Interview: Malene Birger

by Chloe Mac Donnell
By Malene Birger
By Malene Birger

In celebration of By Malene Birger's 10th anniversary we caught up with its Danish founder Malene Birger to talk inspiration, London style and perfectionism.

The Royal Danish Theatre is a hive of activity - giant camera cranes are being drilled nosily together, huge spotlights are brightened, then slowly dimmed before flooding the stage with harsh white light over and over again while various orders are yelled from one side of the stage to the other.  It’s here I’m to meet Malene Birger, who founded her ‘By Malene Birger’ fashion label in 2003. A few hours later in celebration of it’s 10th anniversary instead of opera singers, models will take to the stage for an incredible fashion show spectacle watched by over 1000 people including Princess Mary of Denmark. No detail is left unnoticed – the invite is takes the form of a sleek opera ticket and beautiful gold rimmed opera glasses are placed on each seat.

Pre-show Malene sits in the opulent surroundings of the theatre – all plush red velvet seats and gold gilding overseeing her vision for the show slowly come together. Dubbed the Danish ‘Queen of Fashion,’ ‘By Malene Birger,’ the company she founded from her home a decade ago has gone on to become a huge international success -  e-retailer my-wardrobe.com count it as one of their top five selling brands. The label is loved for its sleek contemporary tailored collections which are easily mixed with its more edgy Scandi style pieces – think romantic dresses, luxe knitwear, embellished tops and bold accessories. With the countdown to show time quickly ticking by I expect to meet a tense and frazzled designer. Instead a relaxed looking Malene greets me with a smile, blonde and tanned she seems to be more buzzing with excitement for her guests to see the new collection rather than nerves.

This space is incredible, apart from its evident beauty what attracted you to it?
I think we fit well here, like us it’s historical, traditional and beautiful. I wanted it but I wasn’t expecting a yes. However, we’d thought it was worth try. They said yes straightaway so we were very lucky. Tonight we’ll have over 1000 people but they are still close to each other. It keeps an intimate feel. You can see the garments well too.

What’s the inspiration behind the AW/13 collection?
For me my home is a very important place so since I was celebrating ten years I thought it was a very natural inspiration to start with that. At the moment I live in Majorca, I’m moving to London in a couple of months. On my moodboard there were lots of pictures of my typical black and white universe – my carpets, bedsheets, tiles etc.  I also love to express a feminine sensuality in contrast with men’s tailoring. So all these inspirations are expressed throughout my collection.

How do you feel about tonight?
It’s a celebration of ten years but for me it’s also a celebration of the future. I wanted to do it with a big bang through the show tonight. Then I’ll focus on my next move to London. That’s how I develop myself, I move, I meet new people and I keep developing the company.

Why London?
It was asking me to come!. It was a feeling. I knew a couple of years ago I wanted to move from Majorca but I didn’t know where. So I waited and then it became clear to me. I’d been in Paris and London but it was London calling and I’m really looking forward to it.

What do you make of London style compared to Copenhagen?
London style differs depending on the area, it’s the same here. Danish fashion sells very well in UK. Danish fashion has a good design but it’s still functional. For me beauty and function go hand in hand.

Who’s the ideal By Malene Birger woman?
It’s difficult to say, all women have their own beauty. I would rather the woman select the collection because she is attracted to it. She needs to feel natural attraction to the brand.  I’m not going to tell her, I want my customers to be free. However in general I think it’s a modern woman – she travels, she works, she’s busy. And I hope she is happy.

Describe your own personal style?
It’s very me....I don’t have a word for my style. I make sure to always have the classic modern basics in my wardrobe: Black blazer, black classic pants, black skirt, white shirt a light wool knitted cardigan and a black dress. It’s always super stylish to be classic…the people with the best style, in my opinion, is the ones that understand that you shouldn’t and don’t have to wear the newest trends to be fashionable or well dressed. You have to wear and express the clothes and not the opposite - mix old and new seasons, for a more personal expression.

Have you always been interested in fashion?
Yes, I was inspired by my grandmother, as well as my mother’s sharp eye for fashion. I have always been interested in the creative processes, even if didn't know what it meant. As a child I redecorated my little room every month, counted my things, re-arranged them…moved them again the next month. My parents were going berserk. I was constantly longing for changes….I was sewing my clothes out of old fabrics, out of old clothes, I dressed up in my grandmothers shoes, jewelries and lingerie dancing up and down the road! I mean we lived in a tiny village in the 60`s it was not that normal. As a teenager I was very into fashion, and did everything I could to create the latest looks, hair, shoes, make-up. Saturday Night Fever and Grease were my youth, and my biggest inspiration at that time. I started my formal training as a designer and in 1989I completed my Fashion Design degree at the Danish Design School. I loved every single day of the 4 years.

What’s your work ethic like?
My motto is ‘cut the crap.’ I’m not into long meetings where no decisions are made. I’m really into simple structures  and clear decisions, I like to focus on the most important things for the company, which are the collections. Without the heart in the products we don’t have a business. You know we could not do a big show or campaign if the collection was not really strong enough. I like to work, I don’t like to waste my time on people who talk. I feel when a decision is right and if I don’t have that feeling I stop. That’s really important for me both personally and in business.

Would you describe yourself as a perfectionist?
Yes! When working with the universe of By Malene Birger everything is carefully thought through - first by me, then in close collaboration with my teams, everything start in DESIGN, and it runs through the rest of the company. Everything follows the collection story and new ideas. Whether if it is about a new collection, the show, the brand expression, a rib edge on a T-shirt or the graphics on our shopping bags - I am a stickler for detail and am rarely satisfied and think that everything we do should be done for a reason and have a story. It must be able to stand on its own. Things are not just included for fun, unless the fun is serious!

What do you do to relax? 
I love painting and art and interiors in general. It brings me so much joy, and brings back my energy and new ideas for By Malene Birger. I need to develop personally to be able to develop the business. It’s very simple, and it works!

When are you happiest?
When I am with my husband.

Lastly, your head office is so beautiful and immaculately organised. But is your own house ever messy?
No! A childhood friend of mine once remarked 'if you sleep over at Malene´s and you get up in the middle of the night, your bed will be made by the time you get back!'

In celebration of its 10th anniversary BY MALENE BIRGER has produced a special capsule collection - click the picture above to check it out. Available now from my-wardrobe.com

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