25 April 2023

END. sat down with GANNI's Creative Director, Ditte Reffstrup, to discuss the joy in dressing for yourself and the Copenhagen-based label's loyal community.

Slightly over a decade ago, mentioning Scandinavian styling would’ve conjured up two images: steadfast minimalism at one side of the spectrum, something more bohemian at the other. Since 2009, the associations with Scandinavian styling have steadily begun to shift, thanks in part to a Copenhagen-based label and its loyal following: GANNI.

What GANNI does is take the fundamental principles underpinning Scandinavian design, like precise cuts and premium materials, and propel them into contemporary territory — one that doesn’t shy away from bold colour, energetic patterns and exaggerated details. The ability to continuously capture the zeitgeist and fill Instagram feeds is a reflection of not only its commitment to forging its own paths, but also the tight-knit community that its organically fostered throughout the past decade. You only need to search the brand’s now-synonymous hashtag, “#GANNIGirls”, to get an insight into the way the brand has globally resonated, with a sea of posts filled with enthusiastic wearers proudly showing off GANNI’s exuberant creations.  

The label is one that radiates positivity with everything that it does, from its collections of playful and liberating garments to its ground-breaking fashion week shows. Celebrating that, we sat down with the Copenhagen-based label’s Creative Director, Ditte Reffstrup, to discuss reshaping Scandinavian styling, the joy to be had in dressing for yourself and the ever-growing GANNI community.

What does dressing for yourself mean to you?

I think I discovered very early that dressing for yourself is very much also about expressing yourself and the mood you are in. You know, if you’re in a certain kind of mood and you put on some clothes that make you feel better, it has a similar effect to listening to good music. During the pandemic, it became crystal clear that it’s such an important thing — we were all wearing pyjamas for a very long time and you suddenly feel that mood, everything became glum, grey and boring. You suddenly became focused on all of the things you couldn’t do. I started to dress up a little bit more for myself, and it had a really positive effect on my mood. Because I’ve been working in retail for so long, I also know how dressing for yourself can change a person’s look. If you feel bad about yourself, or feel like your confidence is low, it can actually help you a little bit. If you feel good about what you are wearing people will recognise that in you.

Inherent in GANNI is an idea of confidence, with the label forging its own path through unique and often trend-defining designs. Do you feel that this is something tied to the idea of dressing for yourself? 

Yes, I think it’s very much tied to that. What I think is interesting about fashion is that it’s an extension of who you are. Again, it can help you feel more confident if you wear what’s true to you, if that makes sense. I remember working in retail, I would often meet customers who would wear a label because of certain external influences — like a magazine telling you that’s what you should wear — without really reflecting upon who you are yourself and expressing that. It doesn’t matter if you’re super corporate, into simple stuff or really into bright colours, it’s all about trying to relax and feel confident in yourself.   

Community plays such an integral part in the GANNI brand — the “GANNIgirls” hashtag having over 97,000 posts and counting is testimony to that. Can you talk about how the label has fostered such an authentic community over the past 10 years?

It has been something very natural. GANNI has never been about me, that’s also why it’s called what it is. It’s all about representing an umbrella that people are invited into and we can work with across industries. For me, it’s always been about being inspired by the Copenhagen girl, that was how it all started. #GANNIGirls is plural, it isn’t about one girl, but rather the community that I am inspired by and that we work with across multiple different projects. When we created the GANNIgirls hashtag, it was something that came about very organically. We didn’t plan it at all, all of the early supporters and people who formed part of our community grew with us. We were very small and had just started our own journey, which steadily evolved into this bigger community than just the influencers who were instrumental in the brand’s earlier days.

What strikes me about GANNI products is that despite how colourful and bold pieces may be, there’s always an element of refinement and elegance with your designs. How do you go about achieving this balance?

I think it’s very much at the heart of GANNI. Working with these contrasts has always been about working with elements that are very feminine, but also balancing this with fashion and wearability — so something that looks good, fits well and is easy to wear. It’s that balance that we are working with everyday, and I think in the design team it’s very important to create things that we would wear ourselves. We are not only fitting things on one model, but we are also trying everything across the team, asking things like: “how would you wear this? Should we do the sleeves a little bit longer? Do you feel confident in this, or is it too tight?”. We have a lot of these discussions. I’m not from a classic design background, I’m from a retail background, so my approach is completely different. But together with the design team, we’re having these conversations about who the end consumer is — who is going to wear it and how? Maybe that’s what makes us a bit different, in finding that balance.

"For me, the Scandi style was the girls I saw in the street and myself who were very much about mixing something sporty with a vintage dress, or something super feminine paired with a more masculine shirt"

Reinventing Scandinavian styling is something that’s often associated with GANNI. What does your vision of Scandinavian styling represent?

I think for me, Scandi style is very much more a state of mind than anything else. When we started the business, I couldn’t recognise myself in Scandinavian styling. It was either very androgynous or bohemian, and I couldn’t see myself in that. For me, the Scandi style was the girls I saw in the street and myself who were very much about mixing something sporty with a vintage dress, or something super feminine paired with a more masculine shirt. That balance of not overdoing stuff was what I was really attracted to. Also, not being afraid of working with colour or prints and really mixing and matching things.

A lot of your collections and garments feel inspired by the past, though in a way that feels fresh and contemporary. What is your process for looking to past sartorial codes and reworking them through GANNI’s modern lens?

I think that it’s a natural part of the design team’s work — we think it’s super fun to work with design codes of the past. For example, if we’re working with a classic Icelandic sweater, and then we would add something like bolder colours or a graphic print that would make it super modern. Or the way we approach working with denim has been super fun, to try to do something a little bit more fashion focused and to work with super classic qualities and to create something more significant.

For example, take our suiting — *points to a suit Alex is wearing, GANNI’s PR Director, who is sat alongside Ditte* — we call it the Obama suit, as Michelle Obama wore it. It was fun to do that as it was a result of us phasing out virgin leather and replacing it with something that has the same structure, so working with sculpted sleeves and a tailored waist. It’s a very good example of how we’re working with something super classic and reworking it with modern elements to achieve this very GANNI look. That is what we’re really good at, taking a classic garment — like the roundneck sweatshirt I’m wearing — and adding these super cute details to it.

Collaborations have played a big part in the GANNI world over the past few years, like your recent partnership with 66°North, for example, or your upcoming jewellery line with Veneda Carter. Can you talk about how you approach collaborations and the importance they play for GANNI?

For me, I love doing collabs. It’s so much fun for me to work with people who share the same passion so we can share different ideas. Whether we’re working with people like Barbour, New Balance or Veneda, I really learn a lot. For me, there are two really important components here. One, the energy needs to be there and you need to feel like you can create something together that is reflective of both brands. Like when we did the collaboration with Barbour, it was so fun to work with such an iconic brand, but also rework things and bring them into the GANNI universe through bold colours and prints. Secondly, working with sustainability is super important to us, so there always has to be an element of that. We have some really high standards that a collaborative partner has to fulfill. So that has been super fun and a big challenge — we’ve learned a lot from it. 

Your fall/winter 2023 collection, recently showcased at Copenhagen Fashion week and titled “Butterflies”, is inspired by the transformative process of butterflies, something which aligned perfectly with your new logo. Can you elaborate on the messaging behind this?

The past 11 to 12 years have always been about the new collection — you know, always looking to the next step and not dwelling a lot on past projects. In the last few years with all that’s happened, the pandemic and other global events, nobody can say we’re ever going to be the same. I needed to reflect upon what we’ve been doing and why we’ve been doing it. So, I sat down with the team and we spoke about the whole journey GANNI has had and how crazy it has been, really thinking about all of the good things. We started to talk about the butterfly and how beautiful it is — what it represents, the transformation. We started with two employees and a small run of cashmere dresses, and now GANNI is where it’s at. We spoke about the beauty of that and taking all of the good things of the past, things like all of the young creative talent we’ve had the joy to work with, and channel it into a collection that had this beauty in it — something a little bit more evolved.

At the same time, we were working on a new logo alongside a German designer, which was a very fun process. She spent days with me and the team and then presented the logo, which she said was the easiest she’d ever created as it was obvious to her what GANNI represented. She said GANNI is like a “modern hippy” — which at first, I was a little confused — but then she explained it’s like a community where it feels like everyone is invited, one that touches upon things like sustainability and not being afraid to show your femininity. Then she showed me the butterfly, and I think it’s so good — it’s beautiful and very graphic, having that balance of not being too feminine or too masculine. I’ve also always wanted to work with Esben Weile Kjær, as he’s a long-time friend of both myself and the house, and when he told me about his exhibition in Arken, it all made sense to work with him on the set design. 

You also showcased your latest step in eco-minded materials, with bags and boots made from Ohoskin: a leather alternative crafted from orange and cacti waste. Can you talk about this material and its importance for the future of GANNI?

We’re really trying to come up with new solutions alongside our suppliers. We know that virgin leather is one of the biggest sinners when it comes to CO2. In a previous collection, we found out that even though it was just 8-9% of the range, it actually had the worst carbon footprint out of all materials used — so it’s a big issue. We have a responsibility team and a sourcing team, and we are also building a new team centred around fabrics of the future — people who are solely looking into alternatives, and Ohoskin is one of them. I am positive about it, and you can see that people know that you need to change it and come up with a solution. It’s super exciting as I think when you touch Ohoskin, you get the same luxury feel and durability as you would when you touch leather. Of course, it’s more expensive, but that’s all part of the challenge.

writerJack Grayson
|photographerMaria Purdy