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Peter Jensen on Lucy SS15

From Gertrude Stein to Sissy Spacek, for the past 15 years Danish designer Peter Jensen’s collections have revolved around specific female muses.

For Spring/Summer 2015, he has stepped into a slightly different domain by taking the girls from the Peanuts cartoons of his childhood as his inspiration, for a range that is simultaneously nostalgic and modern, witty and chic.

We spoke to him about living and working in the London fashion industry, the Scandinavian feminism of his upbringing and what it is that he likes so much about Tapioca Pudding.

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How did you end up in London?

As a Danish person, a Scandinavian, you’re not allowed to start your BA before you’re 21. They think that you’re not mature enough to know exactly what it is that you want, so you have to have gap years after your A Levels, where you’re really encouraged to travel and to do something else. So, I came to England with a friend and we worked in a hotel; I was a dishwasher and she was a chambermaid and I just loved everything about being here. In 1992, I came back again and lived here for about six months… By then, I knew that I wanted to study at Saint Martins, but also that I wanted to have some background in fashion, some stability in my profession. So, I did my BA in Denmark, where the degree is very much about looking about practical elements of design like pattern cutting rather than just the creative elements that you find in the BA here. Then, I applied for my MA, went to the interview with Louise [Wilson] and got in. And now I’ve been teaching that MA myself, for 15 years!

Have you noticed a change over the past 15 years in fashion?

Yes, absolutely there’s a change. When I started teaching, there wasn’t the internet or Google – and I know that, these days, that’s what we all blame everything on but I do think that those things have bred a laziness. People don’t really allow themselves to sit and look out of the window, or make sure that what they’re researching is complete, understand all of the situations that they are going into. If it doesn’t appear in the first two pages of Google search, it’s like it doesn’t exist; I mean, I speak to some students who don’t know what The Face was! But I’ve also seen a positive change, in that people want to be working. They don’t necessarily want to go and set up their own label, they just want to be working in the industry, and I think that’s a positive thing.

Have you seen a change in people being more savvy about the business side of the industry?

Yes, I do think that the new generation has a greater understanding of it all because it’s so expensive. London is an expensive city to live in, it’s not the 80s when you could live in a squat or whatever people like to talk about back then, and you have to make a living. Plus, you have a huge amount of student debt when you finish St Martins. I realised a few years ago, because I’ve had my business for nearly 15 years and we showed catwalks for nearly 12 of those, that we just didn’t need to do them anymore. It cost a humongous amount every season and nobody was really interested in coming anyway. It’s like some kind of trauma for anyone you actually want to be there, they’d rather be at home in their garden looking it up online, so you’re doing the show for people who don’t really mean anything. And I think that, a few seasons ago, businesses in fashion started to realise that they had to look after themselves. And students are feeling that too; there’s not the same drive to be famous anymore because that’s gross now, it’s become so gentrified. So, instead, people are realistically learning to look after themselves.

I love the new collection; what inspired that?

Well, it was all inspired by the girls from Peanuts. I’ve always been fascinated by them, the comic strip was in the papers every Sunday when I was growing up, and I think that Charles M Schulz was very clever in the way that he wrote it all. He saw the differences between boys and girls and really put the girls into a powerful light. They’re very strong characters, strong women, very opinionated, way feminist and quite mean! They really know what they want.

 

How did the collaboration come about?

 Well, it came about that someone was talking about the company that controlled Peanuts and I said that I loved them, that I wanted to do it. And then I got access to the archives, and started researching the girls. The ones I really like, like Lydia, Charlotte, Lucy, Tapioca Pudding…

It’s great because it could have been very twee and cutsey but you’ve somehow managed to make a chic, modern Peanuts collection! How did you stop it from being overly nostalgic?

I suppose that comes with training and practice. I’m incredibly critical of my own work; I look at it all of the time and redo and redo it. So I think that’s how it didn’t all end up too twee!

Have you always been interested in the strength of women?

Well, I grew up in Scandinavia in the 70s, which was a very feminist-driven time. I was surrounded by female opinions and the stories of strong women, which always really interested me; I’m from this pocket of time that was all about women rather than about men. I grew up with women running around naked and you had to accept that they were women. My mum would do breast training every day, naked at the breakfast table; she’d do this exercise where you put your hands on your elbows and you squeeze, to train your breasts. As a boy, you had to accept that in-your-face thing about women’s bodies in that time.

One of the things that I love about your collections is the incredibly diverse range of women that you take as your muses, from Sissy Spacek to Barbara Hepworth. Why do you focus them around a specific woman? 

The motivation isn’t to make myself intellectual, but rather to educate myself – so, by taking these women as my inspiration, I get to read about them and to learn new things. It’s not just going ‘oh, this is a 60s collection,’ or ‘a 70s collection’ – not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m just not that kind of person. I think that there needs to be a little more thought that goes into your work rather than just saying ‘this is a sweatshirt with a print on’ and looking into those women gives a little more depth to the collections. And I think that has become the core thing about my work, and the people that like it have started to collect things from each season, naming them after the muses. I like that. I like that it’s not just throwaway but that people will wear them over and over again. I think that’s what makes classic design.

 

There’s been a big resurgence in fashion recently, looking explicitly towards feminism. It’s like the pop culture reference du jour…

Isn’t feminism just the fashionable thing to talk about right now? It doesn’t always have a point or opinion. I certainly don’t know much about feminism, I have to say, but I think that some people talk about it in a very stupid way, and maybe they should shut up about it. I also think that people forget that there are very strong women out there doing great things, people like Clare Danes who stars and produces in Homeland or Lena Dunham… those areas are really progressing for women. But there are all these other people who are having a bad time in the world, for example, gay people; there are so many countries where gays are being treated so horribly wrongly but there’s still some stigma in talking about that.

I think it’s particularly interesting that you reference Diane Arbus.

Yes, I love her pictures and I find the way she worked so fascinating. It’s almost as if she took her pictures to a private place. If I was a photographer, that’s what I’d want to do! And then for Pre-Fall we used Penelope Tree and she described that, when Diane took pictures of her when she was 16, it was an incredibly painful experience. She had her standing still for two hours, and just kept on and on! So there’s that side to it, too. I wish I was rich enough to own some of her work.

Maybe the Peanuts collection will do it for you! 

[Laughs] Maybe!

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Words by Oliva Jasmine Singer  / Photography by Mehdi Lacoste

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