MILAN — “One member of the jury called it ‘Danish fashion’s best kept secret’, meaning that it managed to become an international hit before becoming a household name in Copenhagen. That’s weird. We are happy to change all that today,” said Nina Wedell-Wedellsborg, founder of the Wessel & Vett Fashion Prize, revealing this year’s winner.
Tobias Birk Nielsen’s Iso.Poetism won the prestigious award, designed as Denmark’s response to the LVMH Prize to support Scandinavia’s most promising emerging talent in their growth locally and internationally.
“Iso. Poetism shouldn’t be a secret to anyone. Tobias has already come a long way, and the jury is proud to take this strong vision even further,” said Wedell-Wedellsborg at the ceremony held at Designmuseum Denmark in Copenhagen on Wednesday.
As the winner of the award, formerly known as the Magasin du Nord Fashion Prize and also endorsed by Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, the designer is following in the footsteps of Anne Sofie Madsen, Cecilie Bahnsen, Mark Kenly Domino Tan and, more recently, A. Roege Hove.
“It’s such a crazy mix of being extremely tired, extremely happy and relieved. And overall, I’m incredibly grateful for the people who are supporting me and for this award, which is quite an extraordinary thing,” Birk Nielsen told WWD just after the announcement.
The designer won a new top prize of 500,000 Danish Kroner (about $70,000), making it the largest talent award in the region.
Also new this year, the organizers launched a strategic partnership with Copenhagen Fashion Week through the recently established talent support program CPHFW NewTalent, demonstrating the dedication of both parties to nurturing Danish design talent. As a result of this collaboration, Iso.Poetism is automatically enrolled in CPHFW’s talent incubation program and will therefore be on the official show schedule for three consecutive seasons. The brand will also be offered the opening show space for the next edition in February.
Birk Nielsen, who will also benefit from a one-year mentoring program, beat out the other three finalists. These included Nicklas Skovgaard, Sophia Khaled, and Birrot founders Kyeongmin Kim and Seyoung Hong. Each of them was rewarded with 10,000 Danish kroner (about 1,500 dollars) for their effort and participation.
All with different approaches to fashion, the finalists were revealed during Copenhagen Fashion Week in August and selected by a panel of industry experts, who judged the entries based on criteria such as design flair, originality, the craftsmanship, the sustainable credentials, the commercial viability and the digital flair.
Immediately after the announcement, each finalist began working on their business plan, collection, and presentation alongside a mentor. Skovgaard was paired with Nicolaj Reffstrup, co-founder and CEO of Ganni; Birrot designers worked with Marimekko creative director Rebekka Bay, while Khaled worked with Sophie Bille-Brahe and Anne-Sofie Møller, creative director and CEO of Sophie Bille Brahe Jewelry, respectively.
As for Birk Nielsen, he was advised by Silas Adler, creative director and founder of the Danish brand Soulland.
“He’s a really nice guy, incredibly calm and genuinely caring, so it was a good matchup,” Birk Nielsen said. “What it’s been really good at was the support to slow down a little bit because it’s been a really hectic period as we’ve had a number of things besides the prize as well. It has been very supportive in telling us where to focus and where to channel our energy in both the short and long perspective. And of course he has been advising the last two winners, so he has a pretty impressive track record,” the designer said.
The four mentors were also part of the jury, which also included Wedell-Wedellsborg; CPHFW Executive Director Cecilie Thorsmark; Eszter Aron, founder and creative director of Aeron, and Christopher-Jacques Morency, brand director of Vanguards and interim brand director of Nanushka, among others.
“The jury was very impressed with the work of Iso.Poetism, which deftly turns urban fashion into a personal and modern affair,” Wedell-Wedellsborg said, adding how Birk Nielsen “has managed to transform a personal story into a sustainable business” .
The brand was officially launched in 2016, just after Birk Nielsen graduated from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and Design. Still deciding whether to “stay in Copenhagen to start a life and a family or perhaps seek out assistant jobs at fashion houses around the world,” the designer decided to build on the momentum he gained from his graduate collection and the attention coming from stores. international to take the leap and launch your adventure.
“I started the brand and little by little it changed because I had many challenges in my private life. My wife got sick and I had a child and a lot of things happened at once and I knew I had to find a meaning to continue working with fashion,” she said. “So my vision with the brand is to talk about those emotions that we encounter as normal human beings going through life, all the ups and downs. And being bold to put into words what I think is something that people can relate to… So I try to tap into the foundation of some of those emotions that are deeply ingrained in all modern human beings and wear our clothes as a tool to initiate that dialogue. Birk Nielsen said.
This mission translates into layered, utilitarian designs, with a strong focus on menswear, often blending functionality and graphic effects with subtle, captivating statements such as “Altruism,” “You are not alone,” and “We don’t get this far alone.” to come here.
The sustainable element is just as bold, as the brand uses recycled fabrics and recycled materials; produces with a tailor-made approach to avoid dead stock and redundant production procedures; it minimizes sizes per style to simplify production procedures and required consumption, and offers one-drop delivery to wholesale partners to reduce pollution caused by transportation, among others. This approach pushed the brand to also experiment to find new solutions and develop new techniques for dyeing garments at half the pollution caused by conventional dyeing processes.
For Birk Nielsen, the catalyst for each design or project is a conversation about its purpose and meaning, as well as an assessment of resources and potential social impact.
“When we feel that the conversation makes sense, the next thing is to figure out how to convey the project,” said the designer, explaining that the sustainable approach touches all aspects, including communication. On the one hand, by carrying out lookbooks and campaigns, the brand is committed to reusing existing elements, such as scaffolding.
“We work with this DIY dogma where we only allow ourselves to work with materials that we find in our environment,” he said.
In front of the Wessel & Vett Fashion Award jury, Birk Nielsen presented a collection that was a mix of various pieces throughout the brand’s history, “brought together to show different aspects of the brand”, ranging from sustainability to highlight its balance between craftsmanship and innovation, or show its commercial character.
Iso.Poetism is currently sold in over 35 countries, including key retailers such as Illum, Rinascente, Harvey Nichols, and HBX Hypebeast, among others. He has presented collections in showrooms during Paris Men’s Fashion Week, as well as runway shows at venues such as Berghain Berlin, the Vilnius Center for Contemporary Art, and CIFF Copenhagen.
Going forward, the cash award will help Birk Nielsen improve business set-up, expand its team and accelerate on the business front. “We’ve got a lot of activities planned, including some collaborations… and now, with this award in our bag, maybe we can push this a little bit further,” the designer said.
Established in 2012, the award is spearheaded by the Wessel & Vett Foundation, created by the descendants of the 19th-century founders of the Magasin du Nord department store, Emil Vett and Theodor Wessel. The award’s name change this year was intended to mark 10 years of the award.the anniversary and further celebrate the retailer’s entrepreneurial spirit and innovation. A special exhibition will be held at the Magasin museum on Jan. 19, highlighting past winners of the award, Wedell-Wedellsborg said.