Hampus Bernhoff: Bad Taste Turned Good

This Central Saint Martins MA grad applies unconventional materials to intricate tailoring.

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Many fashion designers proudly declare themselves as arbiters of good taste. Hampus Bernhoff, a recent graduate of Central St. Martin’s Master’s course, prides himself on embracing bad taste. His final dissertation for the prestigious program was titled “Can the intended ugly be beautiful?: Fashion design and aesthetic judgment.” These twenty pages can be read as something of a personal manifesto, reflecting the concepts and theories behind his aesthetic, citing the philosophies of Kant and exploring the advent of avant-garde design.

Dazed Digital: It seems as though some of the best designs come from people who grow into fashion, where it happens almost organically. Were you always interested in fashion?
Hampus Bernhoff: Well, I was always aware, but I was never this kid who flicked through all the fashion magazines and new all the model names etc. My mother is a very talented fashion designer as well as hugely creative and individual person, so I was very much exposed to fashion through her when I grew up. We travelled a lot  and whenever we visited a new city, we always hit the shops first, and then the sights. So from a young age I was exposed to a lot of contemporary art and fashion. I guess many seeds were planted in my youth that eventually grew into a genuine interest for and knowledge about fashion in my later life.

DD: What do you look to for inspiration?
HB: A great inspiration to my work from the art world is the wrapping projects of Christo & Jeanne-Claude. I believe that fashion has for a long time been dominated by some sort of escapism. What Christo & Jeanne Claude really made me realise was that you could find the same beauty in your everyday environment; you just have to look a bit harder. When they encapsulated the entire Pont Neuf Bridge in yellow fabric, there were many people who didn’t realize how beautiful the bridge was until it was encapsulated and unraveled again. That angle of seeing things was a real eye opener for me and it has come to formulate the core aspect of my design, to breathe new life into things that we have overlooked.

DD: You clearly have a fondness for materials not widely used. How do you find working with plastic different from, say, crepe de chine?
HB: Some of the garish materials that I have used in my designs are often garish because of the context in which they are used in our society.  Many materials that I use are so widely used that people do not think of them as beautiful. I think it is easy to make a beautiful dress in crepe de chine, or fine silk and expensive fabrics. It is more difficult to make something beautiful out of something that is so commonly used and that’s a challenge that I am really attracted to.

Plastic is a fantastic material, and it is something we constantly are exposed to, but not always realise the beauty of (this is strictly aesthetically speaking…). My use of plastic in many of my designs also has its roots in Christo & Jeanne-Claudes work. It gives you the ability to encapsulate something, and by doing so you enhance it rather than hiding it.  For example, I used plastic to create a laminated effect on  denim, and in some respects elevate the fabric to a whole new level, just as Christo & Jeanne Claude transform their wrapping projects.

Another example is a 50’s coture inspired dress in dark navy. You probably won’t notice it from afar, but if you take a closer look, you will realize that the dress is made out of toweling and plastic laminated denim. There is a huge gap between a towel and a couture dress, and that combination becomes very interesting and it breathes new life into the material.

DD: Many things considered ‘bad taste’ seem to be having a kind of revival these days. How do you feel about this?
HB: Revivals always play an important role in fashion, and I think when fashion is as most successful is when an element of bad taste is reintroduced and transformed into something digestible that you sort of learn to love. I remember when I bought Smashing Pumpkins album Siamese Dream as a teenager. I knew it was good, but I didn’t really come to realize it until I had listened to it for a couple of weeks. I think fashion should be a little bit like that as well.

One of my favorite designers, Muiccia Prada, captures the essence of this incredibly well. Her collections, whether it is lace, crinkled fabric or psychedelic pints always have to sink in a while until you realise how amazing they are. Beauty is not always an instant phenomenon; sometimes you have to give it a little bit of time.

DD: If you had to pick one location in the world for women to wear your clothing, where would it be?  
HB: It would be funny if it were somewhere unexpected, such as the in the U.S  Congress or something.  
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