As a New Yorker, when I first received word that Peter Jensen would be presenting his Fall/Winter 2010 collection in Manhattan – an unanticipated boon considering the Danish designer’s menswear and womenswear collections had been such esteemed standards on the London Fashion Week show circuit – I was positively over the moon and immediately signed on to co-host his “Welcome to America” after-party. Peter and I had been corresponding for some time, perhaps initially bonding over our mutual admiration of bunny rabbits (they even grace his company’s logo), a shared appreciation of a certain campy self-depricating British wit and an akin treasuring of offbeat individuality (his prior collection muses include the likes of Sissy Spacek, Cindy Sherman and a thoroughly-disgraced Tonya Harding).
On Valentine’s Day, Peter presented his autumn collection entitled Muriel based upon “the Brodie set” –the “crème de la crème” of Marcia Blaine’s School in Edinburgh, the fictional academy at the center of Muriel Spark's acclaimed novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – to the mesmerizingly poignant live love tunes of husband-and-wife duo Nathan Larson and Nina Persson (of The Cardigans) atop a classroom set conceived by artist Charlotte Mann and all capped off by fanciful pom-pom turbans in collaboration with the millinery Bernstock Speirs.
What first sparked off your notion of showing in New York? How does the atmosphere compare to London?
I have always wanted to do something in New York and working with Laurie Simmons last season made me feel even more certain that it would be an exciting development. When MAC and Milk approached me this season the timing seemed perfect. I found the scene in New York to be very positive and enthusiastic; people are really professional and keen to do a good job. It’s a very invigorating atmosphere for me.
How did you settle upon Muriel Spark’s novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie as your chief inspiration for the collection? What innately charms you about Scottish literature and culture?
I bought Martin Stannard's biography of Muriel Spark last year… and aside from liking her writing, I thought she just looked very stylish. Muriel and Brodie (a controversial, liberal teacher self-described as 'in her prime') both cover a lot of the things I was interested in for this season: Britishness, the post-war period here and school girls. What I like about her books is that they are very concise, very witty and have a lightness of touch even when dealing with dark themes. I suppose as a Dane I feel a connection with Scotland – I think we share a slightly twisted sense of humour – maybe it's the dark winters.
How did your collaboration with legendary milliners Paul Bernstock and Thelma Speirs originally come about?
I have actually worked with Paul and Thelma for a few seasons now: We first met in Paris and have since become great friends. They are really good fun and nice to work with. When they come ‘round we always get a cake and have coffee… they’ve always got some good stories to tell. I was particularly pleased with the hats this season, especially the marabou-trimmed turbans. Are you a longtime fan of The Cardigans? When did you first make the acquaintance of Nina Persson and her husband, Nathan Larson? Why did you think their performance was so befitting of the Muriel collection?
I am a longtime fan of The Cardigans and when I was a student in Copenhagen I used to go see them in the summer at festivals in Sweden. I first met Nina through the graphic design group I work with, Åbäke, when they were collaborating on the artwork for the first A Camp album. I didn’t meet Nathan until the day before the show, although we had emailed in preparation. Actually for years I have wanted to work with Nina on a show and it just fell into place this season as she’s based in New York. I’m always keen to try new things with each presentation and it seemed perfect to have live music in the setting at Milk since it was so intimate. The song choices had more to do with the fact that it was Valentine’s Day: The brief was ‘sad love songs’, though I thought that was relevant to Muriel/Jean too. I was so happy with the music – I still can’t get it out of my head – it was magical! It was great for me to hear it for the first time in the space with the set as a backdrop as it made the day much more exciting. Nina and Nathan are amazing and it was so easy working with them. I have always thought that being able to sing is the most amazing talent; having the confidence to know that you can perform in front of a crowd (and that it will sound good) must be a wonderful feeling.
Do you have a favorite Marcia Blaine’s School pupil in the Brodie set?
Of course it has to be Sandy Stranger, although I am also partial to poor Mary MacGregor.
How did you first go about translating the novel’s environs, era (1930’s), mileu and tenor into a fall collection? Were you most inspired by The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie as incarnated by the book, the play, or the film (starring Dame Maggie Smith)… or perhaps a culmination of all three?
I never want to dwell too much on an era but I suppose what I wanted to take from the story was the sense of these women characters all being very individual – that is, aside from the more obvious references (the tartans and tweeds, blazers and kilts). Jean Brodie was very concerned with appearance (as was Muriel Spark) and she was unconventional albeit in a narrower society than the present-day so there was still a primness which I appreciate. There is something about school uniforms that I like as well: The way the girls will bend the rules as far as they possibly can. We don’t really have school uniforms in Denmark so they are especially fascinating to me. There are elements of the film I love –particularly Maggie Smith and the sets – but I like the book the most, it’s not sentimental in the way that the film is and I think it’s much funnier.
What are your personal top five most favorite pieces in the new collection?
The plaid velvet puffa jacket The plaid velvet dress with the tie at the waist The changing of the guard print in everything The pieces with the scarf hood The marabou trim knit turbans
Hi Julia. I don't know you personally, but I've 'followed' you for many years. according to this chart http://bit.ly/b8kNCB you're guilty of rules 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12. my question is: should you're mom be worried lol?
Oh boy. Apparently, yes?
Golly, rule seven is one of my downfalls.
(image pasted from provided link in formspring question)
You, Alexa Chung and Zippora Seven are the first three women that come to mind when I think of the words "role model"! Haha that aside, I was just wondering what music you would recommend for studying? Thanks darl. X
Wow, what flattering company! Thank you! Probably ambient Sébastien Tellier, Debussy, Dvořák, Chopin, Vashti Bunyan, Fujiya & Miyagi, El Perro del Mar, Memory Casette…
"I think the problem is that we all feel we have too many [fashion shows]. I think this is the major problem that we are all feeling and experiencing. And I always say that doing a collection is almost like writing a book or making a movie, and I don’t know any other industry that can produce six movies a year by the same director. That’s the thing. You cannot write six books a year. You cannot produce six movies. You can’t do six collections a year. And I think this is actually what is making fashion be the way it is today. I know a lot of people complain that there is not enough change and that fashion in the past was much more creative than today, and I think a big part of this phenomenon is that we don’t have the time to think, we don’t have the time to project, we don’t have the time to digest. I’m not talking about, like, “Oh, we need to travel for inspiration,” because I do in fact believe that the best traveling you do is from your couch while you eat potato chips. But I think we just need the time to think and to look at it again and to have another perspective.
When I go out sometimes to this kind of fashion event and I see other designers, I see that one of them has a pain in the back and the other one has a migraine and the third one is exhausted, because we are going through this process that is endless. AND I THINK THAT TODAY EDITORS ARE FEELING THE SAME WAY, BECAUSE THEY HAVE TO TRAVEL THE WORLD SEASON AFTER SEASON AND JUST SEE AND WRITE THE REVIEWS IN A TAXI WHERE THEY DON’T HAVE THE TIME TO THINK ABOUT IT. Whatever you see today is maybe not what you really feel tomorrow. You just have to see and shoot. And I think buyers are going through the same thing, because there was a time when they used to be staying also in the store, not just looking at computers and numbers. When you go to the doctor, you don’t want the doctor to look only at the computer, you want the doctor to look at you. And I think the buyers used to be also on the floor, looking at the customer, seeing the merchandise and how it works on the floor or doesn’t. And today they are just traveling from one collection to another, from a pre-collection in New York to a pre-collection in Paris, and it’s endless. And I do feel there is this kind of extreme fatigue that everyone is talking about and there is a need for a change.”