Cecilie Bahnsen is a Danish designer who’s perfected ruffles, organza, and new femininity. We met her for an interview
Cecilie Bahnsen is a true artist, a craftsman, and a visionary. After graduating from the Danish Design School and completing her MA in Fashion Womenswear at London’s Royal College of Art, she worked for Erdem, John Galliano, and Christian Dior. The winner of the DANSK Design Talent Award in 2016, she was also one of this year’s LVMH Prize finalists.
In her own collections, Cecilie – who is 32 years old and founded her eponymous womenswear label in 2015 – creates light and airy pieces that also appear very sculptural. Always paired either with socks and boots or with sneakers, the looks are powerful, yet vulnerable, and possess a strong poetic voice.
The Danish designer uses traditional techniques like quilting and patchwork to create her contemporary, sophisticated, and easy-to-wear collections. Or, to put it in the designer’s own words: “It’s OK for women to express their femininity in all sorts of ways. Being ‘girly’ or wearing ruffles and bows doesn’t mean you’re frivolous or unsophisticated. Quite the opposite – it shows strong personality and kind of feminine power. I think you can combine girlishness with gravitas to create something really elegant.”
Read our whole interview with the fabulous Cecilie Bahnsen below. Voilà.
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What was it that got you into fashion?
I am not quite sure. I have always been interested in fashion and creating looks. As a kid, I dressed really individually: masculine and feminine mixed in new and playful ways. I guess this was the starting point for me in creating my own personal style – a style that was then refined through art school and lots of work experience in both London and Paris. I think working in Paris was what really got me into high fashion. It was the love for craftsmanship, details, fabrics, and design there really inspired me and developed me as a designer.
Your love of detail and craftsmanship is obvious, yet all your pieces look very airy, lightweight, easy, and artistic at the same time. Does this reflect your approach to design?
I think it is important that the design is something that the customer will love to put on and wear. Even if the embroidery technique, the fabric, or the construction of the garment is complex, it is important that the final look always appears relaxed and effortless. I think a lot about how the fabric and the construction of the garment work together and support the silhouette of the garment in a light and easy way.
What inspires you? Do you find inspiration in everyday life at home, or do you prefer traveling to get inspired?
My studio is based in Copenhagen and this is where I get a lot of my inspiration from. Copenhageners have an effortless style and a relaxed approach to dressing. The main lesson I’ve learned from this is that it’s important to feel good in what you’re wearing – that it doesn’t own you.
And, of course, Denmark has a rich design history. That means there is a real appreciation for craft and detail, as well as a respect for materials that has probably helped Danish design achieve its cult status. But I don’t think so many people remember how provocative some of these classic designs were when they came out. That’s something I find really interesting. We try to reflect our Scandinavian roots in the tight edit of our collections, in the quality of the clothes and their construction, in the stripped-back color palette, and in the way we embrace innovation and combine it with a kind of poeticism.
I also think it is important to travel to gain inspiration and to step away from your habits or traditional ways of designing and develop your process. I’m going to Japan this October, which I am very excited about.
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What was the last movie you saw that made an impact on you?
I always loved Sofia Coppola’s movies and her casts of strong, feminine characters have always inspired me. So my latest fascination is, naturally, her new one: The Beguiled. Once again, she shows such an amazing feminine touch and yet with such dark tones.
Who are your own personal fashion heroes or style icons?
As I said, I always loved the girls in Sofia Coppola’s movies and I have always loved the idea of getting to dress the full cast of girls from, for example, The Virgin Suicides. I think there is such soft power in the girls’ appearances and I love how this becomes stronger and even more defined when they are seen in a group.
That is always part of the way we think when we do the styling for our shows. It is important that each individual look is strong, but it is also important that the looks and the styles support each other so that the whole cast of models looks as strong and coherent as possible.
When asked if a love of beauty is possibly an inherited trait, Lee Radziwill answered: “I think there’s a seed. If you do have it, and have the means to live that way, people who love beauty – we’re a tribe, really.” In regards to this thought, do you feel that you are part of a certain global community or movement? And if yes, how would you describe it?
We’re starting to see the return of a type of unapologetically girly femininity, and I think this is part of a wider cultural shift around the way women look at themselves and value themselves, with new wave feminism having a huge international impact.
I like seeing femininity at the forefront of fashion again – and that it’s OK for women to express their femininity in all sorts of ways. Being “girly” or wearing ruffles and bows doesn’t mean you’re frivolous or unsophisticated. Quite the opposite: It shows a strong personality and a kind of feminine power. I think you can combine girlishness with gravitas to create something really elegant. I like to think that my designs have an unashamed but sophisticated femininity. That is expressed through beautiful, sculptural silhouettes, clever tailoring, delicate embroidery, and detailing.
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Could you explain a little bit about how you develop your collections? What are the driving forces behind them?
I think a defining characteristic of my work is the combination of traditional skill and innovative textile design. I develop new textiles for each collection with manufacturers in Italy and use a lot of traditional techniques like quilting, patchwork, and appliqué. I also like to play with layering transparent and opaque materials to create something that is both modern and alluring. I like playing with simple and feminine silhouettes that work as canvases for delicate embroidery and unexpected fabric combinations, and also emphasize the structure and craftsmanship.
For the SS18 collection, I had a unique opportunity – I knew the show venue, which was Galleri Nicolai Wallner, before we started developing the collection. The beautiful, light rooms and the colors and tones in the art works really defined the colors and the quality of the fabrics in the collection. I also really liked the idea that each piece from the collection could work as an art piece or a beautiful sculpture in itself. That was very much the starting point and the frame of reference for the collection, which is why I think the final look of the collection became so strong.
Why did you choose to be a womenswear designer? And did you ever consider doing menswear?
The silhouette of my designs is, quite often, voluminous and sculptural, which I think lends itself more to the feminine. But I do think that it is always important that the designs have a masculine contrast within them.
Would you ever be interested in creating a unisex collection?
I don’t think so, but I do have this fascination with Edwardian kids’ clothes. I love the proportions and the excessive use of details, so maybe one day a kids’ line where you could really play with details.
Would you be so kind and add a personal illustration for hey woman!? Just a sketch, or a doodle, or a little self-portrait…whatever comes to you.
Thanks a lot, Cecilie!
Nella Beljan is a German cultural journalist and editor with Croatian roots. After studying in London and Bielefeld, she’s lived in Berlin since 2003. After seven years in the city, directly after finishing her double doctorate with a Doctorate in philosophy and Docteur en Lettres, she co-developed Fräulein magazine and was responsible for the style department. Nella is the final editor at Cee Cee. Formerly a German language editor at Freunde von Freunden, she is now working with hey woman!. She also works in concept development, and as a copywriter and translator in corporate publishing, including for Aesop and modissa.