On the small but storied island of Slotsholmen, in the heart of Copenhagen, stands the Thorvaldsens Museum – distinctive for its egg yolk-coloured exterior, which bears trapezoid-style hallmarks of the antique Egyptian architecture that inspired its design. The museum is dedicated to the work of the Danish neo-classical artist Bertel Thorvaldsen, housing his vast and magnificent oeuvre of 18th and 19th-century sculptures, paintings and sketches, in addition to his own collection of influential art and precious artefacts.
It's here, on a Monday morning so bright that sunlight pierces it's faded blackberry-hued walls and cobalt ceiling (adding an air of decadence to the already stately decor), that Danish fine jeweller Sophie Bille Brahe and her younger brother Frederik have chosen to meet with AnOther. “This is a very special place for us,” explains Sophie. “There are actually several sculptures by Thorvaldsen of our ancestors on display here, so naturally we've always felt connected to the museum,” she adds warmly. “I feel that growing up in the presence of history has been very important,” interjects Frederik. “Exactly, these works have a story and a presence, and I think both Frederik's and my own creative output, although quite different – he works as a chef and me a designer – stems from our love of storytelling,” adds Sophie.
“The pure, classical expressions on show – which are very far from the Nordic minimalism that has come to define the modern Danish design scene – have been influential to my own practice,” reveals Frederik, whose thrillingly simple, beautifully executed cuisine has seen him become one of the most buzzed-about young chefs in Copenhagen. Warmth and an abounding passion for vibrancy, flavour and texture emit from the dishes that he serves in his much-lauded, easy-chic trio of restaurants: Atelier September, Melsted (a pop-up he's commandeered for the summer, loved by locals and holiday-goers alike) and his latest outfit, Havfruen.
“Yeah, I'm excited about it all,” remarks Frederik, with a refreshing modesty that seems to prevail in both siblings. “Especially because, well, Sophie always had more focus than I did growing up. She’s always been an inspiration to me,” he adds. Indeed, watching Sophie’s eponymous fine jewellery line – which deftly positions precious diamonds and pearls in irreverent sculptural settings – flourish into one of the most covetable labels on the luxury market is motivation enough.
Together, it certainly feels as though the influential twosome are knocking the square corners off the capital’s signature sharp-edged modernism, spearheading a return to a softer and altogether more romantic aesthetic. Below, Sophie and Frederik muse about their creative influences, processes and practices, alongside portraits that mirror their playful sensibility.
AnOther: How did your early life inform your artistic development?
Sophie Bille Brahe: Well, we were very lucky in that our school was very free and we were allowed to express ourselves. They were very quick to notice that I wanted to use my hands and my teacher even provided a workshop, which allowed me to work with jewellery.
Frederik Bille Brahe: We lived in quite an affluent area, sort of like Copenhagen’s answer to Hampstead in London, but we both went to a Steiner school and it allowed us to express ourselves.
And have you always had a close relationship?
SBB: I mean we got on as brothers and sisters do when we were younger [laughs], but we have always been very much alike actually…
FBB: …we think the same things at the same time. I think we are both fairly competitive though.
FBB: I think you’ve always absolutely known what you want, have always been keen on showing your own expression. Even when we were having our pictures taken for this article, you knew which side you wanted to stand on, which artwork you wanted to be next to…
Actually, you both did that! And even though your creative practices are different now, do you feel that you both influence each other’s aesthetic?
SBB: Yes. I think we have a very pure sense of each other. I think we know what we like and how we like to approach ideas – and in a city that is very small, like this, it can be very difficult. But, we trust each other’s opinions enough to not care about what everyone else thinks. I feel that Frederik and I support each other because we are much the same in that respect.
FBB: I think we are very lucky actually. I feel that Sophie and I are both predominantly interested in creating an inspiring story and telling it in our own way. That’s not always easy, because we prioritise creativity over commerce. Managing our own businesses has big challenges of its own – but essentially it’s nice for me to watch Sophie make mistakes... [laughs]
I would say you’re not alone. Running a successful business is a completely different train of thought; there are many creative talents who find that challenging...
SBB: It takes a lot of energy and more than half of my time; often I think that it can destroy creativity. It is a difficult balance. When I finished my Masters at the Royal College of Art in London, I never felt that I wanted a job at a major fashion house, I knew I wanted to start my own label.
FBB: Yes, for me it has been crucial that I started my own thing and shared my own story.
SBB: For me, my work is so much based upon emotion and this idea of storytelling, that I can’t understand the motivation to create something that’s purely driven by financial gain.
Yes, and it’s about creating a lifestyle, not just a job.
SBB: To be honest, now I have my three-year-old son to look after too, so I can’t spend all of my time working!
Which is a motivation in itself…
SBB: Yes for me it is – that and of course to be able to tell the Scandinavian story of my craft. Making jewellery is my tool to express my inner life, thoughts and dreams.
FBB: It wasn’t so easy for me. When I was younger I wasn’t able to focus on anything. I always loved communicating with people, I loved going to school actually, but I never studied and I never did my homework. But then, I started cooking and it stuck and I’ve been cooking ever since. Though I didn’t like the atmosphere in the kitchen I trained in, it was very…
FBB: Exactly. When I opened my first restaurant [Atelier September] it was so important to me that I established a more sensitive work culture and a good atmosphere in general. But I suppose my biggest motivation is serving really tasty food with high-quality produce at a price that is affordable for everyone in a space that’s sensitive, open and functional – that’s what I’m working on at the moment.
And Sophie, what are you working on right now?
SBB: I’m working on my latest jewellery collection [Pre S/S17]. You know, it’s actually quite different to the pieces I have created before. It’s more naïve and playful in style, inspired by Josephine Baker – because I wanted to design something that has movement, that makes people feel like dancing. It’s a happy collection!
And are there Baker-style bananas involved?
SBB: Yes [laughs]! Oh, and Conch shells. My son gave me a miniature Conch shell that he had found and I felt very calm while holding and looking at it, so that became an influence too. There are miniature Conch shells with tiny diamonds in them…
I can't wait to see, that sounds very uplifting...
SBB: Yes, that was the intention! I think that we both [gestures to Frederik] find great pleasure in what we do. It's happiness and that's something we should all celebrate.
With special thanks to Daisy Hoppen, and to Sophie and Frederik Bille Brahe.