He’s the CEO of one of Denmark’s leading fashion houses and a self-confessed scatterbrain. Meet Day Birger et Mikkelsen’s charismatic founder, Keld Mikkelsen, for a chat on rock’n’roll and the necessity of fabulous fashion.
By Theresa Valbæk
Salted almonds, coffee and herbal tea. You’re met with a discerning choice of nibbles and refreshments at the Day Birger et Mikkelsen conference room near Kongens Nytorv. Finally, the company founder and CEO since 1997, 50-year-old Keld Mikkelsen, rushes into the room and apologises for the delay. His day is busy, what with running a 160-employee corporation and having just wrapped up the shows at the Copenhagen Fashion Fair. Now new collections are in the pipeline and his cell phone buzzes relentlessly. “Why do I do this? That’s a good question! I started up and then just kept going,” Mikkelsen says with a smile while pouring the coffee. Running his fingers through his unruly grey curls, he continues: “I’m actually a quite hopeless boss. I’m useless at dealing head-on with people and am not very good at keeping people informed, and I often get things mixed up. I’m also no good at giving people comprehensible tasks. But I think I’m likeable; you can certainly learn to like me,” he laughs and continues: “But when I pull myself together I think I can be quite inspiring, and I probably think a little further and have bigger ideas than most people.”
Riffs of success
Keld Mikkelsen grew up in the provincial town of Ringkøbing in West Jutland. As a teenager he took on an apprenticeship in a local fashion store and for a while worked with Troels Poulsen, owner of Danish fashion wear giant Bestseller. He was also engaged in apparel production in Asia before establishing his own business. “I think it all started back when as a young guy I played guitar in a local rock band in Ringkøbing. I remember what it was like performing onstage, with girls watching you. That was a cool feeling. And then I later found out that if you went into the fashion business you got much the same response,” Mikkelsen says with a laugh. Mikkelsen later set up his business with designer Malene Birger, developing a brand that would offer women more inspiring casual wear. He found the existing ready-to-wear on the market far too plain. “Back then in the mid-90s, all the Danish fashion industry did was copy Paris and the major international brands. Nobody really did anything from scratch. I wanted to change that. In my view too many brands were simply providing ultra-cheap apparel, so I wanted to create something more exclusive,” Mikkelsen explains. From there, things almost happened by themselves, according to Mikkelsen. And now, apart from women’s wear, Day Birger et Mikkelsen also makes underwear, children’s wear, accessories and designer housewares. The success of his company is a great source of satisfaction for Mikkelsen. “It’s very gratifying to succeed with something, and that’s what I believe I’ve done here,” he says.
The new Day
Keld Mikkelsen recently sold half of his company to the Baugur Corporation of Iceland. He sought to broaden the company’s international base, and a major injection of capital would facilitate just that. Mikkelsen looks forward to working with the company’s new co-owners. “Naturally, I need to keep my company afloat, and if we don’t develop we’ll either run aground or tip over. And that applies to both the design and business aspects. But we’re not about to change everything. I believe in brand continuity, but we also need to evolve,” he adds. Today, at the pinnacle of his career, Keld Mikkelsen looks back at more than 30 years of achievements in the fashion industry. He takes great pride in his ability to keep his business at the forefront of fashion, and not least his pivotal role in promoting Danish fashion internationally. “I am actually quite proud of the fact that after more than 30 years in the industry, I’m still enormously interested in the trade and am eager to develop it. I really find it exciting to follow the trends and constantly keep updated,” he says and concludes: “One of the greatest achievements of my career is that I’ve helped bring Danish fashion to the world. We are one of several Danish brands that in recent years that have managed to introduce Danish fashion to the world stage – or at least the European stage, but the rest of the world is likely to follow soon.”