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Hyun Mi Nielsen, a collection like a new morning

November 15 2017

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Christine Nielsen worked for brands that were involved in writing the history of fashion - Burberry, Alexander McQueen, Givenchy, Balenciaga - before starting on 2016. Last July, she presented in Paris her second ready-to-wear collection. An ode to impermanence. - Isabelle Cerboneschi


hristine Nielsen is forty years old and is exactly halfway between the front - working in fashion houses with prestigious names - and after - launching one's own brand.

Her career is peppered with names that have helped write the history of fashion: after finishing her studies at the Royal College of Arts & Design in London, she entered Burberry Prorsum before being chosen by Lee Alexander Mc Queen. She worked 4 intense months with him just before she passed away, then she went under the artistic direction of Sarah Burton for four years. Christine Nielsen was then studio director at Givenchy, era Riccardo Tiscali and at Balenciaga during 2 years under the reign of Alexander Wang. She left the house at the same time as him, an end as a mourning that requires to rethink otherwise.

It took him a long time to digest the loss and envision a future that would not necessarily be one of the big names in fashion. And why not use his? Hyun Mi Nielsen, a name that says its dual membership: South Korean native and Danish by adoption.

Her vocabulary, the one she creates for her brand, bears the subtle traces of her career. There is in his collections an onirism, a poetry, which comes to conflict with reality.

I met her in her studio last July: she had just presented her ready-to-wear collection Summer Solstice during the week of haute couture, just like Rodarte or Proenza Schouler.

His team is reduced to a minimum: an assistant, a trainee and she. All three belonging to a different age group. Additional talents are added during the period of collection construction. Preparatory works, drawings, models, canvases, are made here, as well as the most difficult pieces to make, such as evening dresses, embroidery, smocking. The most portable parts are made outside: better to call a specialist and entrust the manufacture of a jacket to a tailor, if you want a perfect sleevesays Christine Nielsen.

His latest collection was inspired by several sources of inspiration: photos of folk costumes in black and white, with all their textures and proportions. I was fascinated by their graphics, their volume: I studied the texture of their ornamentations, the knots, the hatssays Christine Nielsen. We also guess some reminiscences of those times she has always loved: the Victorian era, the Belle Epoque, the 50 and 60, with its small sizes and busts in tip. And on the mood board we discover images of folk costumes, portraits of Marianne Faithfull, Nina Simone and Jean-Paul Gaultier's breasts with pointed breasts.

IC: There is something dreamlike in your collection and yet it is rooted in reality. What was your intention?
Christine Hyun Mi Nielsen: I wanted a romantic collection, which evokes the poetry of a world as we dream. I wanted to put some magic in my clothes. I focused on "portability": how to introduce romance into a contemporary wardrobe? I added ruffles at the edge of a raincoat. Flying, we see a lot in this collection, but not necessarily where we expect them: we find on pants, poplin tops, bags. I wanted the shuttlecocks to be something fun so we could mix them with all kinds of pieces. I wanted to anchor all these romantic elements in reality.

You put ruffles on the bags. Is this part of your vocabulary?
Not particularly. I am a pretty pragmatic woman. But I wondered: how would I wear the shuttlecocks? With fairly simple pieces, but slightly off. We do not have to wear it every day, hence these small pieces that can be added to an outfit: a scarf in ruffles that is tied around the neck like a half-knot. Or the bag, while flying, which is worn on the shoulder and allows a radical change a silhouette. It's an effect of textures too.

You use men's wardrobe fabrics to make them extremely feminine. This genre game inspires you?
Let's say it's more of a collection that talks about contrasts: between the feminine and the masculine, between transparent fabrics and dense materials, micro and macro-textures, technical fabrics and traditional materials. We have split the sleeves of the costumes which gives them movement and makes them more relaxed: you can roll the sleeves as you want. We have also created slits at the bust, which gives a very graphic look to a jacket, if it is worn on a shirt, or simply on the skin. I used modern materials, such as this shiny jersey, this technical taffeta that I mix with fabrics that are traditionally used in sewing, such as tulle, lace or moire. I fell in love with this lace from Jakob Schlaepfer (who has been creating fabrics and embroidery for over a hundred years in St. Gallen, ed): it's so modern and so precious. It is a lace of lurex and silver that they dyed in yellow and black for this collection.

The volume of your yellow cocktail dress reminds me of some evening dresses and a Cristobal Balenciaga wedding dress from the 1957-58 years. The fact of having worked for Balenciaga, to have seen the archives, does this leave traces, even unconscious, in the mind, when one creates?
I quite see the models you are referring to and indeed I consulted the archives a lot. These pieces are familiar to me. I have a real passion for these years 50-60. I was also lucky to work at Givenchy and I discovered creations of Mr. Hubert de Givenchy. Indeed, one can read references to my past in my work. But we can also say that I digested everything I was exposed to: I saw a lot of clothes in all the houses where I went. I do not refer to it literally, but I think it stays with me, it's now part of my vocabulary. I have been exposed to so many images, films, exhibitions, that all of this is slowly becoming part of my consciousness. Even if I do not realize it at the moment I create, these images, these forms, are stored somewhere in my mind.

Is there a lesson that you would have kept from your stay at Balenciaga?
I had read the books about Cristobal Balenciaga before working for this brand. He was a perfectionist, for him the important thing was the clothes, the know-how. He wanted to embellish the woman who wore his creations, he accentuated the beauty of a person, his strengths, and hid the little less perfect details. He loved women.

Evening dresses in silk mikado seem to decay slowly. A message?
Yes, indeed, they fray. It's more of a personal quest than a message. I've always been very precise in everything I did - everything had to be perfect, immaculately finished - but I'd like to be a little less. I like the idea of ​​letting things happen as they should. The cotton used for the petticoat also gets rid of the prettiest way. This is a feature that I will keep. The fringes that arise from this dislocation of the material give movement to the clothing that moves even when there is a wind blast. It is also for this reason that we have made slots in the sleeves, skirts, jackets: to add movement.

I wondered if this way of letting loose a garment had anything to do with the idea of ​​time passing, and which defeats things in beauty?
It's a pretty way to see but my intention was rather to embrace my imperfections. And I would like to push this thinking into the future.

You have chosen to scroll during the week of sewing, you have used some materials of haute couture: is this a form of tribute?
I like the know-how of the sewing, the time spent by the craftsmen to make a garment: it is a very moving thing a piece realized in the rules of haute couture! The garment is made entirely by hand by a human being who will put all his attention and perhaps all his love. When we draw silhouettes, if we are tired or angry, or we have drunk too much coffee, the line is less precise, we create differently. This collection has gone through so many hands and has received so much attention from all people!

It's not easy to create your own fashion brand today. What gave you the strength to tell you: is it my moment?
In fact, when I left Balenciaga, I was deeply upset. I asked myself: What do I really want? I took the time to think. I was offered several proposals but none suited me. And I thought maybe it was a sign. If I had pursued the desire to someday do something for myself, it was the right moment. I was in pause mode, I had time to think about what I wanted to do, to ask myself who I am, as a woman and as a designer: I was adopted as a Korean child, but in reality I'm Danish, and I'm still looking for my true self. Since I started my brand, I realized that I am a designer and that creating your own collection is a challenge: I am not a businesswoman, or a specialist in merchandising or commercial. There are so many facets that I do not know in this industry.

Is there a part of your work that you identify with?
My approach is to try to do something that is not personal. My first collection was presented last January. It was winter, everything was very dark, I was still depressed when I left for Balenciaga. But I wanted this collection as an ode to haute couture, a way to thank the Federation for incorporating me in the official calendar and allowing me to scroll through the week of sewing. When I think about it, it was also a kind of therapy inviting me back on the road. A way of saying Hello, But also goodbye to many events that I had gone through. Maybe to let things go we have to get closer to it? I felt that to move forward, I needed to go back to something known. The second collection is more playful, more malicious, less serious. I had fun doing it. It's an exercise in style. I hope it marks the beginning of a long quest that will allow me to get closer to a more interesting point each time.

Do you think of a certain type of women when you draw your collections?
Sometimes it happens to me, but not for this collection. There are so many different pieces - from the pair of jeans to the white shirt, the raincoat to the mikado cocktail dress - that it excludes no one. Of course, I dream of seeing my collection of powerful women, sure of themselves, and that they feel even stronger by wearing my clothes. I have the desire to empower women with my collections.

The colors you used give the impression of crossing a day from sunrise to sunset.
My collection is called Summer Solstice, there is talk of joy, daylight, I wanted something fresh, as if the pieces had been covered by morning dew. It's definitely a morning collection.

Your morning?
I hope so! Let's see what the future holds for me ...