RHANDERS has moved to a new historic home, after 93 years at its previous address.
As per tradition, new owners of the company move the glove atelier to a new fresh home. So when the fifth family since 1811 took over the company in 2019, they went in search for a new home. They found a home to match the heritage, craftsmanship and legend of the brand: a carefully renovated train station built in 1905 by chief architect Heinrich Wenck in the solid and charming “national romantic” style.
The company's 200-year-old gloves boxes, glove-making tables and machines fit in perfectly by the grand arches, stone walls and classic Danish architectural features.
“It’s a dream come true” says owner Rina Hansen, “we can evolve the 'Made in Denmark' craftsmanship and, in time, open the doors and welcome people for guided tours and storytelling”.
The esteemed Cubicle team followed closely the move, and have release the beautiful feature in their book:
A Closer Look, from Cubicle vol.2:
THE RHANDERS FACTORY
It is said that Marie Antoinette, the spoilt-rotten final queen of France, wore gloves only from Randers, because they were the softest in the world. To us this sounds like all the excuse we need to pull on a pair and reach for the brioche. Randers Handsker was established in 1811, run by the same family for 90 years, and is proud purveyor of gloves to the Danish royal family, as well as the Danish Queen’s Guard and Royal Danish Ballet. Look closely and you might even spy them covering the hands in MI5, the FBI, the Royal Danish Navy - and others whose names we promised not to reveal.
In friendship with RHANDERS words Anna Holmfeld photography Shini Park & Simon Schmidt
It is early in the morning when I start my journey. I catch the fast train, winding through Denmark’s manicured fields and feral forests. We whizz beneath the white arcs of that bridge, now known as a monument to Scandi noir, and continue further into what Copenhageners call “det mørke Jylland”. The darkness. Jutland. Locals, unsurprisingly, call this the heartland. Several hours and as many coffees later, I step off the train in the small town of Randers. Crips spring sunlight welcomes me to the best-kept open secret of Danish design: Randers Handsker.
Randers Handsker is in its 210th year, and reigns as the world’s oldest glove-making factory. Moving into their new abode in 2020, they are now housed in a converted train station and National Heritage site, a miniature replica of Copenhagen Central station from 1905, which has been completely refurbished over the past decade to reveal magic sparkling beneath a veneer of normality. Ticket booths transform into display areas where each pair of gloves seems like a oass to another era, and old signage calls out across time in the moat welcoming way. As the afternoon sun streams into the space greeting the red brick walls, I feel like I’ve just stepped onto platform 9 ¾ and entered an enchanting past-present continuum. There’s warmth, care and attention in the air, and I have a hunch it’s no coincidence that my laptop kept autocorrecting glove to love as I typed up my notes on the train. Today, my guide though this luxurious labyrinth - with occasional dizzying time travel - is the new CEO and owner, Rina Hansen, who has patiently wooed the business into her own hands.
It took three years of monthly meetings with the previous owner, Mr Arne Vejrum, to convince him to let someone else take over the business. This is not terribly surprising, because we Danes know that in Jutland they are very good at kunsten at skyde sig langsomt (the art of hurrying slowly) in order to få sjælen med (bring your soul with you (ie: feel whole)).
There is a strange beauty to the steel and the wood. Arne Vejrum, still playing a major role in the day-to-day running of the place, agrees: “Tools are incredibly beautiful. They take the shape of the hands that have used them.”
We step inside the workrooms, where I am greeted by the sweet, earthy scent of new leather. The space is kept in perpetual soft shade, with gentle white blinds covering the windows in order to protect the leather from sunlight. (Fun fact: this is why glove compartments were invented, to prevent gloves from roasting in the sun on car dashboards.) Glove templates, cutters, presses and holders decorate the rooms, and seem to wave us through. Other tools - scissors, knives and ones I have no name for - are lined up on the workbenches. There is a strange beauty to the steel and the wood. Arne Vejrum, still playing a major role in the day-to-day running of the place, agrees: “Tools are incredibly beautiful. They take the shape of the hands that have used them.” Just like gloves. We both pause, appreciating the love and craft these tools are now made of.
Next, I am guided to the warehouse, where I am set free to explore. I peek into box after box. Each one is a decadent time machine, a delicious invitation to imagine yourself in another era. Every glove ever made that never found a new home is still boxed, here at the warehouse; each decade since the 1930s lives happily alongside our 10s.
Rina calls me into another room. She opens an inconspicuous drawer and pulls out hand-drawn sketchbooks of collections dating back to the 1940s. We carefully leaf through the designs, each one accompanied by meticulously detailed information in delicate cursive script. Kirsten, the seamstress, brings us an example of one of the designs from 1969. While we are looking at the pale grey lambskin gloves with intricate floral detailing, we spy a faint 12 stamped on the inside. I ask what it means, and Rina explains that all glovers had an ID number so, in the unlined gloves, you can read whose hands cut them.
Gloving is a journeyman trade, Rina says, and during the 1930s, before World War II, many Italian, German and French glovers came to Randers for work. One such glover was Herr Balhausen, our number 12, who arrived auf der Walz (waltzing, literally, but means “as a journeyman”) and got his heart stolen by a local seamstress. He intended to stay - but war came, and he was conscripted by the Nazi Wehrmacht to serve on the Russian Front. War ended, and Herr Balhausen was miraculously still alive - but stuck in Russia with nothing but the clothes on his back. So began the journeyman’s journey home, as he travelled by foot from Russia to Randers, where he was reunited with his beloved seamstress. (Years later he would admit to a few bike rides along the way, when he got impatient).
Glove leather is different from other types of leather in that it has to be thin, soft, stretchy yet durable. If your glove fits well, you should be able to put your hand in your pocket and take out a small coin.
Back in the day, the cutters (only men) and seamstresses (only women) worked in separate rooms. Whistling after seamstresses was forbidden so the glovers made their appreciation known by making their knives whistle…
Rina closes the book, and I return from the 1940s with a jolt. Today, although it is somewhat endangered, craftmanship such as Herr Balhausen’s is still central to glove making. The last cutter in Denmark was educated at Randers ten years ago. Gloves making was always taught through vocational apprenticeships, and currently no recognised training is in place anywhere in Denmark.
Balancing heritage and modern sensibilities is writ large in the next chapter for this brand. On one hand (aha!) you have the classic Randers back collection of 340 designs, of which a core 77 are on sale, featuring no new designs, no seasonal changes, which suggests that gloves will be gloves will be gloves. In contrast, reveals Rina, the Rhanders millennial collection will offer 12 to 15 new styles, varying from season to season. I can’t wait to try some on.
As I get ready to leave, I notice one of the seamstresses repairing a glove. “Oh yes, gloves can last a lifetime,” she says. “We repair everything. You just have to go into the shop and request it.”
“A lifetime?!” I laugh. “I lose gloves at least once a year. How can anyone keep them for a lifetime?”
She gives me a puzzled look. “Actually, Arne was just making a mate - a mission glove - last month for a gentleman who had lost one of his gloves. They had been a wedding gift from his wife 40 years ago. She had recently passed away, and he found the single glove and decided he wanted it to have his mate back so he could wear them again. So we made one.”
Remember what I said about the warmth of (g)love making? I think it’s true.