IDA 2017 FASHION DESIGN OF THE YEAR WINNER
Tell us a bit about your background and what led you to the world of design?
I was born on a farm in Denmark and have, since my early childhood, combined creative intuitive skills such as drawing, making, and photography with reading philosophical books by Karen BLixen and Kirkegaard at the age of 13-14. I graduated as top student in math and physics from high school and was initially supposed to study microbiology to specialize in the ethics of cloning. But after a half year sabbatical in France learning French, I realized it would be too theoretical, and started looking for something more creative. Since I had always been interested in the craft of garment making, I found that fashion, or rather clothing design, would be a creative craft that would combine both my scientific and creative side. I therefore moved to Paris at the age of 18 to learn French and improve my sketching skills and ended up assisting Gunnar Larsen, a Danish Fashion Photographer who had his own Avant-garde Luxury Fashion magazine. I became his PA and Stylist collaborator, calling Haute Couture houses to borrow dresses for the photo-shoots we did in the streets of Paris. The contrast was amazing coming from a farm in Jutland to the heart of Paris Fashion circles and the couture houses. Gunnar was my first mentor and from him I learned that it is important to find your own style and stick with it and that you can make amazing dreams come true with a small multitasking team and little funding.
How do you think the Danish mentality shaped your life, your work, and your creative process?
Being Danish I have always been surrounded by design and functionality. Even though we lived on a farm, my parents had a Bang and Olufsen stereo and the schools I attended had Arne Jacobsen lamps and chairs in the classrooms. Nature was always present to play in and so was the local library where I nurtured my intellectual side and creative reading, combining science fiction, literature, philosophy, and books on photography, to nurture and inspire my creative thinking mind. In school we also had art and crafts classes where we would learn how to sew and I was awarded a Pfaff “driving license” faster than most of the other kids in class since I had also learned how to sew at home in the 70’s. I even made my own outfit for my High School graduation – so the idea of becoming a clothing designer was kind of a natural evolution.
You lived and worked in Paris extensively and then moved to London. How did these fashion/design capitals influence your work, what is the most valuable lesson you learned in each place?
After collaborating with Gunnar Larsen for 2 years, I was introduced to the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale and was accepted directly in the 2nd year. I studied the craft of Haute Couture with Mr Marco, a ‘modeliste’ or pattern cutter who had worked for Christobal Balenciage and Pierre Balmain. He taught me the artisan craftsmanship of Haute Couture draping and how to construct and tailor garments. I later also joined the Institut Francais de la Mode and took a Masters in Fashion Management, teaching me how to build a brand and market a collection. After several years of working in Paris I was, at the age of 29, Head of Collections for a huge German luxury brand but didn’t like the ‘old world’ brand ethos and copy-cat creative processes. I knew that to sustain longevity in my future career I had to explore my creativity further with an MA at Central Saint Martins, where course Director Louise Wilson helped me grow personally through very tough and critical mentorship. Studying under her was a bit like the Navy Seals, and particularly hard as a mature student since I had to ‘unlearn’ what I already knew. She was very critical and expected the highest creative and professional standards. Becoming a creative kid again at the age of 29 at Central Saint Martins MA and working with Louise helped me deconstruct what I knew to reconstruct a newfound designer identity that subsequently helped launch my brand in London Fashion Week at the age of 30. I then went on to be part of London Fashion week for 6 years winning multiple London design awards like New Generation and Fashion Forward whilst also being the first London based Designer to win the French ANDAM AWARD with financial support form LVMH Group allowing me to showcase my collection at the Muse de la Mode at the Louvre. I think since then the realm of my professional career has always been an oscillation between London and Paris.
It is very important for everybody, especially in creative fields, to find their own voice, their own unique style and philosophy. When did you find yours, and how would you describe it?
Gunnar Larsen told me it was important to be part of the avant-garde, to become one of the forward thinking visionary creators. So I knew I needed to define a new identity when studying under Louise Wilson at Central Saint Martins. I therefore started to research what would be in fashion ‘after deconstruction’ and found my inspiration not only in the Fashion legacy of Rei Kawabuko and Martin Margiela but also in architecture, where I became fascinated with the ideas of hybridization of Dutch architect duo Ben van Berkel and Caroline Boos from UNSTUDIO. The pivotal turning point was when I almost left the course out of desperation and started to work on a YSL smoking jacket I had found in a Paris flea market. This was at first a bit embarrassing, but then I finally started to get positive feedback from tutors since they felt I had re-found the tailoring craftsmanship that made me different from other students. During the beginning of my second year, the crash of 9/11 inspired me to see a vision that this event would mark the end of 20th century modernism as we knew it and mark the beginning of the paradigm shift to the 21st century. I saw this ‘Ground Zero’ as the place where you would start, like kids, to pick up the Lego blocks again to build something new, different from the old. During these experiences and creative processes I defined a personal design philosophy named Hybrid Reconstruction that was about combining fragments of different garments into new creative hybrids. This design philosophy became, and still is, the core ethos of my design practice and has also been able to influence a new generation of young design thinkers through my teaching both in Paris and London.
Your fashion house is known for “honing a new vocabulary of fashion” with a new perception of the 21st century woman. What does that really mean according to you?
When I talk about the 21st century I often describe it as “metamodern”, as defined by Dutch theorist Thimotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker. Where Modernism made us live in the white box disregarding the past, Metamodernism allows us to reconcile a certain nostalgia of the past – something that has always been part of my research, like me loving to find vintage garments in the flea markets – informed by a utopian desire for the future. I try to put that feeling into the garments that are not generic but more subtle hybrids, taking a small element from a 19th century men’s tuxedo shirt and putting it onto a casual sweatshirt hoodie thus making it into a shirt/sweatshirt. I think 21st century youth are very open to new ideas of change and also more interested in garment design than fashion that is more about surface communication. The people I like to dress have many facets, mixed ethnics, cultures and origins; they can be young, old, intellectual, working, or more artsy. They are interconnected, borderless and not defined by gender or cultural belonging and prefer to be regarded as humans mixing various elements, garments and styles in a democratic, metamodern manner.
Tell us a bit about your workflow. Where do you get your inspiration and ideas from; what are the most important factors you take into account when bringing a project to success?
As a true believer in metamodernism I love to find objects and garments from the past that have been designed with a specific role, garment construction and utility in mind, and then take these garments apart to reconstruct and reuse certain elements in unexpected places. I am interested in the hybrid design process and love combining different elements into new hybrids. It often starts with generic garments like the tuxedo jacket, the shirt, the sweatshirt and t-shirt that I combine to new cross breads of garments. The sweatshirt gets small details from a shirt and becomes a swear-shirt-t-shirt, while the t-shirt gets a detail from the shirt to become a shirt-t-shirt, creating new subtle hybrids. The possibilities of this hybridization process are endless and liberate the creative process for me.
How would you characterize your winning project? What is the main idea behind it, and why do you think it deserved the recognition?
The winning project was actually my re-launch as an independent designer after a 10 year absence, having consulted for big corporate companies like Calvin Klein and LG Corp. electronics in South Korea as creative director for one of their luxury brands. I always design in trilogies, so when starting the 13th collection I named it HYRECON as an abbreviation for Hybrid Reconstruction and knew that instead of searching for the new, I wanted to redefine my vocabulary to a new time and audience. Lots of the buyers and press I knew at the time have moved on and I almost needed to launch as a new brand. I think since I had not done a personal collection for 10 years the project was very dense and inspired by revisiting the design vocabulary of the past and updating it to a new design consumer and her need for a 21st century versatile wardrobe. Many people say it is very Jens but a new version. And some of my key stockists of the past are today very interested in the JENS 2.0 updated DNA, vocabulary and brand collaboration with, for instance, Danish Heritage knit brand S.N.S. HERNING
What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities in the fashion/design world today?
There is so much competition, and with the new social media climate the evolution of ideas and trends goes so much faster. It is also easier to follow the energy of trends and the ideas of others. It is a bit like a chaotic inferno where brands are being whirled around by all these new digital communication tools and sales channels. The world is asking for new designers and ideas all the time and the stores are buying smaller orders and take more time to consider new brands. There are also so many fashion weeks and fashion designers showing collections so competition is very intense. I think most important in this chaos is to stick to your guns and really find your identity and develop it without looking at other brands. This is the way to connect to younger 21st century customers through more accessible products and brand collaborations. In this time, it is more important than ever for designers to find their inner core voice and develop that from the inside, instead of doing it from the outside. But when working on my re-launch, I have also discovered something I call ‘fluid branding’ while making an animated version of my logos, and realizing that modernity is about not being static and that a brand logo can have many shapes within its contextual surroundings and not be static like in the past.
What are you working on now, what is in the pipeline for you?
My re-launch has been made possible with the support of the DANISH ARTS FOUNDATION who, for the second year in a row, has given me work grants to pursue my avant-garde ideas. With their important support I have just presented the second yearly installment of the HYRECON TRILOGY and AW19 collection alongside the film collaboration with RE-EDITION magazine that I have presented not only in Copenhagen but also in Paris and London fashion weeks. I am grateful for their support in winning the IDA AWARD and really feel the film collaborations are a great metamodern way for me to get my design thinking and visual ideas out to a wider audience. I am therefore also proposing stores to do film screenings in their gallery spaces. Through these productions I have also found a very special collaboration with Maxim Young, a film editor who worked on many of the films I did in the past, and through our collaboration I have discovered how film editing allows me to visualize the hybrid design thinking in a ‘Lego block’ kind of way. Together we have worked on many spinoffs from the main films that then inspire future creative ventures finding their way into next season’s digital invitation or t-shirt designs. I am currently also working on a new exciting fashion performance project for next season and look forward to do more art installations and see how my love for video art and philosophy can become not only visual art but also product design for living. Education, mentoring and transmission of ideas to the next generation is also very important to me and am currently also working on a new emerging designer studio platform with ARTSTHREAD in London where we will support the best emerging designers and help them become success stories in their own right.
What is your ultimate goal? If you had to dream big, what would you wish for yourself and your career?
My dream would be to find the right visionary business partners in Finance, production, and distribution and put all my experiences and vision into designing not just a great collection but a true 21st century metamodern design house, oscillating somewhere between a hybrid design studio and an analogue / digital editing house and gallery store with both an online and offline presence. To me, modern brand structures are neither linear nor hierarchical but more multidirectional and democratic. That is why I talk about an atomic brand structure that is opposed to the traditional pyramidal luxury model where brands evolved from the high concept to low diffusion on the streets. I see this new brand as a three-dimensional model, as an inclusive fluid organic structure where the high content core concept would be in the center with different layers of more or less diluted product capsule collections and brand collaborations circling around the concept core, rather like neutrons and other atomic particles.