This week, Cecilie Bahnsen – the woman behind some of the fashion world’s most beloved dresses – presented her latest collection at Paris Fashion Week. The designer, like many others this season, chose not to stage a catwalk show, and instead explored another creative outlet to present her new designs, hosting an exhibition in the French capital, where she has put on display a sound installation, a photo exhibition and a film.
“We decided not to do a runway show,” Bahnsen tells me. “We wanted to make the most of these strange times, a moment which is allowing everybody the opportunity to think outside the box.”
With the house’s first official Paris Fashion Week catwalk show now scheduled to take place in March, Bahnsen chose this season to instead acknowledge togetherness and pay tribute to the artists who she feels lucky enough to have worked so closely with.
“I wanted this season to be about a celebration of collaborations,” she says. “From the music to the photography, I felt this would bring a real purity and honesty into the collection – and it’s nice to embrace another format, to look at the collection in another way, but also to bring people into our universe and add their touch to it. They have taught me so much.”
Bahnsen has teamed up with Norwegian-born, Berlin-based singer Kaya Wilkins (also known as Okay Kaya) on a performance film which is being shown as part of the installation. She has also worked with Japanese photographer Takashi Homma, who shot the new collection on models walking around the streets of Tokyo. Having the opportunity to bring the collection to life in this unique way clearly means a lot to Bahnsen, who says that she really struggled with the isolation and lack of creativity forced upon us all during lockdown.
“Being out of the studio was for me the toughest time of the pandemic. Having the chance to be able to work with my team and to have the fabrics in my hand is what gives me inspiration, this is where the ideas happen. It feels so exciting to be able to do this again.”
It is exactly this which became the focus of and the inspiration for the spring collection – an ode to “the beauty of everyday”.
“We have all had to stay put the past few years, and I have been so touched by the people I have around me now so I really wanted the collection to be all about appreciating the everyday,” she says.
Part of this comes about in the joyful colour palette, but also when you look at some of the details. The floral print, for example, has been made with pressed flowers. “It’s about how you can preserve something in time and save a moment forever. This is the message I wanted to get across in the collection, the film and the installation.”
Celebrating this beauty in the everyday is also about how the clothes can be worn. Coming out of lockdown for many of us has meant dressing up more than we ever have before, and no longer needing a reason to wear those special-occasion pieces. As a woman who designs some of the most beautiful dresses around, many which would be appropriate for the most celebratory and glamorous of functions, Bahnsen loves the idea of dressing up for no reason at all and seeing her dresses “all tucked up on one side” when worn by girls riding bikes around Copenhagen.
“I really think people want to be themselves more than ever,” she says. “Yes, they could put one of our dresses on and wear it to a party, but they are not just for these occasions, they are also just for the enjoyment of life, for dressing up every single day. This is what inspires me. It is dressing up just for living.”
Seeing this take place first hand is what keeps Bahnsen loving what she does. “I still think it is the biggest compliment to see a woman on the street wearing my designs – to see it being lived in and loved.”
She has also been touched to see how her dresses have been shared by family members which span generations, where a grandmother and granddaughter can wear the exact same dress, which they style in different ways, each making it their own.
It is this individuality that Bahnsen tries to bring to each and every design. She says she wants the wearer to feel comfortable, for the “woman to shine through the dress” – she aims to make her customer feel beautiful and confident, and she clearly succeeds. Having grown an incredibly strong fan base, she was invited to join the prestigious Paris Fashion Week calendar just a few years ago, and this season, will expand into footwear, while the collection also features outerwear and handbag collaborations. It is a big next step for the label, and, although this success is great news, Bahnsen is approaching it cautiously.
“I think the big challenge for the brand, as it grows, is to stay true to what we are and to stick to the design DNA, and not get pushed into anything else. I want to keep building this universe and push and challenge myself, but I need to stay true to how big the brand can go to still feel like us. There is a real balance that we have to get right.”
Find her footing in a bigger, more international space will certainly be a test, but Bahnsen appears to be entirely focussed on, and completely in love with, the unique creative process that has made her the name she is today. Spring/summer 2021 is the most practiced and technically refined collection she has ever presented, it is one which builds upon everything that has come before it – “instead of abandoning what you’ve done in the past, why not cherish it?” – and it celebrates the craft and creativity that nobody does quite like her. For that reason, we can't wait to watch the Cecilie Bahnsen universe grow.
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