You may not be familiar with Christine Nielsen, but with a record like hers, we can only expect to see great things from this Danish designer. She has experience at the biggest brands in the industry and even became the right hand of designers like Ricardo Tisci, Lee Mcqueen and later Sarah Burton. However, last year she decided to branch out and opened her own label, Hyun Mi Nielsen.
Hyun Mi Nielsen is all about romantic storytelling through exaggerated volumes and textures, all the while presenting garments that are in reality wearable. She calls her clothes ‘prêt-à-porter luxe’ and presented her Fall/Winter 2017 collection, Summer Solstice, during Paris’ Haute Couture week as a guest member on the official couture calendar.
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What does a normal day in the life of Christine Nielsen look like?
The first thing I do is check emails while I have my first morning coffee. Normally I have my second coffee with my team. Depending on the day, we either dive straight into work where we left off the day before or have a quick meeting to plan the day and the week ahead. The rest of the day goes with different design work depending on where we are in the season research, sketching, texture research/development, draping, pattern making, sewing, etc. and also various meetings and communication with suppliers. Normally I continue working a couple of hours after my team has left.
Who are your favourite designers?
I have several. Lee McQueen is one, Rei Kawakubo another (her uncompromising work and her genius of mixing that with commerce).
Lee McQueen handpicked you himself to work in his team. Can you tell us a little more about this experience and the start of your career?
I am a graduate of the Royal College of Art and Design in London. Before joining McQueen I worked in Italy and for Christopher Bailey at Burberry Prorsum in London. I was placed at McQueen by a head-hunter based in London. I remember her words very well. It was something in the lines of “We are looking for a girl who is a bit tough”. The head-hunter went on to describe Lee, Sarah and the team at McQueen. I had the first meeting with Sarah and later came back to meet Lee. I have never had such a short interview. It lasted about ten minutes and ended with Lee giving me a hug.
Unfortunately, I only got to work for Lee about four months before he sadly passed away. Seeing Lee work, being with him in fittings is probably one of my most treasured fashion experiences. When Sarah was appointed creative director of McQueen she asked me to follow as her head of design. I had an amazing time – I was with her for four years. Sarah has taught me so much! She has an amazing work ethic and an extraordinary ability to creatively bring out the best in everyone in her team.
You’ve worked in Alexander McQueen and became studio director at Givenchy and head of womenswear at Balenciaga. What drove you to open your own label?
When I left Balenciaga I took some time off to think about my work, who I had become and where I wanted to go. I have never wanted to start my own label. The thought never occurred to me until I was asked: “Why don’t you start your own?!” At first I didn’t really think about it, but somehow the thought lingered and in the end it felt like the right decision to found my own label to start something new.
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What are the best things and the biggest challenges you face designing under your own name rather than for a brand with a set identity and years of heritage behind it?
The most amazing thing about starting my own label was to discover how helpful and supportive people are. The greatest challenge is the budget. My collection is self financed, I am almost a one-man band. My team consists of me, a junior assistant and an intern. Towards the last couple of weeks before the presentation the team grows, of course. Without that help it would be very difficult to finish the collections.
You present your collections during Haute Couture week in Paris. Was being a couturier a dream of yours when starting to pursue a career in fashion?
No and maybe a bit yes, as a child my dream of becoming a designer was linked to images I had seen of Yves Saint Laurent in his studio and his amazing shows. Later, what fascinated me about design was more the actual creation, making things, telling a story, creating a world, a fantasy. Fashion in the ‘90s was so dreamy and romantic with McQueen, John Galliano and Yohji Yamamoto.
Haute Couture is a very closed, elitist world, and a very few designers are accepted. How did you feel when you were in? And how do you face/approach this way of creating extremely high, artistic fashion?
My collection is prêt-a-porter luxe, not couture. When I was accepted as a guest member on the official couture calendar I was thrilled, touched, over the moon! I am truly grateful to the Federation de la Couture for their support.
What defines Hyun Mi Nielsen?
Volume, texture, romance and storytelling.
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Volume, texture and exaggerated sleeves were the main elements of Summer Solstice, your latest Fall/Winter collection. What was the inspiration behind it?
First I found these amazing old pictures of European folk costumes, pictures from Bavaria and Brittany. I was struck by the texture, volume and graphics of the photographs – the techniques used, the proportions, the huge black bows used as headpieces, the white starched cottons, guipure, embroidery; the garments were incredible. I really loved how the richness and texture could come out of a black and white photo. I went on to mix that with things I love and that felt right for this season like solstice, maypoles, Scandinavia, punks, ‘50s couture, Nina Simone in a lattice jumpsuit, texture, volume and graphicism.
Denim also played a part in the collection. Talk us through your creative process and decision of incorporating workwear into Haute Couture?
The denim also stems from the folk costume reference. A lot of the folk costume depicted on photographs is occasion wear for weddings and funerals but the base of the outfit is made from simple wools or cottons – the same outfit and silhouette that they would wear to work in the fields and on the farms, so basically workwear. I love denim and wear jeans most days. So I wanted to reference workwear but mix it with a ‘50s couture silhouette: pointy boobs, full skirt and a tiny waist to elevate the denim. The denim dress was off set by an ivory frayed edge on the cuff and the hem.
Where would you like to see Hyun Mi Nielsen in five years?
I hope and wish for the best for my company, a steady growth, a large costumer base, a healthy economy and a beautiful headquarter with a large atelier and amazingly skilled people working in it.
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