The red devil on your shoulder

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Henrik Vibskov sighs, then pauses. “You know, it’s a real problem. I do use red a lot.” We’re speaking over the phone while he’s in New York City completing an exhibition and film for the Museum of Art & Design. That installation also happens to be red, and the colour has obviously been on his mind. 

“Red can be a difficult colour to wear,” he continues. “It’s not the most commercial. I’m standing on a corner in Chelsea right now and…[pause] No. No one is wearing red! But it seems to pop up in all of my collections, doesn’t it?”

I note that Henrik is using a passive voice and ask if he feels that red finds him, rather than the other way around. “It’s funny, because when you design you use these Pantone swatches. I manage to pick the same shade of cherry tomato red every single time. It’s wild. But it is, to me, the perfect red. It’s like being a musician; you have to hit the right note. That’s what that particular red does for me.”

So is it just visual—or what does the colour red mean to Henrik Vibskov? “It’s warm and vibrant and inviting. It’s young and strong. When I was young, I used to wear a red suit. A full red suit! I can’t do that anymore. Now I need to offset it with white and black, something to balance it.”  Henrik continues: “Red is the colour of attention. Think of mailboxes, traffic signs, warning signs—red grabs your eye, and that’s important to me in my designs.”

I ask if there’s a difference in the way, for example, Americans and Danes wear red. “Well, red is a tricky colour regarding nationality, because it becomes a representative. For Danes, red represents the flag. In Europe, it’s also the colour of Socialism; but in the United States, it’s the colour of the Republican Party, which couldn’t be farther from Socialism. It’s really weird, isn’t it, how red can mean so many things?”

 

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 Sofie, Alexander and Mathias wearing Henrik Vibskov

Sofie, Alexander and Mathias wearing Henrik Vibskov

It doesn’t seem so weird to me. The way we interpret colour is so personal, like scent. Memory is connected to colour; our brains notice colour before all else and its effects on the brain have been studied extensively, including linking the length we’re able to pay attention to the introduction of colour. The way we combine colours is vital to the way we can learn and analyse information; something that Henrik seems to understand intuitively. 

If red is a stand-in for an attention-grabber, it’s an interesting aspect of Henrik’s work that he weaves it into more complex, balanced colour palettes and patterns as opposed to letting it stand on its own. “I never use red as the main colour; you can see that in my work. I always think it looks better as a pop rather than the focus,“ Henrik explains.

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Think of the way other fashion designers use red: Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons stating that “Red is Black” in 1988, using red as both a foundation and a challenge; red as branding on the soles of Christian Louboutin shoes; Valentino’s legendary love of red, showcased in grandly crafted couture–the ultimate expression of ostentatious luxury.

But Henrik’s use of red is more subtle than that. While Vibskov’s fashion collections could be described as quirky or unconventional, taken piece-by-piece, they’re fairly wearable. It’s how they come together–how your attention is held over an extended period of time–that makes them almost surreal. 

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That’s partly the clothes and partly the art installations that come hand-in-hand with each runway show.Salami Kitchen of the Non-Exi-Stent, the Spring/Summer 2017 collection, featured bright red sausages cascading down the centre of the runway, in all their aggressive, phallic glory. The Autumn/Winter 2016 show, The Jaws Nuts Piece, saw an army of nutcracker heads with bright red lips and tongues bobbing up and down as the models walked past them. His latest collection, Autumn/Winter 2017’s The Five O’Clock Leg Alignment had live performers dressed in red bodysuits lying on the runway floor.

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These art pieces and how they interact with fashion collections point towards a connection to red being more complex than simply a representation in clothing. Vibskov’s use of the colour reflects a worldview in red—there’s a red glow or detail in everything. It’s the ebb-and-flow of attention, strength, and warmth. These things aren’t constants in our lives, but they’re intertwined with the everyday, creating the pattern of our world.

“The thing with red,” Henrik finishes, “is that I can’t get away from it.”  None of us can.

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Words by Rebecca Thandi Norman | Photography by Ausra Babiedaite | Creative Direction by Miruna Sorescu & Ausra Babiedaite

Make-up and Hair by Ayoe Nissen | Styling by Lotte Sindhal

Models: Sofie Sørensen at Étoile Models, Alexander & Mathias Nobel at & Model Management