Designing Collaborations – reflected through Le Fix’s The Hans Christian Andersen Project
A collaboration between H.C. Andersens Hus and Le Fix has opened the doors for the Danish streetwear brand to the renowned Dover Street Market (London, Singapore, Tokyo) and caused AnOther Mag and Wallpaper to take note. I instigated the collaboration as a part of a flurry of commercial and creative partnerships intended to redesign how the museum approached product-based storytelling and content marketing. The collaboration stands out today as one of the best among the many.
Back in late 2021, when I stopped working for the museum, it was arguably among the best in Denmark at utilising commercial partnerships as a strategic tool. This was partly because we had a solid brand and a lot of excellent source material, and we dared to bring it into play with contemporary creative companies. But it was also because we treated collaborations as more than merely a new revenue stream or unique product for the museum shop. Having done many collaborations with international and national artists, I transferred that mindset to commercial collaborations, seeing them as a tool for communicating Hans Christian Andersen and his fairytales – and of equal importance as, for example, our article production or museum exhibitions – as well as a way to replace traditional marketing with something that both could be a communication form in its own right as well as a device pointing potential visitors in the direction of the museum. Going even further, we also saw the collaborations as a form of silo hacking – reaching new audiences and potentially rebranding Andersen in various specific contexts. However, a drawback of such collaborations is that they often have long go-to-market timelines since co-developing, per definition, is slower and must fit everyone’s production schedules. This is also part of the explanation why the results of the many collaborations that started back in the day are still trickling in even today.
The Hans Christian Andersen Project, developed by Le Fix founder Benny Brankovic and visual artist Signe Emma, which just unveiled the first drop – a unique streetwear collection blurring the boundaries between fashion, craft and art, is undoubtedly one of my favourite collaborations of all time, and it is deservedly getting a lot of praise and recognition:
The reason for the success of the collaboration is that we did not treat it as a run-of-the-mill collaboration, where we merely applied Andersen’s content in a thematic way to the domain of Le Fix. Instead, we chose the long road home, diving deep into the themes of the Andersenian source material and the artistic practice of Andersen’s fairytales and collages.
Through long conversations and walks, Benny and I discussed the nature of Andersen and his art and formed a mutual understanding of the viable intersections between Andersen’s and Benny’s practice. I presented Benny for Andersen´s collage books for children, which, largely unknown to the general public and despite being made by Andersen to children of his friends, had sinister undertones and highlighted a darkness often overlooked in his fairytales., the visual nature of the books also highlights his work with composition, materiality and ultimately also time in a way that is more direct and easily decodable than in his literary works.
From then on, I stayed mainly outside the actual creative process.
Through my years as a curator doing numerous collaborations, I have developed a philosophy of curatorial scaffolding, where I try to create a meaningful framework for the creative work without interfering too much in the actual creative process – my job as a curator is to create an intervention or obstruction of the normal practice of the artist and then removing myself from the scene – allowing them to figure things out anew through their honed practice, while I instead act as a bulwark – protecting the creative process from too much interference from outside agendas. This is because the very reason for the collaboration is that you want to have that other perspective. If you become too rigid in your framing or define outcomes too tightly, it defies the reason you collaborated in the first place.
In the Hans Christian Andersen Project, Benny Brankovic interprets the motifs in Andersen’s works and his artistic practice. He brings both into the streetwear world of Le Fix. This makes the project unusually multilayered and meaningful.
Thematically, the clothes draw inspiration from the darker sides of Andersen’s art, filled with hanged men, grotesque and surreal figures, and sinister compositions that detail a world of uncertainty, continual process, and homelessness, weird and dangerous. This world belongs to the night and the outsider – its learnings come from outside the fabric of reality and reason.
Andersen’s collages often juxtapose or merge opposites or clashing imagery, often bringing the mundane and bourgeois together with the monstrous or weird, showcasing surprising qualities in both. Combining cut-out illustrations, paper cuttings, and writing, Andersen creates contextual plays between individual objects. Often, there is also a play with various representational techniques, ultimately showcasing the collages first and foremost as material objects. This is also done on various occasions where Andersen seems to have glued a paper cutting on top of a cut-out image only to partly rip it off to show the materiality of the paper cut and reveal part of the underlying image.
In this sense, his collage work is genuinely about bringing forth a multitude of forms of expressions and staging plays between the relationship between these expressions. His art is not about purity or essence but about relations. He says this is also true for the fairy tale genre, whose main quality is, according to Andersen, that it contains all genres. Here, we find the heart of his artistic practice: genre-bending, crossing over and exploring the fluidity and transience of all things.
Such notions are also reflected in Brankovic’s take on Andersen, where the clothing line consists of pieces often each showcasing a multitude of different print and representation techniques – just like Andersen´s own work – thereby creating a conversation not only between the various images and colours but also between the materiality of representation itself and how it interacts with the material it is applied to.
This is also a way to showcase the craft element and leave traces of the production process as a tangible experience when seeing or wearing the clothes.
Whereas the layering and dialogue between objects create friction and highlight the clothes as material objects, Benny Brankovic also manipulates our time experience in various ways.
Just like many of Andersen’s papercuts and his collage-layering highlight haste and the imperfect rather than trying to meticulously detail the world (truth is not in representation but in relations), Benny Brankovic does something of the same when he is almost casually placing elements from Andersen´s universe at places you would not usually place them – for example the arm of an octopus overlapping the outer part of a pocket and the cloth above, severing the representation in two, or a hanged “Thief of Hearts” casually placed off centre, half hidden, below the sleeve.
These elements of speed, however, are juxtaposed with a slowing of time, for example, by adding handsewn elements, handprinted tags and a small unique handwritten message in each of the pieces. Here, you find the experience of the imperfection of the human touch – you can feel that this has been made by a person and not just a machine, and you can almost sense the time he has spent to painstakingly create the product you hold in your hand.
Collaborations can be cumbersome and difficult. It takes time and excellent stakeholder management. But the rewards are equally significant and unique. Done right, partnerships form creative processes that bring about new stories and products and potentially reach new user groups. But more than that, seeing the world of Andersen through the lens of Le Fix, seeing Le Fix through the lens of Andersen, unveils aspects barely noticeable before in both Andersen’s and Le Fix’s universe. It allows us to rediscover the things we thought we knew!
In Le Fix’s “The Hans Christian Andersen Project”, it is just as it was for Andersen: The objects –clothes or stories – are not mere objects for consumption. They are vessels for interaction and relating—bridges between ourselves and the world.