The choice of royals and those ennobled by taste, Malene Birger is firmly established on the international fashion circuit. Her own-brand collections are the talk of the town, not only in Copenhagen but everywhere that fashion comes first.
By Theresa Valbæk
Malene Birger is the favourite designer of Crown Princess Mary of Denmark and her talented designs are sought by discerning women from all walks of life. But her international success didn’t come overnight. Having started a fashion business from scratch twice and launched dozens of collections, the 46-year-old designer is now a widely respected name in fashion. And she makes no bones about her business philosophy: “Keep it simple and focus. I’m not one for complex, long-term strategy making. What I really value is commitment and resolve. The company credo is that everything, from our designs to our boutique and studio interiors, should express my personality and style.”
Grace Kelly of the 1950s and 60s meets Bianca Jagger of the 1970s meets Kim Basinger of the 1980s. Malene Birger’s collections often draw inspiration from twentieth-century icons. Her ideas are then calibrated by her own personal style and given contemporary life. A lavishing of tulle, silk and perfect accessories are all hallmarks of her design. When preparing for her four annual collections, Malene Birger jets off on inspirational travels to buy eclectic odds and ends. And she pores over reams of new and old magazines and books before sitting down at her drawing desk to put her ideas on paper, which after a few days of preparation are presented to her design team. “I don’t start out by sketching. I visit flea markets, watch old movies, read books, and buy some bric-a-brac. It’s a very intuitive phase in which I envisage a silhouette, a look. Not before the final days before presenting my ideas to my team do I start sketching. Naturally, these are very stressful days since I need to convey my ideas to a large team and have them all work in the same direction, so I can’t just rely on intuition. There needs to be a clear message.”
It all started in her childhood with her mother and grandmother, who were both very into fashion. Malene Birger soon lent her talent to window dressing before starting at Denmark’s Design School, from where she graduated in 1989. She then got a job as designer for the Danish clothing company Jackpot before moving on to Marc O’Polo in Stockholm. In 1997, she co-founded Day Birger ét Mikkelsen, which is still one of Denmark’s leading fashion houses. After five years, Malene broke with the company she had helped create but was soon contacted by IC Company, which offered financial backing. Malene accepted their offer, a decision she has never regretted. Malene Birger, the brand, was born. Now, six years after launching her own brand, Malene Birger can look back on a company that has enjoyed skyrocketing growth rates of 30-40 percent annually. The brand is today sold in more than 48 nations and has gone from nine employees to almost 60, and in March of last year By Malene Birger moved to large new studios in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen.
Despite her hands-on approach, Malene Birger decided to pack her bags in 2008 and relocate to Mallorca. Here she takes calls in the morning and spends the afternoons being creative. Daily management took up more and more of Malene’s time in the rapidly expanding company and threatened to drown out the creative aspect. Operations are now in the experienced hands of Lars Andersen, who last year became CEO and CFO. “I’d like to have the time to ask about staff members on sick leave and have a hand in everything. But that just isn’t feasible anymore. I’ve had to be careful not to let things pile on top of me.” Despite the general economic downturn, By Malene Birger continues to grow, and the outlook for 2009 is bright with more brand boutiques opening and steady sales. Malene Birger has received a great many accolades for her design, such as the *Alt for damerne* Guldknappen, and the *Scanorama* Scandinavian Design Award. Her company has been hailed Brand of the Year for two years running in Norway. Malene Birger is furthermore a UNICEF Ambassador and each year she designs a special T-shirt and shopping net where revenues from sales support UNICEF.