erik brandt tells a story that hasn’t come to an end yet. an international success story which started back in 1965, when he and his wife margit launched their first prêt-à-porter fashion collection in copenhagen under the name of “margit brandt” – a success story that has continued until today. with the refreshingly sexy and feminine touch of their first women’s fashion collection, danish designer margit brandt managed to define an altogether new (fashion) image for women: her approach was to stop showing women in a reserved and tight-lipped way, but to portray them as self-confident and strong members of the society. despite this forward-looking idea, her collection always focused on typically scandinavian characteristics like elegance, wearability and freedom of movement. “everything i create i first try on myself”, says margit brandt about her clothes’ strict suitability for daily use.
from the early 60s through the “wild” 70s, the young and creative spirit of margit brandt’s fashion items always established some kind of connection to other creative people of her time, leading to close friendships with important artists like andy warhol, brigitte bardot, mick jagger or david hamilton, who also spread her clothes among the international artist scene. gradually, the brandts shifted their focus from copenhagen to important international society hotspots like new york, saint tropez or exotic islands like the caribbean island of mustique, where erik and his wife margit spent much time alongside stars such as mick jagger or david bowie.
besides that, their dazzling lifestyle included many long and crazy 70s nights with frank sinatra, liza minelli, robert de niro and salvador dalí in the legendary “studio 54” club in new york. all of these elements strongly influenced erik brandt and his wife margit and paved their way into the international jet-set. but still, when asked about the most important incident in his life, 64-year-old erik brandt only knows one answer: having met my wife! with this statement, the dynamic mastermind not only seeks to qualify the seemingly fulfilling jet-set life but also wants to emphasize the typically scandinavian character trait which seems to give people in the north of europe their steady down-to-earthness: it’s not just about hoarding money but about the fundamental, simple things in life: about friendship, love, children (two daughters), about happiness, beauty, nature and health – no matter if we’re talking about the euphoric mood of the roaring sixties, the uninhibited “love & peace” era of the seventies or today’s world of globalized, rapid data streams. and despite all the seemingly endless nights of partying, the days were always filled with hard work, and there were many economic ups and downs the brandts and their two daughters emilie and julie had to go through. after many trips, paths and journeys to different countries and cultures, the two of them eventually returned from new york back to their roots in the danish capital of copenhagen in the mid-1980s. at their cosy country house near the old port of copenhagen, surrounded by countless antiquities, collector’s items and history-charged objects, you can literally see and feel their whole life story, full of experiences and encounters with interesting people and cultures.
you can tell that there’s still a passionate fire burning inside 64-year-old erik brandt, and you can see youthful verve reflected in his eyes and heart. margit brandt is still the rather reserved yet powerful stylist responsible for the affectionately detailed style of their products. together, they have been an ingenious team as well as married couple for the last 44 years. their daughter julie today runs the label “margit brandt”, which has been revived in 2005. and just like back then, the everyday yet special fashion style still attracts international attention today. with an in-house archive of countless sketches, plans and drafts from more than four decades, today’s new generation of designers can draw from an overflowing source of ideas and stimulations. erik brandt about the spirit of the 60s and 70s, about scandinavian design, and married life between man and woman.
dear mr. brandt, what was your main motivation to revive the brand “margit brandt” after 20 years of suspension in 2005?
after we had retired from the fashion business for a couple of years, one day it just occurred to me to take all the sketches, drawings, photos and documents my wife had been creating of our clothes and fur, shoe and jewellery lines since we started out in 1965 and effectively exhibit them in a 1.500 m2 storeroom. first, many people thought it was a stupid idea. but when i showed the documents to some designers, they were totally enthusiastic about the great wealth of ideas contained in them. this abundance of details and elements my wife had created for all the coats, jackets, dresses and trousers back then were the main motivation for the revival about three years ago. and so, one coat design from the 1960s was for instance turned into two jackets and one skirt from today. seen from today’s point of view, we now realize how varied our products were back then. i would say our re-launch is truly something like a rebirth!
did the positive response surprise you?
yes, it actually did. basically, i’m doing the same things now that i did 40 years ago. the spirit of our brand has simply been passed on to the next generation. my daughter julie is now the company’s vice president and i’m the chairman, but basically everything is like it used to be. today i feel like a child again, as sound as a bell. this year, we’re planning to open another 18 shops and are currently celebrating great successes in japan. actually it’s quite crazy!
how would you describe the general fashion style of “margit brandt”?
very open-minded and international. my wife originally worked for parisian designer louis féraud, while i worked for yves saint laurent. maybe it’s also our danish, unpretentious view of beautiful things that people feel attracted to. after all, danish and scandinavian design is currently experiencing a real revival on the world markets.
why do you think it is that scandinavian design appeals to so many people around the world?
we seem to have a sure instinct when it comes to modern design and recognizing what people are looking for. to do so, we always try to look beyond horizons. my wife margit was the first female designer in denmark who raised danish design to an international level. besides that, she’s the country’s first designer who was officially dubbed knight. speaking of copenhagen, i think that many young designers of this city will become players on the international design market. although denmark only has five and a half million inhabitants, we have always been an internationally oriented country, because we always had to step up to people from outside with our products to present them to more people.
what would you say is the main difference between the fashion statements of the sixties and seventies and those of today?
when we started out in the mid60s, there only were fashion shops for teenagers, or more conservative “old fashion” shops. there was nothing in between, no shades and nuances. so we created fashion for people who didn’t fit into these two categories. we developed in line with an altogether new generation. today, the situation’s completely different, everything is much more differentiated. many people have started to rediscover us. however, one thing still remains the same: the more atmosphere you manage to create, the more creative people and talents will gather around you.
kids in denmark enjoy great freedom. you see many men pushing prams and there’s a strong market for children’s products, kids’ fashion etc. and your two daughters always were with you as well. where does this emphasized focus on children come from?
in denmark we have a special philosophy on how to treat our children. we dedicate great amounts of time to them and look after them a lot. we work a lot and we work very hard, but spending time with our children is just as important to us. here in denmark, men can also take paternity leave. most children grow up in a nice, harmonious atmosphere, which makes them happy. and the children see that the adults do a lot for public welfare too. they accept this role model and pass it on themselves.
what fascinated you about life in the sixties and seventies?
if you were an artist, you would definitely move to new york back then. basically, this city was the capital of europe. many europeans from rome, berlin or london were living there, including us. in these very creative surroundings we got to know andy warhol who became a close friend of ours and spent much time with us. when we started to go back to denmark from time to time, many of our friends and artists from the usa visited us there. they all loved the classical architecture, the design and cultural life of copenhagen. so to speak, we provided the country with creative and international input. there was an increasing form of creative exchange, and that had a positive influence on denmark’s design scene.
most people in denmark are very wealthy and are interested in design and aesthetics …
that’s right, but at the same time we always try to stay down to earth. we don’t have many super-rich people in denmark, but then we don’t have many really poor ones either. and economic aspects are not that important to us. it’s rather about a collective lifestyle and harmonious co-existence. we have very high tax rates here, one of the highest in the whole of europe, but it’s more like “ok, i pay lots of taxes, but in return me and everybody else is feeling fine”. nobody is treated badly here or has to live a really poor life. and that makes people happy and creates a feeling of balance within the whole country. and this good feeling lets us all sleep well.
for many years we have seen retrospectives in various areas of life: music, interior design, architecture, cars, fashion, design etc. – we find elements of former times everywhere. what would you say is the right mixture of old and new?
i think it’s important to create things that remind you and at the same time inspire you to look forward. it’s like when you move into a new house: you arrange everything there, you buy furniture and other new things, but you also bring old, familiar things with you that mean a lot to you and make you feel safe.
what kinds of people are interested in your fashion today?
it’s interesting to see that from when we started out in the 1960s until our temporary suspension at the end of the 1970s, we were seen as a young, fresh prêt-à-porter label. now, after our re-launch three years ago, we tend to appeal more to elegant ladies like the crown princess of the danish royal family who is one of our customers. on the other hand, today different styles and characters blend together; you can combine and mix clothes any way you want. there’s simply no such thing as a clear categorisation anymore.
how does it make you feel to see that you’re successful today with the same kind of products you sold 40 years ago?
it’s an incredible feeling to breathe new life into our not-so-old styles and designs and see how much they appeal to people. the sketches from 1972 for coats, jackets and trousers – even for underwear – are the exact same sketches we’re using for our current collection. it’s almost like in a fairy tale. but after all, it’s just products that were thought through really well, that haven’t just been drawn up in a matter of seconds and produced in a hurry. during the 70s, our design team was made up of 100 people from all over the world, and they came up with countless ideas and thoughts. today, my wife and i are something like the “old wise men” of the company.
what did it feel like to make friends with such famous and creative people like andy warhol?
for many years, we didn’t even notice how well-known and popular he was. it actually didn’t occur to me until one of our fashion shows in louisiana back in 1977, when we held an after-show party for 200 people together with andy warhol and his team. suddenly there were thousands of people waiting for him outside and cheering him. sure, we knew he did lots of crazy stuff like velvet underground or experimental movies like “empire state building”, but we weren’t aware of his cult status.
you also know mick jagger …?
yes, he’s a good friend of ours. for almost 20 years, we used to spend our holidays together with him and the kids on mustique, a small caribbean island near barbados. we also frequently met david bowie there. he’s a very extraordinary person. i prefer the music of the stones, but i prefer bowie as a person. besides, i think that these two are a fine example of connecting the old with the new and yesterday with today. once, i gave david this small danish bird figurine. when i met him two years later, he told me he carried the little bird everywhere around with him as a kind of talisman and that it slept next to him in every hotel bed. so i gave him another bird for the other half of the bed (laughs).
what would you say was the most important incident in your life?
the most important incident in my life was having met my wife and being married to her for 44 years. we were always very happy together and have lived through very exciting times. basically, we’ve always had a very conservative relationship though. of course we also had our crazy side, were dancing on the table or stuff like that. but in general our marriage was always very much straightforward. my philosophy of life is this: if there’s any way to stay together, then stay together. of course there are relationships where it’s better to break up when you realize things are going bad. if you can break up in a positive way, that’s the thing to do then. but i still think a steady relationship is the healthiest way of spending your life.
in a way, the course of a relationship is always the same: when you’re in your early twenties and desperately in love, you go out until the early hours and have sex almost every day. when you get older, you go to the toilet before going to bed and sleep until the next morning. during the night, maybe your dog will disturb you by jumping onto the bed, but apart from that there’s not much happening (laughs). at least i always wake up when our dog jumps into our bed. my wife isn’t bothered by that at all, she’s always fast asleep.
for how much longer do you think you will do your job?
our job has changed a lot since back then. today, we rather act from the background, we say yes or no to certain decisions and share our many years of experience. we really enjoy that. on an operative level, my daughter has taken over the business. as long as we are feeling strong enough, we will continue to do this kind of work. for how much longer we want to do this job? we will create fashion until we die.
one thing is for sure: good things remain good, no matter how many years, decades or big social changes the world may see. it’s the same for a piece of music, a pair of jeans or a special clothing item that gains interesting character traits over the years. and it doesn’t even have to be something particularly expensive or sophisticated. the big, timeless value of something becomes apparent when it fits with every era and with different lifestyles, when it can harmoniously be integrated and unfold. adaptability and changeability as timeless, evolutionary character traits. through a frequent glance into the past, many an old favourite thing becomes a motivating force for the future. erik brandt and his wife margit know that. today, they might even feel it more profoundly than they did at the beginning of their career of 40 years. a true story that will go on for much longer than a lifetime …
“being brandt – the story of erik and margit brandt“