Letter From Copenhagen: A Fashion Capital in Waiting

As capital of the only Scandinavian country connected to continental Europe, Copenhagen has long been considered the gateway to the region.

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As capital of the only Scandinavian country connected to continental Europe, Copenhagen has long been considered the gateway to the region.

And that's now true for its fashion industry, too.

Copenhagen's twice-yearly fashion week has become the largest industry event in Northern Europe and a showcase for designers from neighboring Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and elsewhere.

"We stand a chance if we work together," asserted Eva Kruse, executive director of the Danish Fashion Institute, striving for Copenhagen to become the world's fifth fashion capital after Paris, New York, Milan and London.

In 2005, Denmark's apparel industry, known for high quality at reasonable prices and its knack for furs and knitwear, overtook furniture and design to become the country's fourth largest export industry.

Emboldened by fashion's growing contribution to the gross domestic product, investors are broadening their traditional focus in industries like information technology and energy to dabble in local labels.

"Ten years ago when you went to dinner parties, there were the money men and the IT guys," recalled Peter Ingwersen, founder and chief executive of high-end ethical apparel brand Noir. "Now it's the money men and fashion designers."

Already this year, Icelandic investment group BG Partners acquired a 50 percent stake in Danish fashion chain Metropol, while Danish private equity fund Axcel took a 60 percent share of Danish jewelry manufacturer Pandora. And the number of international brands investing in retail space here has rocketed.

"Copenhagen has moved from C list to A list," declared Henrik Wessmann Jensen, ceo of property development group Oskar Jensen, who for the last three years has attracted high-profile fashion brands to the city. His latest catch is Abercrombie & Fitch, which will open its second European flagship here in 2009 in the Kobmagergade district, where a further 43,000-square-feet of retail space is being developed. That's good news for about 30 international labels said to be scouting Copenhagen locations.

In a bid to differentiate Copenhagen, which boasts the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe, Strøget, Jensen is turning his attention to homegrown talent. There are plans to open the first stores for Noir and its diffusion line Bllack Noir within two years, and locations for other national brands will follow. "It's very important for a city this size not to look like every other city," Jensen said. "When you go to certain cities, the only difference is which side of the street Prada or Giorgio Armani is on."
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