Cecilie Bahnsen – Her Universe

Words:
April Wan

The modern-day princess dress is how most of us were introduced to Cecilie Bahnsen. The brand has evolved without losing its signature voluminous silhouettes and sweet sugary palettes as the years go by. Bahnsen’s mastery of her brand isn’t an overnight success, as she’s been trained by some of the industry’s leading universities and designers. While studying for her BA in Copenhagen, she met Anya Vang Kragh, who took her under her wing to design for the Royal Danish Ballet and also introduced her to the likes of Galliano. Bahnsen describes the experience as dreamy – being able to create costumes under the same roof as the ballerinas, with the inspiration being right in front of her eyes. After debuting in Paris Fashion Week in 2022, Bahnsen still takes references from her home, Copenhagen, where her brand found its voice. She takes inspiration from her team and how they incorporate the collection into everyday life. For example, they wear the pieces while biking to and from work, further exemplifying their concept “that nothing is too precious to wear for a Monday.” Bahnsen shares her signature way of styling her dresses – with jeans underneath, an oversized jacket and cool sneakers. Bonus points if it’s paired with sneakers from her collaborations with Asics! We sat down through a video call and discussed the preparations for her upcoming show at Copenhagen Fashion Week in partnership with Brodie Sessions. Brodie, the “sleepy English Bulldog,” lives in a beautiful home in Copenhagen alongside his human, Birgit Lyngbye Pedersen. The home is used as a platform supporting Danish artists, and for Copenhagen Fashion Week, they’ll be working alongside Cecilie Bahnsens’ collection with French artist Suki performing. As for the future, we should expect more of the brand to make waves in uncharted waters. Banhsen expresses her desire to expand the brand’s universe and be known for more than her fabulous dresses. We’ve seen this through the brand’s expansion by incorporating denim and knitwear without losing its codes of femininity. Whatever you’ve got up your puffy sleeves Cecilie, we’re here for it!

  1. April Wan: The brand is doing something different this year by collaborating with Brodie Session for Copenhagen Fashion Week. Can you share how this came together?
    Cecilie Bahnsen: It’s such an intimate space; Birgit owns the space and opens up her house for Brodie’s sessions. A Japanese artist designed the home in a lovely place in Copenhagen. The concert happens in the centre of the home, and the crowd can stand on different floors and enjoy. Everything at the music sessions is shot on film, so it feels authentic. The first time I went to a session was for the Swan Lee concert – I was like, whoa. It felt as electric as a show where the magic is happening behind the scenes, but here it’s shown up front, and nothing is hidden. We wanted to challenge ourselves by creating something that couldn’t be fine-tuned or altered afterwards.
    AW: Before debuting at Paris Fashion Week in 2022, you showed your collections in Copenhagen, where the brand “found its voice.” Do you still take references for your collections there?
    CB: Copenhagen is the brand’s home and headquarters, where we design. But also, so much of the inspiration is from here, from how the team wears the collection and lives in it and then puts it on when they’re going on their bike. It’s playing on our concept that nothing is too precious to wear for a Monday, tied together with effortlessness. There is a massive amount of support for me here as well. There are so many different takes on what Danish fashion is. We’ll be showing on the same day as Saks and Potts, so it’s very nice because all the brands support each other. For example, we’ll share transport afterwards because you want to ensure the people attending your show will also make it to theirs. You know fashion week is happening because everyone is supporting each other. You couldn’t pull it off alone, and I think the sense of teamwork is lovely.

     

AW: You designed costumes for the Royal Danish Ballet with Anja Vang Kragh – do you feel like that set the tone for your brand vision in correlation with the silhouettes created?
CB: It was a dream world. Eventually, she introduced me to John Galliano, where she had also worked. My BA education at the Danish Design School was so functional and minimalistic, and suddenly it opened up to this world of dreams and universe and details, and everything was over the top because you had to see the movement from far away. I got drawn to the craftsmanship, but also the beauty, the femininity, the romance of that, and then kind of, how could you bring that back to what also was my heritage and combine those two worlds? How she took me under her wing will always be very special. Anya introduced me to another way of thinking about style and fashion. It’s so amazing also because the costume department is in the Royal Theater, and then you have the dancers below, so you have them, everything is under the same roof, and it’s pretty magical. So the inspiration is right there in front of you. Right.
AW: How does your family inspire you?
CB: My mom was a model with this most incredible, bold style. It was before it was a career to be a model in Denmark. But she had this bright red hair, and every photo I find of her is her style, and her imagination and playfulness with that was extraordinary. I think about the romance that my dad talks about. He went on a date with her, and when he woke up the following day, he knew there was no way for him to avoid this kind of romance. I love the whole story they have together in it as well.
AW: What does a perfect transitional day-to-night outfit look like for you?
CB: Oh, that’s hard. One of the girls in the studio said, “You nearly dress up more on a Monday or every day than when we go out. So I like wearing the collection and the dresses, depending on my mood, I might put out a big orange dress because I’m very cheerful or because I want to pick myself up, which will help me do that. Or I only wear trainers, so whether it’s night or day will also be that. So it’s much for me about a mood thing, and it’s also about playing a little bit with what people expect. So I find it very special when picking up my son in a big poofy dress, and you suddenly have five girls going like, “Whoa,” in the playground. That’s comforting; it’s adorable. Or them complimenting on something, really just living in it and having it at the moment, whether it is for an occasion or not, that is what is unique about wearing the collection.
AW: You spoke about making sure your designs were “not too precious”— with voluminous garments accompanied by sugary colours. What are some elements you like to bring in to achieve that vision?
CB:Yeah. That’s also why the launch with Asics has been so exciting because we’ve been talking about this for so long. It’s always been this very effortless way of wearing the collection, and you get that comfort, the everyday element of it. Coincidentally, it translates into Paris Fashion Week, the way we did the show outdoors, and the weather is whatever it decides to be. There’s beauty in adapting to the moment you are in and purely enjoying and living in that moment. I also like adding different elements and taking Cecilie Bahnsen from being a dress brand to new possibilities. We’ve added denim now, which is how I wear the dresses. I wear dresses with jeans under and an oversized jacket over the top. So you constantly have this masculine contrast to the feminine garments.
AW: You spoke about poetry being one of your inspirations when designing. Would this collaboration between Cecilie Bahnsen & Asics be a kind of poetry of its own?
CB:
 The codes of the brand and the femininity and the lightness have a poetic feel. How we keep telling the brand’s story and building on the universe is a huge compliment if people see that as poetry. But then with Suki, who’s going to play at the concert here for Fashion Week, it’s different types of females and different ways of creatively exploring femininity, exploring your take on that and the strength in that and the personality. She also uses her music and her creativity as therapy.
AW: The ongoing collaboration with Asics started with hand-embellished sneakers. Can you share with us how the process came about with exploring a Mary Jane shape?
CB: With Asics, we were very excited about the collaboration, which is why we did a couple of the upcycling projects first with them because their team is incredibly technical, and it’s such an elaborate project. We designed the shoes way before I started planning the collection. So the Mary Janes were inspired by the upcycled shoes we’ve done. The idea of how we could translate the complete motifs, the transparency, and the technical part of it, into a shoe and make it wearable and still have the transparency and the layering that I also have in the collection. It’s really about taking our brand’s codes and putting them into the shoe. It’s fun seeing how people have styled it as well, there’s been so many incredible coloured socks going on, and you even see the transparency more because of the layering and so on. So even though we went for monochrome for the first drop and the next drop, we are working more with colours. It’s been nice to see how people add their touch to it. And I like how you can make a part of your style.
 
AW: Copenhagen seems to have a friendly artistic community with many creatives collaborating and working together. Can you tell us about some of your favourites? 
CB: I love Nina Nørgaard because she makes these beautiful glass pieces. We work a lot with her for our installations with Dover Street. I have a dear friend called Hugh Hutzer who does gorgeous ceramic sculptures. And then I enjoy generally visiting the galleries like Nicolai Verna or V One or Outpost and getting that inspiration and seeing different creatives, how they also find their voice internationally and people in the same city as you. That’s what we have in common. I just went to see an Alexander Topo exhibition at Gelatinbo, where he had done these stunning transparent art pieces on the windows. I think the layering of the colours was just exceptionally beautiful. I hadn’t been to a show of his for like three years since we showed with him. So it’s also nice to see that this inspiration you drew years back is still the same thing that inspires you, but they have evolved that way.
AW: What’s on your playlist rotation right now?
CB: Right, we’re, of course, listening to a lot of Suki coming up to the concert with her, and then the team has a lot of different music. So the design team will play in the morning, and then this transitions the beat going up and up throughout the day. So we might start classical and then end a bit more upbeat. But we changed the space a year ago and went from a ground floor to a top floor. I felt that the airiness of the music, the more classical inspiration came into it because you also feel like that lifted the room. So I think it’s also funny, like with a show, how much music sets that mood for what you’re creating and these kinds of goosebumps you get the first time you hear the voice or the first time. We’ve also worked a lot with August Rosenbaum on music for the shows where he’s composed special things so you can bring music from memory and put it together on your own. So I think it’s really for setting the mood of what we are creating.
AW: What’s next for Cecilie Bahnsen – are there any new collaborations we should watch for?
CB: I think it’s really about growing the universe and taking the brand from being so known as a dress brand into what we’ve done with the denim, with the knitwear, for the show. I want to push our knitwear and work with knitwear for the summer. How can we work with transparency? And how can we treat knitwear the same way as our other fabrications and so on? But it’s about, in a very healthy way, growing the universe and adding to it and making sense of this note that is already there.
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