At Copenhagen Fashion Week, it is the young guard that presents a 'green' future


Backstage at the Spring/Summer 2024 show for Paolina Russo, winner of the Zalando Visionary Award. Photo: AFP

Creativity, innovation, sustainability and social impact... These are the four axes that enabled London-based Paolina Russo to win the very first Zalando Visionary Award this past June, and earn an invitation to show at Copenhagen Fashion Week (CPHFW), which ran from Aug 7-11.

Russo and Lucile Guilmard, the creative duo at the helm of the label, rose to the challenge with a collection that is simultaneously nostalgic and futuristic, sustainable and creative, artisanal and high-tech.

A perfect mashup, just like the collections of many the young designers showing this week in the Danish capital.

For three years, Zalando has been a partner of Copenhagen Fashion Week, awarding prizes to brands committed to greener fashion practices with its Zalando Sustainability Award.

It's an award that has now evolved with the times, not least because since last season, the Danish fashion week has implemented rigorous sustainability standards that registered labels must meet in order to be allowed to show.

The first Zalando Visionary Award was won by Russo, just two months before the start of Copenhagen Fashion Week.

This young London brand stands out for its sportswear aesthetic and innovative knitwear work.

To win this precious opportunity this time around, it was about demonstrating a clear commitment to sustainability – essential for presenting a new collection at CPHFW – but also to creativity, innovation and social impact.

Four criteria that in fact define the winning brand, co-piloted by an all-female duo, whose collection demonstrates a desire to shake up fashion rules, from the supply chain to the runway, via the creative process.

Read more: Set on sustainability, can Copenhagen become the world's next fashion capital?

Helping revive the craft métiers

Crafting exceptional materials and objects: that's what artisans, also known as "petites mains", do, usually working behind the scenes for the major luxury houses.

These are trades that perpetuate traditional techniques and skills, some of which have faded or disappeared over the years, but which the Paolina Russo brand intends to enhance and modernise.

"Our aim is to create a modern context for craft through developing ways for technology to push traditional craft, or vice versa. By doing so we can develop products that combine artisan techniques with industrialized manufacturing to push the boundaries of our designs," explained the creative duo after winning the prize awarded by Zalando.

Something the London-based brand has already put into practice with its signature knitwear, whose patterns evolve with the wearer's movement, and is none other than a knit interpretation of an optical effect.

A hand technique that Russo has developed to be automated, combining craft and technology. But it also brings together traditional materials, such as wool and cotton, with futuristic shapes and aesthetics, dusting off the obsolete image of certain materials.

A "collaborative manufacturing network"

Founded in 2021, the London-based brand also wants to shake up manufacturing processes via the development of a "collaborative manufacturing network", as they describe it.

More precisely, it's about seeing manufacturers in the supply chain as creative partners, working with them hand-in-hand, at every stage, to pool knowledge, experience and knowledge, in order to come up with original collections and ever more innovative concepts.

A new approach to the supply chain that is undoubtedly contributing to the brand's success, and could inspire many other designers.

“It's great to see that Paolina Russo has a strong relationship with its creative partners, this is immensely important to create a supply chain that delivers innovations with responsible processes," enthused Herbert Hofmann, vice president, creative and buying at Highsnobiety, and international jury member for the first Zalando Visionary Award.

"Paolina Russo's creations are inspiring not only through its use of materials, shapes and colour but its dedication to creating garments that contribute to the future of fashion,"

All these commitments enabled the brand to distinguish itself from the other contenders for the title, and to earn the opportunity to present its latest collection in the street style capital.

Read more: 'Human dimension': Tunisian fashion brand turns sea plastic into 'green' couture

Sleek, athletic warriors

On Wednesday, Aug 9, just over two months after receiving the award, the label presented its Spring/Summer 2024 collection, named Monolithics, to an audience of guests gathered a stone's throw from the center of Copenhagen.

In a setting of natural daylight, tinged by a gray sky despite the season, the models, looking like proud warriors, took to the runway one by one to the sound of birdsong, navigating a set studded with menhir-like blocks of stone to present a collection that combined nostalgia and futurism, trompe-l'oeil knitwear and technical materials, elegance and sportswear, artisanal techniques and technological innovations.

Contrasts that in this collection form a coherent, monolithic whole.

Shown on a diverse cast of models, this new collection also highlights the brand's sustainable commitments, from a set made from recycled bottles to less water-intensive used denim and pieces in biodegradable end-of-life textiles.

A finalist for numerous international awards in 2023, Russo has not gone unnoticed in Copenhagen, and continues to stand out for its innovative, modern approach to fashion at every stage.

But while the brand stood out by winning this very first Zalando Visionary Award, it has to be said that the Danish capital has no shortage of young talent ready to breathe fresh air into an industry in the throes of (r)evolution.

The young guard includes A Roege Hove, whose conceptual approach also seeks to modernize and enhance artisanal techniques; Latimmier, who questions the notion of gender through clothing; Nicklas Skovgaard, who brings an element of surprise with unexpected combinations of materials and shapes; and Rolf Ekroth, who designs clothes for (absolutely) every body, with a focus on zero waste.

All these initiatives and commitments testify to Copenhagen's pre-eminent place in the fashion sphere, and to the determination of young talent to effect change in the industry. – AFP Relaxnews

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