The Innovators: Ulrik Christiansen on the Danish Fashion Invasion

Via NYC Agency

Any devoted fashion blog reader will agree that feeds are saturated with news of up-and-coming Scandinavian designers, from established talents like Camilla Staerk to rising stars like Bibi Ghost and Anne Sofie Back. Almost on a daily basis, we seem to be fielding some spectacular new lookbook or peculiar pair of platforms from Copenhagen. Maybe it's something in the water, but there's no arguing that the Danes are producing some of the most exciting fashion around.

Nobody understands the Danish design explosion better than Ulrik Christiansen, a Denmark native who relocated to New York City only to find himself constantly touring, promoting and connecting visiting Danish talent. "I know everyone," he laughs. "And even if I can't personally accomplish their goals -- their lookbooks or their videos, for example -- I can introduce them to the people who do." Perceiving the urgent need for a liaison between Danish talent and New York tastemakers, Ulrik founded Via NYC Agency with intent to make more official what he'd already been doing for years: grooming Scandinavian designers and entertainers to survive in New York City's concrete jungle.

Tell me a little bit about how you came up with the concept for Via. Was there a specific experience that motivate you to launch the company?
Yeah, when you come from a small country like Denmark, everyone from back home kind of knows you after awhile. So I would have people calling me -- especially when I worked for Helena Christiansen -- my friends from home would be like, "Why don't you call my friend Ulrk in New York. He'll show you where to go, he knows the hot places, he'll give you the ins and outs of New York." And I became the go-to guy for everyone from my country, sort of, and my friend and I came up with this idea that I should be the creative counterpart of the Danish consulate here. Because I've worked here, I know everyone, I've been here a long time, so I know what's going on for certain industries, fashion, music, what have you. So, really, I came up with the concept thinking that people really need to be able to contact someone in New York who is Danish, who speaks their language, and who can tell them a little bit about how New York works, and what networking, for example, is. Networking isn't even a concept in Denmark.

We've noticed an influx of Scandinavian design talent recently, from Bibi Ghost to Anne Sofie Back and Camilla Staerk. Is Copenhagen experiencing a fashion design boom?
The boom started maybe five or six years ago when the Danish government decided to invest millions and millions of dollars into promoting in New York markets. And that was around the time where there was a lot of Danish designers were starting to get recognition; fashion in Copenhagen was starting to get a lot bigger. A lot of American buyers were going there, a lot of European buyers. But they realized that there was talent in Denmark. And there certainly is, there are a lot of very good designers. The problem is that a lot of the time they think that because they're big in Denmark, they can be big in Paris or big in New York. And you know that may be true but it's a different market there. Americans dress differently. So they have to come up with enough money to be able to fund that kind of product. You have to spend money to make money.

How would you describe Danish style right now?
I would describe it as very simple, clean lines. A little off-the-cuff, you know. I also see it in furniture design. There's a lot of very clean lines but it's always just a little bit off. People can tell that it's not American and it's not French. You can just see it. There's a lot of maritime references in Danish fashion, there's a lot of playing with color -- we have these long nights in the summer, and we're surrounded by ocean. So there's a sort of maritime feel to it.

Why do you think New York is uniquely receptive to Danish designers? Why not Paris or Milan?
When I worked for Helena, I was the liaison between her company and the Danish designers that we represented. We were in the West Village and the clients were obviously sort of middle class or upper class, but the clothes were expensive. And I guess they were receptive to it -- it was very interesting. It was something they hadn't seen before. Like I was saying earlier: Danish design is a little off the cuff. It's a little off center. People say, "This is different," but then they see the price tag. Danish design is not cheap. And then you have to take into consideration import taxes. It's very expensive, and that was one of Helena's big problems because we had to multiply everything to make the money back. So I think in terms of these companies they need to be bigger, they need to be able to make their clothes more accessible.

How will you continue to grow Via NYC?
I really would like to be the creative consulate. I want to be someone you can come to for advice, for introductions. I'm a professional networker -- I make connections. That's sort of what I've always wanted to do. I would love to start doing actual fashion production, take on much larger tasks. I used to work with magazines and I helped them do events. So that would be a way to expand, but right now I'm just interested in seeing how people latch onto this concept that I've come up with.

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