When you work creatively you might not be able to describe what you be doing at times. A conversation between design studio 11.12 and the label Hyun Mi Nielsen on finding the right word
When graduating from fashion school, designers often have two choices: choosing between starting their own label or going into the industry to gain experience at design houses. After completing her BA in Fashion Design in Denmark, Christine Nielsen, founder of Hyun Mi Nielsen, interned at Alexander McQueen before completing her master’s degree from the Royal College of Art. «Growing up in the 90s’ with Galliano and McQueen» — she asserted in a Zoom conversation alongside her brand strategist and 11.12’s Tanya Radwell — «everyone wanted to be in London».
Years later, after stints at Givenchy and Balenciaga, Nielsen was hand-picked by Lee McQueen himself, and brought back as a Senior Designer alongside Sarah Burton. «McQueen was still alive, he and his team were there at work», she starts. «I worked with Sarah. He passed away soon after I joined, but I stayed on with Sarah for quite a few years. Dressing is something I enjoy because it is a physical process. From the physicality of playing around, dressing up as kids really was important for me as I have gotten older».
For her own brand, Hyun Mi Nielsen, Christine teamed up with 11.12’s Tanya Radwell and 11.12 CEO Kelly Luchford and closely worked together in creating a brand identity that would position Christine’s creations. Based in London, Tanya founded a creative studio two years ago alongside her Design Director Filipe Valgode and Business Director, Andrew Antoniades. The three offer a full-service creative agency working on strategic positioning through all levels of content including campaigns, art direction, web-design and development. «I needed someone that could help me verbalize what it is I am doing. When you work creatively you are not necessarily the best person to describe what you are doing», Christine said. Between managing collections, planning, researching and producing a collection, designers will at times struggle to get a message across in what can seem like a sea of new brands appearing on a weekly if not daily basis. «It is a lonely process. I do not know if so many people talk about that, but I felt that I was isolated».
When Tanya and Christine met, she felt that she recognised a feeling of longing to go from one place to another which resonated with the Hyun Mi Nielsen identity. The pair painted an entire world from what the clothes were saying about the woman or man that wears them depending on what they are doing that day. «You almost need someone external to come in and ask those probing questions that just illicit the right answers, and then it is shaping that into this world» explained Tanya.
Initially, Christine and Tanya worked on defining the brand and brand image before photographing the look books. Using mood-boards, together they selected what moods and images would go with selected looks. They put images created by Tanya’s Creative Partner Filipe Valgode up on a wall and decided how to illustrate how the visual identity of the brand could collide with the garments. After multiple back and fourth sessions they had a vision of who and what the world looked like and what the key emotions and words were in the process Christine would have done in the stages of creating her collections. Christine said, «my approach to design is physical and hands on and my focus is about finishing the piece, thinking can we add another piece? You always work up to the last second, so it has been a luxury to work with an external partner who has helped me expand my team and get additional input in order to produce it to a higher level».
She said, «you feel exposed, and vulnerable when you say define the ‘woman’ who wears the clothes». Her universe is dark, filled with punk and hardcore nuances, delving into fetish yet marked by the craft and technique of historical dress-making. Combining romanticism with punk, she exposed an archive leather bustier made with pronounced ‘remember-me’ nipples shaped into the bust, reminiscent of McQueen’s forms and details. «The clothes are full on, but there are different facets to them», she asserted. «It conveys my love of the craft and the history of making garments but also the slightly perverse side. There is a love of dark shiny materials combined with a detailed approach». She pointed out what at first glance looked like a classic top-stitch but instead was embedded and patched together so the seams appeared in a 3D stitching. The micro details appear throughout her work.
Working from samples, Christine tests materials, experimenting with the physicality as well as the idea, working with volumes and silhouettes. «It is embellished therefore I like a simple silhouette in contrast so it is about the texture or the finishing in it is simplicity, but also the maxi detail». Another sample she pulled out was from the last collection featuring hardcore, punk neon light and dark elements with eyelets and fringes coming out through them. Another coat reveals gold and silver eyelets, shimmering yet combining this with latex and transparency so the coat appears feminine with punk details.
When defining the brand Tanya explained, «the world is filled with hidden juxtapositions on anemotive sense in terms of innocence versus subversion in a literal way which is the hard and soft, the high and the low elements to the brand. What unites all the pieces together is that it gives the wearer a sense of freedom for them to be able to portray their own self-expression. So these garments allow them to explore their fantasies as to who they are as individuals», she said.
«Tanya was helpful when we were discussing what kind of woman I design for but I think that is such a non-inclusive question», said Christine. In fashion there is a miss-matched concept of the customer and who the brand might believe the customer to be. Still she said, «everyone wants to be democratic and design for all women but at the end of the day, to be Danish and honest, that price point of the garment reflects someone who is going to buy it in the end».
The challenge in working this way is to understand the brand identity as well as the consumer and markets. Their collaboration seems effortless, and the two roles seem linked. «It is a process of looking at the knowledge of the industry, the consumer and knowing where you can mound this world with what will be successful, balancing what the market and consumer is looking for».
Despite the questions at times being intrusive, Christine has a vision of her consumer. «With each season we are starting to reveal more about the brand personality that we have defined so there is a clear path and opportunity for where we can take the brand », explained Tanya.
In order to sustain her business, Christine works as a consultant as well as managing her team. With no financial backing and working in a team alongside Tanya and her agency has helped her get a perspective from someone looking in as an outsider.
During the global health crisis, Christine’s production came to a stand-still in Paris and has left the future of fashion and the financial sector uncertain. She used the lockdown as a time for herself, to stand away from work and producing her upcoming collection without the pressures of working to the fashion week deadlines. She said, «I felt it was good for me to be able to digest a lot of things guilt-free. Everything is going back to normal here, we are doing fashion week in September but in the end of the day, the people that will be able to get out of this crisis in one piece, are the conglomerates and fashion groups». Christine and Tanya will continue to work together furthering the discourse of the Hyun Mi Nielsen craft and the world around it.