MILAN — Saks Potts nabbed the annual Wessel & Vett Fashion Prize, which is designed as Denmark’s answer to the LVMH Prize that is aimed at supporting the most promising fashion talents in Scandinavia with their local and international growth.
The brand, founded by Cathrine Saks and Barbara Potts in 2014, beat two other finalists, Forza Collective and Heliot Emil. All boasting different approaches to fashion, the finalists were revealed during Copenhagen Fashion Week in August and selected by a panel of industry experts, who assessed entries based on criteria such as design talent, sustainable credentials and business strategy.
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“We are so honored and grateful… It means a lot to us,” said Saks at the award ceremony held at Designmuseum Denmark in Copenhagen on Tuesday evening.
“We started this company when we were just 19 and 20 years old, and we grew up with it. It feels good to win after nine years. We have managed to build a brand that is much bigger than our business, by leveraging our community and by thinking internationally from the very beginning,” added Potts.
As winners of the prize, which was formerly known as the Magasin du Nord Fashion Prize and counts the support of Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, the designers received a cash award of 300,000 Danish krona (or 40,000 euros) and follow in the footsteps of the likes of Anne Sofie Madsen, Cecilie Bahnsen, Mark Kenly Domino Tan, A. Roege Hove and, most recently, Iso.Poetism by Tobias Birk Nielsen.
In addition, Saks Potts will benefit from the strategic partnership forged last year between the Wessel & Vett Fashion Prize and Copenhagen Fashion Week, which will provide the brand with visibility and inclusion in all the official activities and opportunities at the city’s fashion week for the equivalent of 250,000 Danish krona (or 33,500 euros).
One of the biggest novelties of the 2023 edition of the prize was the tweak in its format aimed at welcoming more established brands and experienced designers who have demonstrated their entrepreneurial and innovative skills, in addition to up-and-coming talents.
The move was intended to “identify designers with not only talent to burn, but also the commercial potential to build a global fashion business,” said the prize’s founder Nina Wedell-Wedellsborg.
“This reflects our commitment to recognizing not just talent but the potential to shape global fashion. Our mission is clear — empowering the next generation of Danish fashion entrepreneurs. This year’s winner, Saks Potts, demonstrates remarkable growth with a clear vision of every business aspect… and possesses the essential skills for success in today’s fashion world,” added Wedell-Wedellsborg.
Copenhagen Fashion Week’s chief executive officer Cecilie Thorsmark echoed that the winning duo is “truly representative of Danish fashion.”
“Saks Potts has flourished with their signature aesthetic and global community, reflecting the pillars of entrepreneurship, fashion innovation and creativity,” said Thorsmark. “They have put their brand and Danish fashion on the map for the last decade. This is a big achievement that deserves recognition and celebration, but also an obligation to push themselves in sustainability and inspire new industry standards.”
To this end, in May the brand appointed Josefine Laigaard its first CEO. “This was really the first step of how to further internationalize our label and really commercialize the potential that is in our brand,” Saks told WWD. “Because Barbara and I started when we were [young], we didn’t have any real industry experience to gain from at the start and we learned everything ourselves. And to be honest, we maybe also missed some commercial skills to really grow this business. So for sure we have made a really nice strategy plan for the next couple of years.
“As part of that, a big thing that we want to spend the money we have won on will be going through all the sustainability aspects of our whole company,” continued Saks, revealing plans to initiate a partnership with sustainability experts and work hard on trying to get the Butterfly Mark certification from Positive Luxury within the next year.
Additionally, the designers look to boost the distribution footprint, which currently counts a Saks Potts store in Copenhagen, the brand’s e-commerce and a network of 50 wholesale partners, including the likes of Matchesfashion, Selfridges and Ssense, to name a few.
Asked to imagine the company in the next decade, Potts said the “biggest dream is to create a luxury house out of Copenhagen, like you see in the South of Europe, so really build a truly global fashion brand.”
The Wessel & Vett prize and foundation aim to support them in that journey, and might be actively involved, too.
Spearheaded by the Wessel & Vett Foundation, the award also celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. To mark the opening of a new decade, the Wessel & Vett Foundation boosted its commitment in actively supporting local talents as it quietly revealed its first investment in a brand, namely in the two-time winner of the prize Cecilie Bahnsen.
The value of the investment was not disclosed, but the founder and creative director of the acclaimed Danish label confirmed she “had self-financed the development of her brand until last year, when it was decided to let in a small circle of investors to support the execution of the brand’s growth strategy.”
“It was a natural decision to contact the Wessel & Vett Foundation, which has closely followed the brand’s development over the years,” added Bahnsen, revealing that “this ‘friends and family’ investment round was closed” in May 2023.
It is understood that the investment will support the development of the brand across different axes, including expansion of product categories; growth of the distribution footprint (especially in the U.S., Japan, China and South Korea where the brand is resonating particularly well); boost of the direct-to-consumer and e-commerce channels, and enhancement of the firm’s sustainable aspects.
Conversely, expansion of product categories is not in Saks Potts’ plans for the moment, as the duo is committed to a less-but-better approach.
This is in sync with the evolution of the brand through the years, with its collections increasingly heightening the attention to quality, craftsmanship and dedication to long-lasting designs via the concept of “The Closet,” meaning styles that could become forever favorites and stand the test of time.
Saks and Potts based their presentation on this approach in front of the prize’s jury, which included Wedell-Wedellsborg and Thorsmark, in addition to the likes of Nicolaj Reffstrup, cofounder and CEO of Ganni; Silas Adler, creative director and founder of Danish brand Soulland; Olya Kuryshchuk, founder and editor in chief of 1 Granary, and Saam Emme, fashion director of 247, among others.
For the occasion, the designers built a light table to array the essential items and display “our clothes in a different way rather than just a rack,” said Potts. Flanking the showcase, they also presented a 600-page tome retracing their brand’s history and including images and fabric swatches.
Saks and Potts met in kindergarten and founded the brand while pursuing degrees in fashion design and tailoring and art history, respectively. Tired of the minimalistic jackets that blanketed Copenhagen’s bike paths and metro stops, and passionate about fashion since a young age, they looked to shake up the local fashion scene with a range of gumball-colored, fur-trimmed jackets that were equally ladylike and irreverent.
Their luxury label of playful fur coats, clothing and accessories has been worn by the likes of Meryl Streep, Lady Gaga and Rosalía, and further fueled the growing contingent of Copenhagen’s “Scandi 2.0” wave of talent creating bright, whimsical designs that challenged Scandinavia’s reputation for bleak minimalism.
The duo’s hometown and its functional attitude still permeate Saks Potts’ fashion, as the duo praised Copenhagen’s vibrant vibe across design, architecture, food and all-around lifestyle, which converge in practical designs from the brand. Cue the bestselling Ada jacket rich in zippers, pockets and even a ring to carry Airpods easily and without the need of a bag.
Another big focus fashion-wise is longevity. “We really want to try and convince the fashion customer to consume more like they did in the ‘50s, when they actually bought less fashion products, but of much higher quality and repaired the styles if they broke and really care for the styles,” said Saks.
The approach informs also the textures in the collections, as the designers mentioned they favor heritage fabrics like Thomas Mason for its cotton shirts and 100 Harris Street wool for its durability.
“I think it’s not really a trend we see among a lot of other newer fashion brands to use these heritage fabrics, but for us is super nice,” said Saks, adding that archival items from the ‘90s and the early 2000s are also part of the inspirations behind their collections.
“Something that hasn’t changed over the past decade is our values: we had the same ones since Day One and they are our whole brand,” said Potts, underscoring the importance of authenticity. “The brand is very personal… It’s about our life and us. So we really aim to be authentic in everything we do, from product to storytelling.”
Female empowerment is another pillar intertwined in both their history and thinking behind their designs, which target “a confident, intelligent but also creative person, young and old, someone who just really wants to express herself,” said Potts.
“We are two women and it was quite difficult to be taken seriously, especially in the beginning,” she said. Saks pointed as examples to contractual negotiations with more established firms and “moving around in those male-dominated sections, like going to the bank.”
“Many times we had Barbara’s father with us just to have some kind of male support because as two young girls people don’t really take you that seriously, and it was quite a struggle,” recalled Saks.
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