For GANNI designers Ditte and Nicolaj Reffstrup it’s as much about encapsulating energy as it is about making clothes.
It seems like no coincidence that GANNI head designers Ditte Reffstrup and her husband Nicolaj met at a house party. In fashion circles, they’re known for throwing infamous ones at their home, post-show celebrations, where kitchen dancing often ensues, and which pre-pandemic was reaching numbers of up to 300. Their clothes, synonymous with Copenhagen cool are the perfect house party attire; colourful concoctions that marry flirty fun with the right amount of practicality just in case you’re gonna be shimmying table-top later. “GANNI is very much an extension of our lifestyle, our values and in many ways a reflection of the general mode of life here in Copenhagen, where you want to be able to ride everywhere on your bike but also go to the party, all wearing the same clothes,” Ditte admits.
After taking over the quiet cashmere label in 2009, Ditte as creative director and Nicolaj then as CEO, the pair transformed GANNI into the label worn by women across the globe who personify a laid-back and joyful approach to fashion. Their signature looks such as a ruffle mini dresses or puff sleeved blouses in popsicle bright colours, tartans, ginghams, and florals paired with chunky clogs, and cute kitsch knitted vests have become ubiquitous worldwide, while remaining distinctly Copenhagen. “We’ve taken the laidback, effortless, and cool spirit of how people dress in Copenhagen and made it more playful, adding lots of color and contrast to give our clothes lots of personality. Even though we always intended for GANNI to have an international appeal, the DNA of the brand is really a reflection of the energy here, that Copenhagen persona and way of life, which I think a lot of people really connect with.”
What’s important to note, is that this sense of fun isn’t forced, but a natural reflection of Ditte and Nicolaj and the global community of people that swirl around them, a community that has allowed the strong roots of the business, laid down by the pair, to flourish and expand its branches in innovative directions. Take for instance their infamous #GANNIGirls A hashtag that has taken over Instagram, which anyone wearing a GANNI fit can post to, showcasing their unique interpretation of GANNI style. It’s organically created a network of like-minded individuals that’s flourished on its own and is still going strong – at the time of writing #GANNIGirls has upwards 91 thousand posts. Originally started by Helena Christensen and Kate Bosworth on a fun night out, both found the other in GANNI coats and memorialised the moment with a post, starting the hashtag of their own accord, rather than anything dictated by the designers. For Ditte and Nicolaj it’s the everyday people that #GANNIgitl who are just as vital as the more famous faces. “We’re always happy when people wear GANNI,” Nicolaj says, but we work more as a community where certain people have naturally evolved into ambassadors for the brand. And I think that the relatability of the ‘girl next door’ is just as important as the zeitgeist of having a superstar wear your clothes.”
It's natural collaborations like these that extend to GANNI designs too, with the label pairing up with big names on the scene; New Balance, Levi’s, and Juicy Couture alongside burgeoning ones such as British designer Priya Aluhwalia, who has made a name for herself by upcycling deadstock or Copenhagen based Sarah Stem, who utilises a zero-waste production process. Just like ultimate hosts, it’s not just a select few invited into their world; they make their customers feel like they’re part of something that’s far bigger than the latest fashions. Their Instagram account @GANNIGuide lets everyone into the cities, sites, foods, and wines that tickle their fancy and make up the GANNI eco-system, turning the pair and their team into trusting arbiters of taste, not only fashion. By doing so they help and support other businesses that are aligned with their values and approach to life, whether it’s a Brooklyn wine bar or an art gallery in Biarritz. “We’ve always been super inspired by the people and places around us, and our community is the reason why we're here. We’ve always operated on family values and authentic connections and our small community of friends and family just seemed to spread like rings in the water. It’s been an incredible journey and we sometimes have to pinch ourselves.” says Ditte.
This ethos of collaborative creativity is encapsulated in their Rizzoli printed monograph, Gimme More, released last year, which draws on the people, world-wide that make up the GANNI village, one that’s based on spirited enthusiasm rather than any geographical ties. By including contributions from multidisciplinary artist and photographer Ana Kraš, London based stylist and fashion writer Susie Bubble, New York based photographer and model Richie Shazam, and Norwegian creative photographer and artist Jacqueline Landvik to name a few, the pages are emblazoned with the playful individuality that the label emanates, and these creatives tap into and exude. Closer to home, though, it’s the tight-knit team around Ditte and Nicolaj that push the pair forward and ignite them too. Above all we have a great team around us, who puts their all into everything. I love how we are still entrepreneurial in spirit as a team, even though we are growing in size ,” says Ditte. As well as their support on a larger and practical everyday scale, the team also influences Ditte with the little details too; the scrunchies worn around the wrists of their colleagues, were translated into the ubiquitous ruching of GANNI’s SS 22 collection ‘Higher Love’.
On explaining the major influence of this collection, Ditte comes back to her love of the city she lives in, works from and which she has now emblazoned onto every fashionista’s consciousness. “The collection is an ode to Copenhagen, it’s our home and where our hearts are. We wanted to capture that totally special energy that runs through the city in the summertime where everyone is outside all the time and in a kind of euphoric state. It really gets your beat going and it makes us think about the rhythm of our hearts and the beat you see on a hospital monitor. We used that life line as a symbol across the collection, wavy lines on collars and hemlines inspired by a heartbeat.” It’s a heartbeat that began with the values and lifestyle of the fisherman’s village she was born into that has determined some of the collaborations GANNI has taken part in. “I’m from Hirtshals in Jutland,” she explains. “It’s a small fishermen’s village, where the climate is harsher, but where life was also a bit harsher. My first job was in a fish factory, it definitely toughened me up.. Back then, it was practicality first and I love bringing some of that into our designs, which we also do by collaborating with brands like 66North and Barbour who are experts in the field. It’s all about that contrast.”
But what makes GANNI refreshing, isn’t just these innovations, collaborations, or their vibrant colour palate that’s a move away from the minimalist fashions that had been a mainstay of the Scandinavian fashion landscape for years, it’s their unflinching honesty. This is best exemplified by their other Instagram account, and perhaps their most important, GANNILab, which showcases their trials and triumphs towards responsible ethics when it comes to the environment. It’s why they use the choose to use the word ‘lab’- showing that their journey to responsibility, is a work in progress, an experiment, but one that they’re transparent about. “We love learning from our community and giving back, it’s the only way forward, so we try to stay open and honest,” Ditte concedes. This trustworthiness is what makes people look to GANNI as innovators of the fashion crowd and want to join them in their endeavours; because they’re curious and unafraid of making a mistake, allowing others to be unafraid as well, turning them into an attractive anomaly in an uptight fashion world where people are often too scared to put a foot wrong.
The pair know that a healthy community is one with a healthy environment. Which is also why, at the GANNI head office in Copenhagen, the nucleus of the brand, even little gestures, such as growing herbs, making soap and growing mushrooms from used coffee grounds are encouraged alongside bigger ones – offering customers a resale platform and experimenting with bio-based materials powered with renewable energy. For Nicolaj, this focus was induced by his background in economics and philosophy, where with his bachelor thesis on Game Theory it uncovered how people will always act short-sightedly for personal gain in the here and now. “That paired with climate change made me worried,” he says, “I wanted to make sure we were doing things a bit better at GANNI every day, changing the industry from within.”
They’re not preachy about what they do, blatantly admitting that ‘Growing mushrooms out of coffee grounds won’t solve the climate crisis’ but rather eschewing the word ‘sustainable’ to invite dialogue and help create awareness with their followers, in order to nudge everyone “into making small, more responsible choices every day.” For them, this cross-pollination of ideas, this experimentation, is what makes any community and its eco-system strong. “We hope that all the responsibility initiatives we’re working on can be a driving force for change in the industry and help show the world that you can still make great clothes and have fun while being the most responsible version of yourself,” says Ditte.
There’s so many more initiatives Ditte, Nicolaj and their team have put into place, that there’s not enough room to write about them all, but one thing you can definitely be sure of, if they’re involved, no matter what’s going down, if it’s GANNI you’re wearing, you’re going to have more than your fair share of fun. It’s sewn into each stitch of their clothes. And as the interview closes, we ask Ditte and Nicolaj one last question - if they were going to party with us and celebrate Incu’s 20th anniversary, what kind of party would they throw? “We would probably host the party in our house and have our office chef Eva serve up one of her amazing plant-based menus,” says Ditte. “Lots of flowers, lots of 90’s music and lots of dancing on the tables.” We can’t wait.