About Town With: Kristian Haagen

By A Collected Man

For the second instalment of About Town, we boarded a plane to Copenhagen to be shown the town by Kristian Haagen. The author, photographer, journalist and all round watch-obsessive found his feet in advertising at a young age, only to realise a career in the watch space was more fitting. Having now published several books on the subject, we could think of no one more fitting to recommend a few Danish must-visit locations.   

  

Where did it all begin for you professionally speaking?

Two days after I graduated from the Gymnasium, I moved to London and took an apprenticeship with an advertising agency. London being London, I couldn’t afford anything and after two years, the agency closed down...

 

Oh dear…

Yeah, I came back to Denmark, the place I thought I would never return to after having planted the flag in London. There was all sorts of economic things going on in the UK at the time, so I just had to move back. I got a job at a Texas saloon bar…

 

[Laughs] In Denmark? 

Yeah, right here in Copenhagen.

 

Why did you come back to Copenhagen?

Well I was completely out of money and there was a heavy recession. As a fresh fish in the advertising world, it would have been a stretch for me to get another job in London. I thought maybe I could go back to Copenhagen and get a good job there instead.

 

And did that work?

Well, at first I was doing the odd logo for a bar or a nightclub and I’d be paid in booze, but I’m fortunate in that I’ve always had a very large network of people around me, which I learned from my parents…

 

They helped you out?

Yeah, a friend of my brother called up and said, “Hey Kristian, you should go see this agency, I think they have a job for you,” so I packed my portfolio and off I went. I arrived at the agency in the middle of Copenhagen and asked them what kinds of clients they had, because you know, the internet and websites wasn’t really a thing back then.

 

Right, the old days…

It turned out all of their clients were in the porn industry…

 

[Laughs] Wow…

Yeah, so there I am showing all these beautiful print ads for campaigns with graphic design and all sorts and they’re saying, “Yeah, we need someone to do layouts for porn magazines.”

 

Did you take the job?

I did, yes [laughs].

 

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You ended up working in advertising for quite a while after that didn’t you?

Yeah, I went to the Danish Advertising School and after graduating you find a sponsor, which is usually one of the big agencies to continue studying. I spoke with TBWA and they said, “You’re too good to go back to school, why on earth would you do that, do you want a job right now?”

 

Wow, now that’s an offer…

I had rent to pay, so I was more than happy to accept. I thought, “These guys want to work with me, so why not get a bit demanding.”

 

Uh oh… what did you demand? 

[Laughs] I said that I only wanted to work with them if they would move me to Venice Beach to work for their branch out there. They said, “We can do that,” so I said, “Great, let’s do it.” I’m big into Charles Bukowski, so I rented a bike and stayed in this god awful place. I was living the dream in my eyes.

 

 

"I said that I only wanted to work with them if they would move me to Venice Beach to work for their branch out there."

 

 

When did watches come into the picture?

It was 2005 that I realised I wanted to do something in watches professionally, but I had already published a book about them in 2002. I don’t remember the title right now though… [laughs]

 

[Laughs] Useful…

It was actually a publishing house that contacted me about it because they had spoken to a bunch of people and they had all suggested working with me on it. I was very involved and opinionated with the forums early on, so I suppose I had built a little bit of a reputation. It was around that time that I started taking pictures of my collection, which I really enjoyed, so it was a logical thing to do.

 

Instagram obviously became quite instrumental to that as well right?

Yeah, in 2012 I signed up and posted my first picture, and that lead to brands taking notice, sending invites to events and things. I think the first thing I posted was a picture of a rose gold Patek Philippe Nautilus, a beautiful watch. It grew very quickly, which was amazing.

 

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Let’s talk about Copenhagen, the subject for our interview. Why is it always at the top of everyone’s list of the best place to live?

I think that anyone who writes that, must have the worst life and live in the most terrible bum hole of the world [Laughs]! No, Copenhagen is nice, we are a tiny country of 5.5 million people and 1 million of those live in the city. People who come here probably say it’s the best because by comparison to LA, Moscow or Tokyo, where everything is very brutal and noisy, we are very quiet and quaint. We have that perfect balance, you know, we have a perfect amount of supercool restaurants, the perfect amount of traffic, the perfect amount of nightclubs, the perfect amount of long legged blondes…

 

[Laughs] So, you’ve grown to appreciate it more as you’ve aged?

No, not really. Springtime in Denmark is amazing, but it’s usually just one day and then it’s raining again.

 

Not a million miles away from the ‘great’ British weather. So, what’s the first stop you’ve arranged for us to see… 

Each morning must begin with coffee. This place is called The Bread Station and it’s about 100 metres from my house. It’s actually right by the train station, which is quite handy if I’m not on my bike or in the car, because I grab a coffee and hop on the train to my office.

 

 

"Everything is so transparent and honest, it’s really rustic and their produce, above all else, is exceptional."

 

 

 

And they have a pretty spectacular bakery in there too…

Absolutely, it’s an open bakery which I just love. Everything is so transparent and honest, it’s really rustic and their produce, above all else, is exceptional.

 

This forms the first part of your daily routine then?

Yeah, this is my morning ritual. There are two places I flip flop between, but The Bread Station is definitely my favourite.

 

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It has that classic bakery smell and feel, very traditional…

Exactly. They have these Danish bread cheese rolls which I could just eat all day. Freshly baked rolls and Danish cheese, yeah, you’ve got me.

 

Are they a single location place?

Yeah, it’s not a chain, just this one location. None of that big conglomerate nonsense.

 

 

"I definitely like print. I like the eternity of it more than anything"

 

 

On a slight tangent, you seem to be quite taken with processes and how things are done, is this why you enjoy books and printed-matter so much?

I definitely like print. I like the eternity of it more than anything, because if you print a book in Denmark, at least one copy will exist in the Royal library forever. I remember after my first book, a French collector friend told me, “Hey, now you’re going to live forever.”

 

That’s quite a nice way of looking at it… 

Unless the place burns down [laughs]. Having been brought up in the old-school way of advertising, print just rules.

 

You presumably have a big collection of books…

Yeah, I have a lot of books in the house. There’s something about physically turning a page that offers so much. I really enjoy reading, and in fact, my father was an artist, so he would be making these beautiful paintings on paper.

 

Do you think the physicality of it makes people concentrate on the content more? 

You know what, I think sadly people may enjoy content more on social media, here today, gone tomorrow. I still get emails almost daily from people who have just gotten into watches asking where they can buy the books, but they’re all long sold out. One of my books sold-out in a single month, proving I’m not the only one who likes print.

 

 

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Next up, we have a store for the refined yet rugged gentleman…

Yes, Brund. I tend to be the Barbour jacket and Red Wing shoe kind of guy; I guess it’s kind of the rural countryside workwear look. I’ve been dressing this way for 20 or 30 years now, that’s my outfit, cargo pants, Barbour Jacket, Red Wing boots; if you see me, this is what I will be wearing.

 

It’s a sort of English meets American kind of look…

[Laughs] Yeah, American workwear meets British countryside.

 

What is it about this kind of clothing that appeals to you?

Having been raised in the countryside, you had to be properly dressed for anything that nature could throw at you. Our next door neighbour was the forest and when I had to go to school, off I went on my mountain bike through the mud.

 

That makes sense now…

I mean, I can’t be dressed in a white shirt and pants, can I?

 

Absolutely not…

I also assisted a veterinarian two days a week, and you wouldn’t want to have your floral pants on there. I would wear military gear to that job.

 

You presumably were working on the land too?

Yeah, I would go to clean out the stables and horses would be kicking you in the belly while you’re cleaning up after them.

 

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That’s nice of them…

I loved my life like that, and I think you will always go back to times that you’ve enjoyed in some way. The same applies to watches, I think.

 

How so?

Well, all the watches I collect these days were the dream watches when I was a kid.

 

Given that you’re so practical in your dress sense, does that influence your watch selection?

I’d say to an extent. I was once asked by a Swiss journalist about the way I dress and I explained to her that I dress like a Swiss army knife [laughs]. I always carry my passport too in case I need to go somewhere last minute, and my clothes could last me a couple of days at least.

 

Prepared for anything…

Prepared for the zombie apocalypse, that’s why I drive a Volvo…

 

Ok…

That car can handle it. Bring the zombies on I say.

 

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Which Red Wing boot are you particularly persuaded by?

The 875 to me is just the epitome of a boot, you can wear it in the summer, the winter or fall, it doesn’t matter.

 

As a brand they have quite good policies with repairing them right?

Yeah, you can have them resoled no problem and they can last a lifetime. I like that you can date them too, because on the flap of the pair I’m wearing today, I can tell that these are 21 years old.

 

Wow, and you have quite a collection of these…

Well, I’ve sold a lot of them but I have 41 pairs of boots…

 

[Laughs] That’s quite a few…

It’s a bit crazy, but I treat my feet well.

 

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You look after your wrist too, is your choice of watch as practical as what you choose for your feet?

Partly, yes. Patek Philippe, was one of the first brands that I noticed because of an advertisement I saw in a 1976 issue of National Geographic. That advert was for the Nautilus which had a huge sword on it, and when you’re six years old a sword is always impressive. I wanted to grow up and be a knight.

 

An avid reader of the National Geographic pondering Patek Philippe adverts at the age of six… 

That was my kind of media when I was a kid. When you were a kid around my parts, you had to be good at three things: football, petty crime and street fighting [laughs].

 

[Laughs] Right… and were you any good?

I sucked at all three. My family had a mountain of National Geographic magazines and I was spellbound by these crazy explorers climbing mountains, putting out wild fires in the Middle East or sailing the world and I realised something; they were all wearing watches.

 

So that’s what got you interested… 

For sure, seeing the watch adverts alongside these editorials with explorers wearing the watches, these hard-core men that I admired so much, it had an enormous impact on me.

 

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Next up, we have an unusual place to stay in Copenhagen…

Yes, my neighbour on the docks. This hotel (Thekrane) sits in my favourite area of Copenhagen, Nordhavnen which is a fishery harbour.

 

What is it that you like about it so much? 

That was the location of my first advertising gig and there’s something about the ruggedness of it that appeals. I’ve always liked industrial areas because I’m always curious about what might be going on behind these huge walls.

 

 

"The guy who built the hotel is an architect and he goes for quality over all."

 

 

The structure for the hotel…

An industrial crane. The guy who built the hotel is an architect and he goes for quality over all. He only builds with the best possible materials he can find, for example, the black paint on the floor inside is a paint which is made by one manufacturer in the world and is a very specific colour of black.

 

No corner-cutting then… 

None whatsoever. You stay in there and you just have the most wonderful view imaginable and on a sunny day you can see the shores of Sweden. The experience of staying there is like a wonderful contradiction because you’re in immense and intimate luxury, but you’re in a crane. It’s hilarious.

 

Is this potentially a metaphor for yourself and your watch collecting choices, rugged exterior with luxury tied in…

[Laughs] That’s a good question. I don’t know, maybe.

 

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Lastly, let’s talk about wine…

[Laughs] Ok.

 

You’re a big fan of wine and visit one store in particular for all of your wine, right? 

Yeah, a shop called Theis. I’m a fan of wine, but I don’t know anything about it except the fact that I really like drinking it.

 

[Laughs] Got it…

I always feel like a dick when I talk to people about wine because I have no knowledge, absolutely none, but I like to drink nice tasting wine and make memories with people. On my travels, I’m fortunate to taste all sorts, but these guys at the store have gotten an understanding of the types of flavour profiles I like and recommend things.

 

That’s quite a useful and personal service…

Definitely, they’ll suggest I try this or that and they’re usually right. They’re also aware that I’m not going to spend crazy money on wine [laughs], so I end up going home with good inexpensive wine. When I visit, I always come home with boxes of the stuff.

 

As we’ve seen…

[Laughs] Yeah, exactly.

 

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This is another local place to you, correct? 

It is, yes. I like to support local and independent places as much as I can, I really enjoy that. When I’m off on the road for some days, it’s nice to come home and visit the local places, stocking up on wine for your cellar, or going for a nice coffee, spending those extra ten minutes of so to really enjoy things.

 

A more calm pace of life… 

Yeah, these places feel like home. I’m sure if I lived right in the centre of Copenhagen, I would have my favourites there too. You asked me earlier if I have grown to appreciate Copenhagen more, and I think the reason I said I haven’t is because I just haven’t explored if enough since I moved out of the middle of it.

 

On a final note, what can we expect from you in the coming months?

Well, I’m turning 50 next year and I promised myself that I would have had ten books published by that age.

 

How many shy are you?

The next one will be number eight.

 

You’ve got some work to do then…

Yes sir, absolutely. I don’t have a lot of time on my hands though, so I’ll have to pull up the bootstraps and get that all together. One other thing I’m working on, with a company that I invested in, is a physical product which is related to watches. I can’t reveal what that is yet, but I really think it’s something brilliant that people will enjoy.

 

Curious…

And it’s not a Daniel Wellington style watch [laughs].

 

Mentioned in the interview:

The Bread Station
Brund
THEKRANE
Theis Vine 

You can follow Kristian on instagram or visit his website to find out more.



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