Fashion Correspondent Maya Kotomori explores the future of the industry at the Danish city’s 62nd annual trade show

Fashion personalities on the internet always say that international fashion weeks are as buzzy as they are anxiety inducing. I feel this before I even board my flight to Copenhagen for the city’s fashion week, courtesy of the Copenhagen International Fashion Fair (CIFF). I find the rumored buzz in the beep of the bored-pissed-looking TSA agent’s metal detector as she waves it over my suitcase; I feel the anxiety in my subsequent airport panic. The scanner has “picked up a disturbance,” as she put it. The culprit is the pewter buttons on my signature turquoise and beige Marc Jacobs bandleader jacket. It makes me feel like Sergeant Pepper (sans the Lonely Heart Club Band), an attribution I see as very Copenhagen Girl, a fashion archetype who is as eccentric as she is chic. As I watch airport security manhandle the precariously attached buttons on my favorite vintage grail (I fought the urge to tell them that I can’t even spell “explosive” or “pyrotechnic or “terrorism”), my armpits and upper lip prick with three unique sweaty flavors of anticipation: to get the fuck on the plane, get the fuck out of the US, and absorb the fuck out of some global fashion.

Upon arriving in Copenhagen, I’m struck by the typical things any American would point out: cleanliness, a general air of trust among civilians, trains that run exactly on time (one of which saved me, as I need to get to Stamm’s show 40 minutes away from my hotel in 27 minutes to make sure I am exactly 15 minutes fashionably late). I accomplish my mission, and upon arriving breathlessly to the show, I am tickled by the fast-walking models, whose speed matches my own less graceful rushed pace from just moments prior. Designer Elisabet Stamm is showcasing an array of massive streetwear silhouettes rendered in what I’ll call geometric slubs: the collection reimagines what it means for clothes to“fit” with a range of tailoring techniques impressive to see in one cohesive collection (on the left, sagginess; on the right, stiffness). The office seating, staged alongside the occasional look featuring a laptop in arm or Birkenstock house slipper on foot, turns into a critique of work-from-home culture, when a model holding a computer ditches the runway to sit in one of the faux-Eames aluminum chairs. She opens her laptop and types passively as a couple other models pass her by, then rejoins the stream. I notice those wearing the most loungewear-y looks do the same as the show progresses, many wearing t-shirts that read “potential.”

Departing the show, I get an all-too-real taste of my own potential as I nearly tumble down the stairs just as a street-style paparazzo starts clicking. After what I can only imagine is an embarrassing yet endearing facial expression, I see that the back of their vest reads “Elle Scandinavia.” God.

“The best way to understand CIFF is to first assume the governing superiority of a social-democratic city, where higher taxes don’t create tech behemoths like Amazon, but bolster a benevolent government whose priority is ensuring an even-tiered society.”

I get a chance to really look at the city on my way back to my lodgings, a lovely sustainable accommodation called Hotel Coco in Copenhagen’s Vesterbro district, a micoregion of the city known for its shopping. This is fitting, because my North American sensibilities make me want to describe the entire city like a giant, brutalist mall: the sidewalks are stone, the grout is almost-never uneven, and the people all look like walking statuesque mannequins. In addition to an array of healthy snacks packaged in recyclable materials, there’s an assortment of multi-use grooming products from LastObject, a company I’d never heard of that makes a multi-use Q-tip. Unlike in the States, I don’t feel greenwashed by vague initiatives aimed at getting me to buy minimal-looking products, because here, sustainability is as real in product messaging as it is in practice. Instead, I’m called into a larger conversation about how a positive environmental future can actually be possible. I stamp out my own guilt for believing in conspiracies about recycling’s secret uselessness by ditching the lift for the stairs the next morning as I head to the CIFF mothership for the first time. That’s how conservation works, right?

The best way to understand CIFF is to first assume the governing superiority of a social-democratic city, where higher taxes don’t create tech behemoths like Amazon, but bolster a benevolent government whose priority is ensuring an even-tiered society. CIFF is its own microcosm of this idea, though privately funded. The fair is more like a trade show that really functions as its own independent ecosystem supporting Scandinavian brands both big and small on equal ground. This is the takeaway I get from Sofie Dolva, the director of CIFF, who takes me on a tour through a sprawling 26,000-square-meter (28,000 square feet for those of us who don’t participate in the metric system) venue, designed to be “CIFF city,” as she puts it. For CIFF’s 62nd biannual trade show, Dolva and her truly indispensable team present a marketplace hosting over 1,000 brands across fashion, beauty, homeware, and even children’s industry segments. The city aspect comes in with the additional amenities: 30-odd food options, a podcast booth broadcasting live talks with designers on their innovative strategies, and even fashion shows from new brands like TG Botanical and city-girl favorites like Helmstedt.

Sustainability isn’t just a Nordic fashion initiative, it’s a practice integrated into the region’s waste management protocols, electric grids (many of which are solar-powered), and shocking to me, fashion festivals. CIFF embodies its pledge to #rewiringfashionThe Business of Fashion’s sustainability initiative cosigned by an elite council of independent industry players—in its support of burgeoning brands like Isnurh, a sustainability-focused contemporary menswear brand recently seen on a swathe of professional American athletes. Following my more probing questions about exactly how circular the festival’s eco-friendly set of brands could really be, Sofie introduces me to Kasper Juhl Todbjerg, one of Isnurh’s founders, and allows me to see for myself. Not only is the metal hardware on all the outerwear recycled, but the actual fabric is engineered to fully biodegrade when planted in soil. Not only are the graphic tees made in water-conserving ways, they are printed without using any liquid-based dyes, netting zero carbon emissions with its unique printing process that uses air, vegetable dyes, and a really big printer. I stare at Kasper’s Instagram proof of Isnurh’s demonstrable friendliness toward the environment, watching a TikTok-fast edited reel of him planting a matching printed denim set in the ground along with a Danish flag. Damn, I think. That’s dope for earth.

After bidding Sofie farewell and spending 30 minutes trying to find the festival exit like a cross-faded teenager might do at Coachella, I make my way to my next two shows, Wood Wood and Stine Goya, both staged in partnership between CIFF and the Zalando-sponsored Copenhagen Fashion Week calendar. Each runway brings me closer to a deeper understanding of the Copenhagen Girl archetype: she’s not necessarily streetwear-proper, and she’s not a Bratz doll cosplaying a slutty ballerina. If there’s anything we can expect from her, it’s that her accessories will be loud (as seen in Wood Wood’s standout cobalt scarf-hat-balaclava headwear) and her silhouette will be dramatic, whether hugged by a Stine Goya knit set or impeccably tailored power-shoulder coat-dress.

“The Danish really like to plop a perfectly seasoned scoop of ice cream in the middle of a foamed pudding garnished with something crunchy. To this day, this is one of the only instances where I have suppressed my hunger for the sole purpose of taking a photo of my meal. It was very worth it.”

Before my observations can get wittier, I’m rushing to Henrik Vibskov’s runway show in the CIFF Showspace in Central Copenhagen. By the time I arrive, the lights are dimmed and I’m politely yet assertively chasing down various gorgeous black-clad PR people to lead me to my seat, which I eventually end up at toward the latter half of the performance. Titled Chewing Gum, the collection is an abstraction of a piece of bubblegum’s half-life: chew, blow, pop, stretch. The models don Vibskov’s usual heavily pattern-clashed separates in voluminous shapes as wild dancers wearing puffed-up nylon dresses poke their heads out from behind giant pastel-pink doorways that line the runway like little fashion gophers. After the last model descends behind the curtain, the dancers emerge from their tiny houses, dresses inflated with the help of what looks like a neon-orange air mattress pump connected to the bum. I make direct eye contact with one of them before a woman in the front row asks to get past me, which feels like wanting to leave a movie theater before the main credits finish.

I find my way to dinner by myself, coincidentally joining a table of fellow CIFF-sponsored journalists from the UK. We eat a dessert reminiscent of the final course from gourmet solo supper I’d had my first night at Vækst, a restaurant recommended to me by my friend Jack. The Danish really like to plop a perfectly seasoned scoop of ice cream in the middle of a foamed pudding garnished with something crunchy. To this day, this is one of the only instances where I have suppressed my hunger for the sole purpose of taking a photo of my meal. It was very worth it.

My dinner partners and our CIFF comrades-in-press meet mere hours later for an early group breakfast before heading to the Bella Center for the TG Botanical show. I meet fellow writers, editors, and writer-editors at Draper’s and Hypebae and Pause in London and Sneaker Freaker in Australia, and we all enjoy creative director Tetyana Chumak’s algae-chic collection from the front row. Next is the vintage-inspired Gestuz all the way over in Werkstatt 167 in Refshalevej, a shipyard-looking off-site show location that feels like a less contrived, more socialist Bushwick. The runway is bedecked with massive disco balls, proving very heavy metal and reflective beside the red metallic minidresses and sparkly hotpants. With Marimekko in approximately 2 hours (3pm—the timing is important later), I run from street-style photographers until I find myself in a game-themed cafe called Bastard. Not only can you play Catan over a pint with your friends, but you can have a professional teach you chess tricks at an expert’s table, labeled in bright orange. I do neither, instead watching various university students Yahtzee! in Danish while sipping my fourth latte of the day. Taking the long walk to Marimekko did prove mildly discomfiting, as I find myself on the park side of the Statens Museum for Kunst, facing an expectant crowd from floor-to-ceiling windows: the only thing separating me from the catwalk is this very thin layer of glass. I run to the front, accept a sticker shaped like the brand’s iconic unikko flower, and take my seat on the museum’s wooden steps. The collection is full of school girl-themed co-ords, with pops of the signature flower printed on denim and appliquéd on monochrome taffeta skirt sets. I will say, Copenhagen-based DJ Kaddi Sawaneh’s anthemic hip-hop runway score (two-thirds of the audience got their ass beat by the rhythm of Lauryn Hill’s “Duwop,” respectfully) is confusing at first, but learning that the models are mainly street cast makes sense as a larger girl-power theme. I hit a mad dash back to the Hotel Coco for a costume change, listening to Lauryn Hill on the way.

By the grace of Denmark’s wonderfully on-time transit, I was able to change into my nighttime outfit (a Comme runway dress from fall 2004 and Marc Jacobs rabbit fur stole) and put on eyeliner before Helmstedt, scheduled at 5pm at the Bella Center. I arrived at 5:15, just fashionably late. Sheer cloud-printed dresses, alien face-embroidered knits, and contrast-stitch cargo pants are this season’s standouts, alongside a squiggly-quilted jacquard textile in both sunset and deep-sea shades. Each look is styled with wet hair and either short platform Uggs or Vibram sole hiking boots decorated with tiny strawberries, Helmstedt’s signature fruit. On the shuttle bus to the CIFF x office magazine party, I see tens of young fashionistas showing love to the brand with strawberry-shaped earrings, hair ties, and even nail charms.

Droves of fashion people crowd the outside of a purple-lit Øksnehallen, the venue for CIFF’s dinner and soirée with office magazine. Due to exhaustion and a mild allergy to alcohol, I take a photo at the press wall and then imbibe a Diet Pepsi (they didn’t have Coke), alongside a couple of my equally sleepy CIFF peers. Sofie Dolva, perhaps the hardest working woman in all of Copenhagen, looks dewy and well-rested as she thanks us all for participating in this year’s fair. I have a last good chat over a pasta dish with my fellow dinner table guests, and walk back to the hotel with a couple new journalist friends. In the morning, I head to the airport dreadfully early, fueled by a very powerful latte, and even more powerful thoughts about the fair. After mulling some more wacky ideas (what if we could make clothing out of soil?), after 8 hours and 40 minutes in air, I come to a satisfying conclusion: the fashion industry is improving in small increments of time, with massive amounts of effort. Global fashion events like these make changing the field’s environmental impact a feat that feels possible.

We land, deboard. Jet lag punches me in the face right as the agent behind the counter asks me for my passport as well as the details of my trip. Copenhagen fashion week I say, cracking a tiny smile to myself. Tired as I am, optimism always prevails.