Cecilie Bahnsen’s Power in Dressing

October 3, 2021
Portrait of Cecilie Bahnsen
Courtesy of Cecilie Bahnsen

Based in Copenhagen, designer Cecilie Bahnsen launched her label in 2015, having received her MA from the Royal College of Art, London before taking on roles at Erdem and John Galliano among others. Her approach since the beginning has been to create low-waste fashion that is durable, elegant, timeless and unique.

How do you define the future?
I try not to define the future or let an idea of the future define me and my design process.
When I launched the brand, I didn’t know where this would take me or the brand and that was the beauty in it — staying true to my creative vision; building a universe of its own over time. Each season refining that universe; growing it by gut feeling and instinct, with meaning and care.

Why is the future such an important element of fashion?
The future is important for us because quality is part of our DNA, our garments are meant to last a lifetime and then be passed onto our sons or daughters. Maybe they will have a few imperfections, but these will tell the stories of the wearer. So in a way, we are actually looking at our garments to tell the story of the past, a small relic of history.

What is one global or social issue currently shaping fashion’s future?
At the beginning of the pandemic, I had this hope that the industry would slow down, giving us all the time to reflect on how much and how fast we produce. This has been a wish since the beginning, and a reason why I decided to start the label in Copenhagen — to do things in our own way and being able to set our own pace outside of the couture norms.
Now, a year later, I worry that maybe we haven’t learned as much as I had hoped, or that it’s too hard to change old habits. The industry is still speeding ahead chasing the next trend, opening in the next market, and not thinking about the bigger picture: “How much fashion do we really need.”
For me to have made the decision of just doing two collections a year has been the most rewarding creatively and the most challenging when it comes to production, deliveries and sales.

How do you imagine fashion changing over the next decade?
I try to imagine the best, which would mean fewer collections, less product, and more design and creativity with love and passion, not just for now, but to last for generations.
For me as a brand, it has made so much sense to take out the pre-collections, to focus on more precise and well-curated main collections. Giving my team and I the time to develop and create the collections in a sensible and innovative manner.
With a scarcity in resources we all have the obligation as designers to figure out how to utilise what we already have, which is how our Encore — our upcycled concept — originated. We are so excited to see how far we can go with Encore in the next decade.

How do you imagine your brand evolving over the next decade?
We have already grown so much, especially in this past year, I am now so lucky to have a great team around me; each person is essential to the brand bringing their unique and complementary skills. We are ambitious in our plans to grow the universe, to challenge the status quo, and to find innovative ways to drive positive change. Granted, sometimes we fail, but we promise to learn from our mistakes and do better. Keeping quality at the heart of everything we do; staying true to our design universe without compromise; and creating pieces you want to live in and cherish this season and next.

What is one thing we can start doing now that could positively impact our future?
Collaborations. Working together and learning from each other is the best way to create change. Power or knowledge do not exist in the same way when you work alone. 

What concerns you about the future?
I worry about being able to preserve hundred-year-old traditions and craftsmanship — of building a universe where I can nurture creativity while also preserving and protecting our planet. Fashion and sustainability don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand and that’s what the industry is grappling with as whole. But how can we keep going and keep creating jobs and preserving these techniques by partnering with century old family businesses within Europe?
There is value in the power and strength garments bring to the wearer; but if it’s honest then this power lasts for more than a few seasons. So how do we keep creating while also taking care of the nature that brings us so much inspiration? We are thinking of this constantly; often artists and designers find solutions or imagine the impossible before science and tech can catch up.

What excites you about the future?
I am excited to see how the Cecilie Bahnsen universe grows in the coming years. We are still such a young brand, and our goal has always been to be here for the long run, to grow old with the brand and evolve over time.

Your wish for the future?
My wish for the future is that we start collaborating creatively and putting our heads together to solve some of the imminent problems of climate change. There is so much power in collaborative thinking and so many talented and smart people in this industry, if we could approach things collectively, I truly believe there would be great change.

Do you think about the future when creating a collection?
I think about what’s going on in the world, of course. What’́s happening affects my mindset and then unconsciously what I find inspiration in; but my design process remains the same and will always be so much about gut feeling.

What is the most defining idea or look in this collection?
We have expanded the colour palette this season to include a bright red and orange which is what I think people will be talking about. But it’s actually not such a new idea; it has been on our moodboards for many seasons, and that is very much our process — each season building on the last. We have created the hand drawn Camellia floral motif and translated this across different textures and colours, including a floral cut-out fabric that depicts petals falling gently from a full bouquet.

How does this collection compare to your past collections?
It is an evolution of past collections. This season is about embracing where we are; carrying with us the storylines of past collections; embracing all of these different emotions and elements; relishing all of them, while sensing the power of emotional depth. As women we are always more than one thing, that is what this collection is about.

What remains constant across the past, present, and future of fashion?
The constant across fashion is the power in dressing: how you can put on a dress Monday morning and it can change your whole attitude, your confidence, and the way you interact with the world around you.

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