ONE’S THE YOUNG DANISH DESIGNER CHARMING INDUSTRY INSIDER TYPES WITH HER PRETTY, ARTISANALLY MADE DRESSES THAT FUSE THE CHILD-LIKE WITH THE CONCEPTUAL. THE OTHER IS THE SINGAPORE FOOTWEAR LABEL THAT’S GONE FROM FAST-FASHION FAVOURITE TO GLOBAL TITAN IN JUST OVER TWO DECADES. WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT THAT CECILIE BAHNSEN WOULD BE CHARLES & KEITH’S FIRST DESIGNER COLLABORATOR? YET AS SHE AND EMMANUELLE MACE-DRISKILL – THE SHOE BRAND’S EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF PLANNING & PRODUCT STRATEGY – TELL KENG YANG SHUEN, THIS RECENTLY LAUNCHED COUPLING COULD JUST BE THE WAY FORWARD WITH ITS REWRITING OF FEMININTY AND ENVIRONMENTALLY CONSCIOUS ETHOS.
With a longtime fascination with traditional school uniforms, Cecilie Bahnsen.
How and when did this whole project come about?
Emmanuelle Mace-Driskill (EMD): “We first met in Paris in February 2019, then in April that year again when Cecilie visited Singapore. During her stay here, she visited our headquarters and stores. She had the opportunity to meet with founder Keith Wong as well as our head designer. This was how Cecilie discovered the Charles & Keith universe and identity. The creative and technical process started last September and Cecilie paid attention to every detail – from the puffiness of the quilting to colour of the thread – in order to achieve the perfect shoe.” (The collaboration, available now on both brands’ e-stores, brings back the patterns and shades from Bahnsen’s F/W ’19 collection – black, white and lemon yellow on patchwork and an embroidered fabric with a quilted finish.) Cecilie Bahnsen (CB): “I met Emma a year ago and we started talking about the project. What I thought was so interesting about what Charles & Keith had presented was that we would do the full package... We started more or less from scratch and went through every single part of the development stage to make it perfect. Together we have created a whole universe and story surrounding these four pairs of shoes (three Mary Jane styles and a pair of mules). It’s been a collection in itself. The storytelling is what makes the collaboration so interesting... To also have the chance to work on this product for over half a year; to have the time and chance to perfect it was amazing.”
Dreamt up four flat, buckled styles including three Mary Janes for Charles & Keith’s first designer collaboration. Mary Janes, she points out, were worn by boys as much as girls right into the 20th century, which might explain why the campaign for the tie-up was shot in Denmark’s Herlufsholm School, a boarding institution originally reserved for boys from aristocratic backgrounds.
Emmanuelle, why the decision to choose Cecilie for Charles & Keith’s debut designer tie-up?
EMD: “Charles & Keith has been supporting young, emerging designers for the past few years. We partnered with Molly Goddard for her S/S ’19 show – the first time we were part of a major fashion show in London. In the Middle East, we’ve collaborated with Rami Al Ali for an exclusive shoe collection to complement his incredible dresses and in Japan, we’ve teamed up with the artist Walnut on a range of bags with hand-drawn illustrations. Last year, we got Singapore artist Teeteeheehee to embellish a selection of small leather goods. With Cecilie, it was an instant match – we connected when discussing new codes of femininity and responsible fashion, the two key pillars that this tie-up evolved around.”
What’s so unique about the Cecilie Bahnsen brand of femininity?
CB: “For me, there is power and strength in romance and femininity. I make clothes for women to feel comfortable, strong and independent.”
And has Cecilie’s Danish roots influenced the collaboration in any way?
CB: “The Danish have an effortless and relaxed approach to fashion. I am drawn to the freshness and purity of the different styles and flourishes of colour one sees worn on the streets of Copenhagen... this need to feel comfortable. With one of our dresses you can wear it to a party then throw in on when Monday comes around just because that’s what you want to wear. Nothing saved for a best or special occasion.” (Similarly all four styles in the collaboration make a statement yet also possess a cool ease.)
Bahnsen is beloved for her airy, cloud-like dresses and separates, and has a penchant for styling them with flats worn with socks. The four footwear styles she’s designed with Charles & Keith – three Mary Janes and a pair of backless mules – lend effortlessly to that aesthetic while scoring on the sustainability front. Each piece is crafted leftover fabric from Bahnsen’s previous collections, as well as recycled satin.
Tell us more about this collection, especially its “back to school” concept.
CB: “I’ve always been inspired by school uniforms probably because as a child, I never had to wear one. My first runway collection in F/W ’17 was inspired by black and white Italian Catholic schoolboy uniforms from the late 19th and early 20th centuries... The uniforms were transformed into dresses and there’s an intriguing contrast between the femininity of those proportions and the masculinity of their precise edges and finishing, as well as the layering of smocks over shirts. Also when I moved to London to study at the Royal College of Art, I was fascinated with preppy school uniforms worn by private school children in South Kensington and this inspired a lot of my school projects. For this Charles & Keith tie-up, it thus only felt natural to look at Mary Janes, which are considered part of a traditional schoolgirl uniform and how we could reinterpret them to fit in the universe of Cecilie Bahnsen... It’s been exciting to see how we can translate our universe into a shoe. It almost felt like we were morphing our dresses into a shoe.”
Cecilie Bahnsen is known for working with very exclusive and artisanal fabrics. How did this collaboration go about translating that?
EMD: “In the last two years, Charles & Keith has been investing our efforts into developing a sustainable supply chain. The sustainability department here has successfully discovered and developed new fabrics that are eco-friendly and made of natural or recycled materials. For this collection, we’ve upcycled Cecilie’s leftover fabrics from previous seasons to create a unique patchwork finish (found on one of the Mary Janes). For the other three shoes, we used a recycled satin that had been sourced and provided by us. The dust bags have also been created from Cecilie’s leftover fabrics, giving them a new life while the packaging box is made from recycled paper.”
What’s your favourite shoe in this capsule?
CB: “The beautiful patchwork shoe made from leftover, one-of-a-kind fabric from previous seasons allowed us to give the fabric a new life. The stitching and craftmanship of the patchwork added a unique texture and feel to classic Mary Janes. Its colour palette also follows one of my favourite colour combinations: black with light flourishes of yellow.”
What’s your best takeaway from this collaboration?
EMD: “We’ve achieved a new level of craftsmanship, successfully combining our shoe-making savoir faire and Cecilie’s incredible knowledge of textiles to translate her poetic dresses into the perfect shoe collection.”
CB: “It’s always important for me when I design a dress that it has longevity and every detail is perfect. This is the same with shoes, from the finish to the soles and buckles... It was a big learning process, having to spend a lot of time on what some people would calll ‘nitty gritty’ details so the product is both functional and beautiful. It’s probably hard to notice all the effort that has gone into it, but that’s what I like: that it looks effortless but every detail has been thought through.”