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Keld Mikkelsen

Contemporary womenswear label Day Birger et Mikkelsen has launched a sub-brand, 2nd Day. Its founder tells Drapers how he is eager to extend the business’s reach

Sitting backstage after Day Birger et Mikkelsen’s autumn 11 catwalk show in Copenhagen, founder and creative director Keld Mikkelsen is serene in an arena of utter chaos. Clothing rails clatter past, the catwalk set is being dismantled and models scramble to retrieve the last few goody bags, seemingly unaware they are in the company of the creative force behind the clothes they have just been showcasing.

As the 53-year-old Mikkelsen casually takes a swig of a celebratory glass of champagne, he says: “I’ve been in this industry since I was 18. It’s a long time but, funnily enough, I still love it. I must be very single-minded, but I do.”

Mikkelsen has worked in fashion for almost 35 years, and in the early days learnt the ropes working with fashion suppliers in India and Hong Kong. He was fascinated by the marriage between art and craft in the creation of embroidery, prints and patterns. It was this interest in quality tailoring and craftsmanship that ultimately led him to found his own Danish contemporary womenswear brand in 1997, aged 39.

A new direction

Fourteen years later and he’s at it again, launching sub-brand 2nd Day for autumn 11, which targets a younger customer than the Day Birger et Mikkelsen mainline, allowing Mikkelsen to extend the company’s reach.

Denim and blazers form the basis of its 120-piece collection, which will show at womenswear show Pure London next week with additional pieces including sequined leggings, military-style mini skirts and jersey jumpsuits to appeal to the 25-year-old woman. The mainline’s target audience is 35-plus.

“When you have a main label you are very often restricted to a certain DNA that you work within, but when you start off something new you can basically go crazy,” explains Mikkelsen.

Price points for the forward-order brand will be marginally lower than the mainline to reflect the younger audience, with wholesale prices from £25 to £300, against the mainline’s £30 to £500.

Gemma Ford, owner of contemporary womenswear indie Plume in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, says Day Birger et Mikkelsen is “unbelievably popular” in her store, highlighting skinny cargos and embellished items as key pieces. But she is dubious about the new sub-brand.

“I’m interested to see how 2nd Day will sell because I’d imagine girls in their mid-20s may find it pricey,” she says. Mikkelsen says there will be more pieces at entry-level price points. “We have to be careful of how expensive fashion can be,” he concedes.

So far the response has been positive says Mikkelsen, but he admits he tends to focus on the negative. If 10 out of 11 people like a piece, he’ll focus on the one that doesn’t.

Seize the day

“2nd Day couldn’t have come before now because we did not have the energy, time or mindset” says Mikkelsen. “We filled 100% of every damned working day with what we could do with our mainline, so we couldn’t even think about doing something else.”

Indeed, in 2007, Mikkelsen sold 50% of the brand’s parent company, ADD Mikkelsen, to now-defunct Icelandic investor Baugur. However, three years on, in May last year, he took back control of the business from Icelandic bank Straumur, to which the shares had been transferred after Baugur’s demise. Mikkelsen says he was “embarrassed” - after all, when a company has new owners, one expects changes, but not much changed after Baugur took over, as the economic crisis hit shortly afterwards, leading to the collapse of Baugur.

Asked whether he learned anything from Baugur’s brief involvement, he pauses before replying: “It gave me an opportunity to sit with other creative brands. I met Kevin Stanford and Stephen Craig [chairman and chief executive, respectively, of All Saints, also part of the Baugur empire at the time]. It was really cool for me to sit and look at whatever they were doing, because it’s just so different from the way we work.”

Today, the business’s income including salaries but excluding expenses is DKK6.3m (£7.2m) and the brand is sold in 25 countries with some 1,000 stockists.

Despite the recent rise in popularity of Scandinavian brands such as By Malene Birger, Rützou and Bruuns Bazaar, Mikkelsen says he is unsure what sets them apart.

He says: “I think it’s about willpower more than anything. If you believe Scandinavian fashion is good, then you look at it positively. If I’m telling you it’s bad, [you’ll say] ‘Oh yes, it’s true’.”

Challenges ahead

Although Day Birger et Mikkelsen has 111 stockists in the UK plus 16 concessions in department store chain House of Fraser, Mikkelsen does not expect 2nd Day to be sold in the same shops. He predicts only 30% to 40% of mainline stockists will also sell 2nd Day with the brand targeting young fashion indies.

Mikkelsen admits the year will be tough due to the financial climate, so he is focusing on helping Day Birger et Mikkelsen’s stockists with improvements to the business model and core brand. He explains: “We will have far more deliveries [per season].” The brand has typically been known for its embroidery and bohemian-style pieces but, over the past year, has turned its focus to fit, particularly on jackets and trousers. Mikkelsen says the brand will continue to do this, as he is eager to excel in all areas.

He stresses the importance of the UK market, saying it is the biggest after Denmark in terms of turnover. Its store on London’s Sloane Square, which opened in 2005, closed three years ago due to low footfall. Nonetheless, Mikkelsen still harbours ambitions to open a UK store. “We would love to and I don’t know how many times I’m in London to look at premises,” he says.

“UK fashion retail is moving so fast,” he says. But this doesn’t put him off trying to open stores here in the future. “We have to gear up. We have to realise we have to do that to be part of it - and we would like the challenge, of course.”

CV

2011 Launches sub-brand 2nd Day

2000 Day Birger et Mikkelsen enters the UK market

1997 Sets up Day Birger et Mikkelsen

1982 Co-founder of Cha Cha (which later became CCDK)

1976 Sales and production roles at brand house Bestseller

Mikkelsen on…

Key trends for Day Birger et Mikkelsen in autumn 11… It’s very feminine with a slight masculine type of ingredient to it. We can experiment more with 2nd Day. For example, the sleeves on agarment don’t have to be the same length.

I think autumn 11 trends in general will be quite different from previous seasons.

Cotton prices… The increase in cotton prices hasn’t hit us as much as the press suggests.

Where the brand gets its inspiration… It’s more or less the same as everybody else: you open your eyes. We travel, but I think most brands do. At Day Birger et Mikkelsen we look into flea markets - like everybody else - and we try to interpret whatever it is that is going on in the market.

Businesses he admires… At the moment I really like Rag & Bone and I really like Opening Ceremony. Not for their particular styles, just for the way they became successful so quickly. I know they’re not young brands, but I think they’re good.

Key challenges in 2011… One of the challenges will be about how you run a business economically. Fortunately for us, we are not borrowing money from the banks. I’m not saying that to brag, I’m saying it because I’m proud of it. Being in that situation does, of course, mean we can - to a certain degree - do whatever we like.

UK retail… Retail in London is ruthless. If products don’t sell, prices are cut; if they still don’t sell, they’re reduced to half price.

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