Copenhagen is known for its inhabitants’ effortless ability in making excellent sartorial decisions. Artist Anna Degnbol pushes the stylish boat that bit further, drawing what the women of the future may look like based on the style and characteristics of women she sees in the present day. Throw in her love of sci-fi and manga and you’ve got some very interesting looks indeed. Writer Alix-Rose Cowie speaks to Anna about where the inspiration for this futuristic look book comes from.
Slung over a shoulder, clutching a bouquet of poppies, or supporting a resting chin, the hands on Danish illustrator Anna Degnbol’s characters are unusually large, and often sprout glamorous talons licked with nail varnish. “Hands are cool and very precious, I think,” she says. “They hold people, work, make art and communicate. I’m very fond of hands, so I guess I just let them get bigger and bigger.” The long painted nails come from her own self-care routine that’s become a meditation of sorts.
From acrylic tip to high-heeled boot, Anna’s characters are a sartorial vision in colored pencil. She admits this might have something to do with living in Copenhagen, one of the most stylish cities in the world where inspiration strikes at any outing. How people celebrate their personal style on the street and on social media has become an obsession of hers at a moment in culture where people are using beauty, fashion and filters to play with gender expression and identity.
“Being free to dress the way you like and to present yourself in the way you perceive yourself and want to be perceived is a very powerful thing,” she says. “Both the real world and the digital world are overflowing with colorful self expression, people breaking down norms, stereotypes and fashion no-no’s – it’s all very liberating and has inspired my work a lot.”
An unofficial fashion documentarian, Anna dresses her characters in what’s currently in vogue. “The big chunky boots probably belong to the ’90s and Y2K craze that has been going on for the past few years,” she says. “I feel like I will start drawing more cowboy boots and ’70s brown looks soon,” she laughs. For the most part she styles the looks from her own imagination but she’s also done collaborations like illustrating Florist’s brilliant embroidered handbags or an entire look by Danish fashion designer Frederik Taus comprised of a deconstructed puffer jacket, pink pussybow headscarf and heels that could be taken into evidence.
While her work skirts fashion illustration, Anna’s style is predominantly inspired by the manga and comics she grew up reading. More recently she’s been interested by artists like Seiichi Hayashi and Sasaki Maki whose alternative manga was published in the famous avant-garde comics magazine Garo which launched in 1964.
As an equally big science fiction fan, every look Anna comes up with is preceded by the question: “How will this look in a possible future?” Like fashion borrows liberally from past eras and visions of what’s to come, so her style meshes time and place. With their Greta Garbo eyebrows and shadowed cheek bones, Anna’s characters could be sirens on 1930s celluloid. But their blue or green skin suggests they’re from a galaxy much further away than Hollywood. She likes to imagine them as part of an alien-like tribe. “I don’t really think about their gender or skin color when I draw them,” she says, “so they might as well be green.”
Anna’s characters live in fantasy worlds that she imagines are more fluid than ours. There are recognisable elements but there are also bird messengers with human faces, anti-gravity hair and magical flower-people. Abstract spheres, starbursts and spiky shapes float in the air to underpin a feeling or an interaction between characters. “In general I’m interested in creating atmospheric worlds more than realistic-looking ones,” she says. “My fondness of fluidity comes from thinking about possible worlds as having almost an open source approach to their code and programming. That a place could be shaped and molded depending on moods, situations or needs.”
Flowers are a regular part of this familiar-alien landscape. They provide blooming backdrops and are also symbols for this world at large. “To me the flowers represent a mix of something very powerful and vulnerable at the same time,” Anna says. “And those are generally the words I’d like to describe the world which my characters inhabit.”
Anna’s work is a brochure for an escape into an enchanted world where blue-skinned aliens with cutting cheek bones, shiny hair and great taste in shoes converse with flowers. The only thing it doesn’t do is reveal where in time and space the portal is but you might try snapping two abnormally large, manicured fingers.