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Photo: Gaelle Le Boulicaut
Photo: Gaelle Le Boulicaut

People

Happy days are here again

Twenty years after they started the successful Danish brand DAY Birger et Mikkelsen, Keld Mikkelsen and Marianne Brandi are still developing unique fashion formulas that fuse Scandinavian cool with global influences.

The couple’s villa by Lake Como was originally built as a summer residence for Italian nobility in the 1600s.Photo: Gaelle Le Boulicaut

Keld Mikkelsen and Marianne Brandi have built a business that reflects their approach to living. “Dailycouture” isn’t just a slick tagline for their company, for them it’s a way of life.

The couple’s magnificent home by the shore of Lake Como also seems to epitomize their brand. The home, built in the 1600s as a summer residence for the Italian nobility, is the embodiment of graceful living.

It is lit with Vietnamese lamps from the DAY showrooms. Bathrooms have DAY Home bath products and towels. Bedrooms have DAY Home bed linens. DAY Home cushions are seen in a number of shapes, sizes and patterns throughout the house.

The mix of muted tones, Italian antiques, items from various overseas travels and a nod to their Danish design esthetic give an insight into the world according to Keld Mikkelsen and Marianne Brandi. Their home is a beautiful and inspiring space, but not pretentious by any means. Comfortable, luxurious and approachable is the order of the day here, exactly the same style that mirrors the couple’s fashion brands.

“When I started DAY Birger et Mikkelsen, there wasn’t anything available in Scandinavia for women that wanted to have beautiful simple clothing with ethnic influences”, says Mikkelsen “Timing is everything, and we came to the market at the right time.”

Mikkelsen says that he focused on a niche client group and concentrated on offering clothing for their lifestyle, aspirations and interests.

“In the beginning, word of mouth was as important for us as visiting fairs”, he says. “People got excited about our brand and told their friends. At the same time, I was traveling to all the major fairs in Europe and New York, and it didn’t take long for the buyers to show interest and to start putting in orders. The combination of these things helped us so much in the early days. We went from being a little company just starting out, to suddenly seeing our brand being successful and attracting a lot of interest.”

DAY Birger et Mikkelsen was launched in 1997 in Copen­hagen. A year later, the company won the Danish Design Award. Mikkelsen had cut his teeth in the fashion industry by traveling to Asia and India and purchasing things to sell upon his return to Denmark. It was during these travels that he fell in love with the style of clothing, textiles and jewelry that are so integral to the DAY brand today. The rapid success of DAY Birger et Mikkelsen however almost led to the dilution of the style that Mikkelsen and Brandi loved so much.

“There was a period when we let the brand become too sales driven, and that hurt us”, says Mikkelsen. “We listened to the sales department and allowed them to edit our collections and it changed our offer. We weren’t being 100% true to our vision.”

Brandi adds: “I can still get angry thinking about that time. Money talks and we were very successful in selling. Now we have returned to a 100% design-driven philosophy, this is how we run the brand today and we no longer create garments that we don’t like.”

Brandi keeps a collection of her favorite textiles on display for inspiration. Many of the pieces are travel finds.Photo: Gaelle Le Boulicaut

The lessons they learned from that period gave the couple the determination to venture into new areas, such as DAY Home, which came to life over lunch in Sicily ten years ago.

“Keld and I were having a great conversation over lunch about what we like in our own home and DAY Home grew from there”, says Brandi.

At Marrakesh Airport, shortly after this conversation, Brandi bought two cushions. “Keld asked me, ‘why do you have to buy something now?’ And I told him, “I don’t know why! I just need to buy these. They are so gorgeous”, says Brandi. “I took those cushions to India and had them made for our showrooms. When buyers came in to look at our collections, they saw the cushions and started putting in orders for them as well. They went crazy for the cushions.”

The couple then started discussing bed linen and towels. “We started thinking about what our bed linens could look like”, says Mikkelsen. “Then we started talking about towels and how we could do them in an Indian style.” DAY Home was now a fact.

The DAY brand underwent further expansion with 2nd DAY, a progressive womenswear label built on a foundation of key pieces in leather and denim with classic quality tailoring.

“2ND Day was a chance to go in a different direction”, says Mikkelsen. “It allows us to experiment with shapes and materials that we would not be able to bring to our main line. As an established brand, DAY Birger et Mikkelsen has a customer base that expects certain things from the brand and we must make sure that we continue to meet their expectations. 2ND Day is much more experimental. The 2ND Day design team is Swedish and Danish and bringing the design sensibilities from these two Scandinavian countries together to make something new is really the strength of 2ND DAY.”

Next up was DAY Et, an accessories brand that is based in the couple’s design studio in Lugano, Italy, just up the road from their home on Lake Como. “It was an instant success which we hadn’t seen coming”, says Brandi.

 “We sold 500,000 bags in 2015”, says Mikkelsen. “Sometimes I have to checkvbecause it’s hard to believe that we’ve really done that. But clearly, there is a space for our bags in the market. We are the only commercial bag company in Scandinavia.”

Keld Mikkelsen and Marianne Brandi enjoy the view of Lake Como on the steps of an abandoned pier near their home.Photo: Gaelle Le Boulicaut

Mikkelsen and Brandi both say that they don’t often stop to reflect on their success.

“We don’t rest on our laurels”, says Brandi. “We never pat each other on the shoulder. We never sit and tell each other how amazing we are. Perhaps we could learn to be better at doing that.”

They also both admit to being unafraid to argue about the key questions related to the company. “Keld and I fight like cats and dogs”, says Brandi. “But we always have the perfect argument. It’s never personal. We have never crossed that line, and of course after each argument you have to make up”, she adds with a smile.

When pushed, Mikkelsen says that his proudest moments have included celebrating the 10-year anniversary of DAY Birger et Mikkelsen and the awards they have received from peers in the industry, as well as the opening of stores around the world.

2016 has been a busy year for the couple and they are looking forward to what’s to come. “We are opening 47 new Day Et stores in Sweden alone”, says Mikkelsen. “And to our great pleasure, our daughter Amalie has started working with us. She is based in London and she is slowly being introduced to the everyday life of running a family company.”

“We have been very lucky”, he adds. “We have been given the opportunity with the brand to do many nice things. It’s fun to go a little against what is being done. You can do well being a niche brand because if the niche understands you clearly, you will be successful. That has been our experience. And if you are passionate about your brand and you love it, someone else will be passionate about it too.”


Text: Tsemaye Opubor 

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