The Danish designer reshaping Scandi style
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Cecilie Bahnsen’s latest runway show, held in Copenhagen in January, played out in much the same way as the designer’s previous collections: a host of angelic-looking models wearing effervescent, girlish dresses in white, black or sugary pastel. The Bahnsen look, often characterised by a high waist, full skirt and puffy sleeve, recalls a Victorian schoolgirl – a super-feminine sensibility that has garnered the designer a devoted fan base, both in her native Denmark and further afield.
Since launching in 2015, Bahnsen, who previously worked under John Galliano in Paris and Erdem Moralioglu in London, has picked up more than 120 stockists around the world, as well as a nomination for the prestigious LVMH prize. Along with fellow Danish brands Ganni and Saks Potts, the 36-year-old designer has also helped bring global acclaim to Copenhagen Fashion Week, as well as broadening the Scandinavian fashion lexicon beyond “minimalist” and its synonyms.
While cumulus-like frocks are her stock in trade, the past few seasons have seen Bahnsen prove she’s more than just a pretty dress. She’s introduced tailoring and knitwear, and knows her way around an accessory – her sandals with Japanese footwear brand Suicoke, which launched in spring 2019, were a sell-out and are available again this season. “We’re moving into new categories, really building on who our woman is,” says Bahnsen.
Her latest collaboration, which launches on 25 May, is with another footwear brand – Singaporean retailer Charles & Keith – and sees Bahnsen translate her aesthetic into a collection inspired by the classic Mary-Jane. “I’ve always been fascinated with school uniforms,” says Bahnsen. “Being Danish, we didn’t have them, so when I studied in London I loved seeing all these amazing kids’ uniforms in Hyde Park. I just like the layering, and that although everyone looks the same, the personality shines through.”
The cream, black and yellow satin used to make the shoes was recycled, some from Bahnsen’s previous ready-to-wear collections, which means each style is limited to 100 pairs. “The collaboration was about creating something unique and responsible, with a positive message,” says Emmanuelle Mace-Driskill, executive director of product at Charles & Keith. “We upcycled the beautiful fabrics, and searched and tested techniques to achieve the perfect puffy effect of the quilting, and the romantic feel of Cecilie’s dresses in a shoe.”
This year has also seen Bahnsen work with Mackintosh on a collection of raincoats – including a classic mac and a cape – as well as the unveiling of her first solo space at London’s Dover Street Market. “We were the first store to work with Cecilie Bahnsen,” says the retailer’s vice president Dickon Bowden, “and it was clear from the outset that she had a strong vision. Her design works well because it has an innate femininity – it is whimsical but with a hidden strength.”
That overwhelming femininity is an intrinsic part of the brand’s DNA – one which the designer is still capitalising on. Lately, Bahnsen has found a new market for her voluminous dresses: brides. “We have just started working with private clients and brides for more bespoke pieces – to make something unique for them,” says Bahnsen, who finds that bridalwear comes naturally. “I actually start my creative process by designing in white, and there are always around 12 looks in my shows that are white. It’s such a big compliment to see how those looks have been chosen by customers to wear on their special day.”
Whether she’s a bride, a cyclist whizzing through Copenhagen in a billowing raincoat or someone shuffling around the house in satin mules, the Cecilie Bahnsen woman is multiplying. “I think all my collections have this sisterhood or group feeling to them,” she says, “of wanting to wear the same thing, or dressing together.” Bahnsen is proving there is strength in numbers – and they’re all equally poetic.