given me different sorts of life lessons, from how to give the finger to drive a car. But I clearly remember when he told me to stand straight with an erect spine instead of slouching all the time. Even though I romanticize the [youthful] age and build my silhouette on kids with lazy body language, I am glad he told me to stand in a way that’s presentable.
A. On a final note: As an emerging designer, what’s the one thing that you want people to know and remember about yourself/Hærværk?
N. I’d like to be remembered as a designer who shaped character into my silhouettes in order to tell authentic stories that people could identify with and get drawn into.