Monday, October 3, 2011

Factory Visit - Hansen Garments A/W 2011

A little over a week ago We visited Hansen Garments in one of their two HQ’s, which incidentally also doubles as their respective apartments. This visit was a culmination of more than a years worth of e-mail correspondence. Although we have managed to find the time to view their collection and meet them in person at previous appointments, this time we found the time to sit down and have talk. Like really talk. And we did so for hours.

It all began one, fine Sunday morning. I woke too late, but managed to meet AtD’s trusted photographer, Rasmus on time. We were both a bit tired, which led os to walking over to Hansen, as we wanted to appear somewhat presentable and get some fresh air. While we walked, we talked about Hansen and how the same information kept showing up about them. We were baffled, that no one had taken the time to write something original about one of the most original Danish - and even Scandinavian - brands in recent times. So we felt it was our duty to write a descent, original and in depth article about them. 
The fact that they have been so friendly and have sent personal invitations to every single event, they have held, may have made me slightly biased, but nevermind that.

I would also like to say in advance, that if you don’t like reading, then you may want to jump to the pictures straight away (We did an impromtu photoshoot, and I selected some pieces from the autumn/winter collection to showcase) . They are located at the bottom.

During the six or seven hours, that we spent with Hansen, a myriad of subjects were covered. Some were more jovial than others and some were strictly confidential. However I can tell you, that we have already agreed, that AtD will return for another interview, when the next collection hits the shops. This means, we will only be covering the collection, which is in stores now. Clever thinking, eh?

First some background knowledge. Hansen is a two-man operation by Åse Helena Hansen and Per Chrois. Åse does the designing, and Per does everything else. This of course isn’t entirely true, but there is a fun dynamic between the two and they seem to compliment each other very well.
Not only are they partners in Hansen, they are also a couple, when they aren’t working, which is apparantly, what they are doing most of the time. They decided to create this new menswear label, when they were both in between jobs. The idea was formed on a trip through Europe and they decided to go for it. Despite recession et all.

Åse had been designing for a Dansish jeanswear label and Per had been doing something in the creative media business. My description of Per’s job is so vague because the man has done so many different kinds of jobs, that you wouldn’t believe it. Before he started working on making Hansen a reality, he had never worked in fashion – or ever thought about stitch length and French seams, as he put it. But he explained everything by referring to his old job as a runner – I was used to solving problems and finding solutions. This is also what I do now.  
They don’t see the fact, that they are a couple as a hindrance in any way. Of course it has some difficulties, but at the same time they are equally committed and with reason they can spend every wake hour working on Hansen. They like to keep things in the family and among friends, which can be seen in their lookbooks, as they have used neighbours, friends and relatives, instead of using expensive models.

They aren’t only going against the stream in terms of making lookbooks and working on creating a brand. Åse’s approach to design is very different to, how others are doing it. She seems to have a non-existant interest in, what others are doing. For instance she didn’t know, what Our Legacy is, when some people compared their first collection to Our Legacy. The resemblance might be hard to find, but when people run out of words, they tend to draw parallels and pigeon hole things. 
Instead Åse talked about, how she was very inspired by old books and the collection of clothing at Tidens Samling. She is an avid photographer herself, and has always used photos as a source for inspiration, but never fashion magazines. Other than that she paints quite a lot, which can be seen in some of the artwork Hansen has put out. Lastly she mentioned an old book on national costumes – mostly women’s costumes and how it had inspired her to do menswear.
We also talked about the term “heritage” and how it has been misused for a long time. Hansen had the term heritage in their name to begin with to underline their Nordic roots, however they are now removing it in order to avoid the connotations, that comes with that term.

Books on national costumes and polar expeditions serve as inspiration
What drew my attention to Hansen in the first place was their desire to create a line of clothing, that was entirely made in Scandinavia. This has proven to be near impossible, if not completely impossible. This is why, most of their stuff is made elsewhere in Europe, but some is actually made in Scandinavia. For instance some traditional black wool fabric is made in Norway, some fabric is woven in Sweden, Elk hide was sourced in Finland and some things are knitted and sewn in Denmark. Other than that we discussed the hardships of meeting minimums, buying fabric from Japanese sources, finding the right factories to work with and why most Scandinavian factories, makers and artisans haven’t shown any interest in working together for some unknown reason.

We also discussed how to build a brand and how to find just the right retailers for the brand. It is essential, that everything is handled just the right way both in terms of partners, but mostly in terms of production. We talked about, how Hansen could possibly do very well in Japan, but Åse was reluctant to go there, before she was a 110% sure, that everything was perfect from A to Z. Other than that we talked about how the collection was gradually and organically growing and who they would like to be collaborating with in the future. They have already worked with many interesting people in Scandinavia and they hope to find others, as they grow.

Now for the fun part.

This coat is made of a Norwegian-made wool fabric, which is also used in the Norwegian National costume. It is similar to melton wool, however it isn't quite as thick. It has a lovely hand.
The embroidery is entirely handmade by an old lady, who lives near Copenhagen. They tried finding someone in Norway, as this kind of embroidery is typically Norse, however they found it hard to find someone with the required skills.
Other than that the construction, fit and details are top notch.

This may just be a wearable shirt, but it is well-fitting, well-made, filled with nice little details and the fabric is very nice. Who doesn't need a shirt like that?

This sweater doesn't look like much. However it is a masterpiece. The sweater is made of wool from the muskox, which is handpicked on Greenland, where you find a good population of muskox. The raw fibres are then spun in a very small mill in Denmark called Hjelholt and finally it is hand knitted - also in Denmark. This is probably the softest knit I have ever felt and I have felt some insanely soft, Scottish cashmere sweaters. The fibres are long, fluffy, soft and really expensive.

I immediately recognised this fabric as being similar to some old fabrics, that I have found. They knew, what I was referring to, and told me, that this is exactly why, they are working with Japanese mills. They make fabric, like we used to. The cut is long, which is very vintage like. Other than this you see some very nice details like different fabric on the reverse and some of the most beautiful cat-eye horn buttons ever.

These pants were made of some very nice worsted wool fabric. The fabric is deadstock and woven in England. It was purchased from a tailor shop in Copenhagen called Hvidberg, that had one roll of it. Again, very solid construction and beautiful details.

This vest is made of the same nice Norwegian wool fabric, as the coat was made of. Need I say it again? Horn buttons!

This cardigan is one example of the ongoing collaboration with Danish knitter, Ole Strange. The inspiration for this cardigan is the typical Norwegian pattern called Hardanger. This you normally see in the very recognisable Norwegian knitwear, although this is more minimalistic and subdued. As you can see the knit is quite complex.

This jacket looked liked a liner, I thought, but then again it also looks like some old, quilted workwear jackets. Albeit this is made of much nicer materials and may I please add, that these are the best horn buttons I have ever seen? They feature a small loop on the back, that is secured by a split. So great. 
This jacket would be great for layering.

This shirt has a nice casual feel due to the gauzy, double faced fabric (Made in Japan, of course). Other than that it features some nice leather buttons.

The highlight of the collection must be the anorak, which is a very useful piece, if you live in Scandinavia. The material is a very nice, heavy canvas material, that has been slightly coated. The nice kangaroo pouch, fishtail and metal buttons, make this anorak stand out. Very finely executed.

Lastly I would like to thank both Åse and Per for taking the time to see us. It was an amazing day spent in good company. Hopefully we’ll be able to build upon this good relationship in the future. Åse and Per were kind, warm, fun and welcoming people. A rare Nordic breed.

Words by Simon Tuntelder and photos by Rasmus Peter Vagn Jakobsen

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