Brits abroad are renowned for their bad ways with foreign language, and Clash are ashamed to admit that we too are just another figure. Sitting in a hotel bar interviewing two Danes and a Swede, the only language that crosses the table during our thirty minutes is English. And this is in Copenhagen; how embarrassing. We are in town to talk hummel with the sports brand's Owner and Chairman, Christian Stadil, Head Apparel Designer Henrik 'Hank' Horak (the nickname comes from his decade living in the US), and Head Footwear Designer and token Swede, Nicklas Karlson. It's hummel's 90th birthday, and tonight they will throw a party in the iconic 'Den Gra Hal' in the Freetown of Christiana (which later transpires as a barn like building with a generous display of round tables, lending itself to an awards ceremony like set up. The 3am hunt for fast food and Friday morning hangover themselves of Bank Holiday esc proportions, but given that we were handed mini bottles on booze en route, this is hardly a surprise).
In Denmark hummel is just another Adidas or Nike, that is, extremely common (at the top of the Rundetaarn-or Round Tower-we spy three separate individuals each with the chevron somewhere across their persons). Where it is not similar (in Denmark or elsewhere), is it's beliefs. Says Christian (who does most of the talking throughout), "A lot of companies, they have missions and missions and they end up not meaning anything. But for us-we also had those kind of values-but five or six year ago we said instead of having all these missions, let’s find five values that really correlate to what we do. And also because today, you know, we all travel, we don’t see each other very much. For them to be able to know which direction to have to move as designers, they have to have a kind of frame." The five values they decided upon and stick by half a decade later are heritage, sport, Danish, character and karma. The latter is non more evident than the following morning when we take a look around the showroom and discover a windowsill statue of a hummel clothed chap, sat legs crossed with a football in his lap, hands facing upwards upon each knee.
Founded in 1923 by German Albert Messmer-the brand takes its name from the old German greeting, 'hummel hummel, mors mors'-it was introduced to Denmark in 1974, and Stadil's company THORNICO claimed ownership 25 years later in 1999. "We're very proud, in a world where everything goes so fast, there's something in a brand and a company that has existed for 90 years. Because the thing is, we didn’t just start in 1923 (unlike heritage brands that maybe are old, but have been away from the market for years), we survived the Second World War and The Great Depression of the twenties," says Christian. Nicklas adds, "We’re one of the few brands that have a really long history within both sport and lifestyle. Nike and Adidas, they have a long history and we’re up against those guys; I think that’s a cool thing."
As we're told and as we witness ourselves in our 27 hours in the city, the Danish are near on hummel obsessed. We ask the guys what their very first piece was: "I'm from '68," tells Henrik. "I was brought up on hummel, we even had my aunt doing bootlegs (of hummel shirts)." "I never owned hummel," Christian lets slip. Your favourite piece now then? "I have to be careful because I’m sitting with the designer and footwear designer. My favourite piece, I will be honest with you, I have a pair of heritage based sneakers that I wear all the time ('Victory', Nicklas chips in). Now I’m going to wear my new shoes," he says, eagerly grabbing a box from below the table. "A new footwear style that’s coming out called 'Marathona', based on an old hummel style for ladies, and also a Korean shoe. I think this is going to take over, especially when Nicklas hooks me up with the blue version."
Conversation moves to proud moments and achievements within the company. Christian leads with his 2010 visit to Afghanistan in which he and the company's Chief Marketing Officer, Henning Nielsen set up a football match between Afghan girls and soldiers from the UK, Germany and Italy, "We felt like Colonel Kilgore in Apocalypse Now"; three of the girls will later give a speech about the positive impact of this at tonight's dinner. Henrik's pride is displayed in quite a different way, with the hummel chevron tape design tattooed on his left arm to mark four and a half years at the company; his chest tattoo stating 'don't do it just be it', could easily be another hummel core value.
With this we finish our drinks and simultaneously look forward to this evening's festivities. The next time we chat is at the brand's showroom, where Clash ponders rails of clothes, walls of footwear and a single table of delicacies for longer than we care to admit. Our attention is most drawn to the hummel J collection, created with the Japanese artist KIRA. hummel's bumble bee logo goes literal with a photo print dominating different threads, wool trousers and jackets come in grey with black spots (complete with super smart waterproof technologies behind the surface), and there's a selection of jealousy inducing varsity jackets with the chevron 'v' shape stitched into the arms. The range wouldn't look out of place on a fashion forward shop floor, perhaps say, The Goodhood Store's shop floor (their only UK stockist, incidentally).
Like many of our fellow British travellers we learnt one word on our trip, 'tak'. So tak hummel, it's been a pleasure.
Words: Zoe Whitfield