The Danish designer taps the ‘Love’ actress for these new visuals by Dazed contributor Casper Sejersen
There’s a subtle absurdity to Anne Sofie Madsen’s work. In her universe, garments are altered with something slightly odd or unreal, often punctuated with fantasy-fuelled historical silhouettes. It's not entirely unlike the work of her fellow Dane, Dazed contributor Casper Sejersen, whom she recently enlisted to shoot a series of images with Klara Kristin. (They met around the time the actor was promoting Gaspar Noé’s Love).
“I love the way Casper’s images have a sense of a story behind them. I feel like we’re in this never-ending stream of images where I’m always looking for the one that has something unexplainable behind it. Something I can’t easily decipher,” Madsen says. Her work echoes this sentiment. “Romanticism-romance,” she calls it. “Light and dark sides. There’s always something otherworldly. Maybe it’s also to do with being Danish – being a romantic here is in many ways very taboo and I think I’ve always fought it. This season I just allowed myself to be that way.”
Similarly, her latest collaboration with her long-time friend, artist Esben Weile Kjær, takes a poetic approach to the concept of merchandise. Wanting to do a commentary on the seismic wave that hit fashion last year where designers and musicians really tapped into fan culture excitement to create all kinds of merch, Madsen and Weile Kjær decided to celebrate different kinds of idols: Gilles Deleuze, Donna Haraway, Judith Butler – the latter captured on a hoodie that reads ‘The New Other’. “Without Judith Butler and her queer studies, would we even have all these feminist slogan t-shirts we’re seeing right now?” Anne Sofie Madsen asks.
How did you and Esben approach working with merchandise?
Anne Sofie Madsen: We’ve both been very interested in merchandise in fashion. T-shirts with very obvious, recognisable, easy to read slogans that often profit from rebellious underground culture. We wanted to create a feeling of doing merchandise for people who have inspired us, but also something not purely visual and less easy to read, woven with word images that relate to the body. They all work on multiple levels, regardless of whether you recognise the quotes or the people. Like the sweatshirt that says ‘Body Without Organs’ is an image of Deleuze sunbathing during the mid-70s, which also works if you haven’t read Deleuze.
You and Esben have been working together for a while. What brings you together?
Anne Sofie Madsen: I think it’s important that you have people you can work alongside. For me, it’s really interesting to work within a traditional fashion space but also see what happens if you move those things into a contemporary art space. I don’t want to try to make fashion into art but sort of invite fashion and art into different spaces.
What separates fashion and art for you?
Anne Sofie Madsen: Fashion to me is an applied art. It’ll always be important to me that you can wear it. It’s an interesting medium in that it interacts with people’s lives, their actions. With art, there are no expectations of use, unless you want to capitalise on it and people need to be able to display it. If fashion can’t leave its exhibition space, then it has in some ways failed. The key to its success is whether people can see it as part of their own lives. Within popular culture, fashion is art’s brash cousin, but maybe that’s what makes her interesting. That she’s a skank and therefore reaches a much wider audience than art. But at the same time, fashion’s an odd thing where you’re also quite disrespectful of the consumer and less worried about usability. And a lot of fashion takes place within a rather closed sign system, where it’s always referring back to itself, which means a lot of references in fashion make very little sense to outsiders.
“Fashion is art’s brash cousin, but maybe that’s what makes her interesting. That she’s a skank and therefore reaches a much wider audience than art” – Anne Sofie Madsen
Reference-wise, what have you been thinking about for AW17?
Anne Sofie Madsen: The collection itself came from an idea of making it look like something from a past you can’t remember and a future you can’t imagine. A sort of museum experience, like when I’m at the Danish National Museum and it’s this odd thing of knowing I’m looking at ancient artefacts but at the same time it mainly looks to me like these apocalyptic future scenarios. It’s been about working with silhouettes that were made to look historical but which have never existed, like a historical sleeve that’s never been.
I feel like this blending of the past and present is something we’re seeing a lot right now with all the nostalgia-led aesthetics.
Anne Sofie Madsen: Before it was about changing something for now. You could see what was a retro version and what was the original object. And now, it’s almost as if things have to be 1:1, the exact replication. People can wear an outfit that might as well be from 1998. There’s something pretty crazy about how sometimes I can’t distinguish between whether something is a picture from when I was a tweenie or it’s been shot now. I feel like it’s a new and very different notion of retro than we’ve seen before in that it follows the original so closely. I sometimes wonder if it’s a look back at a time when fashion had a more pure voice. And I see a similar thing in contemporary art.
Kind of like how things are shared again and again on Instagram and Tumblr, until no one knows where or when they came from.
Anne Sofie Madsen: Yeah. And there are these weird sceneries you keep stumbling across until eventually, they become a kind of reality.
“I really believe there’s huge potential for failure to be the starting point for something amazing. To dare to be somewhere where you’re doing things that might not give you an instant feeling of success” – Anne Sofie Madsen
I think a lot of reviewers still focus on deconstruction with you, but to me, your work is more about making the familiar unfamiliar. How do you feel about the word deconstruction?
Anne Sofie Madsen: I’ve never really worked with deconstruction as a method, which is why I’ve found it tricky to recognise myself within that term. Although, if I look back I’m like okay, I get how that could look like deconstruction. It’s maybe been more of an experiment – changing things or adding movement to them.
I see some references to the power suit in your tailoring. What interests you about that?
Anne Sofie Madsen: One of the reasons I’ve been working with tailoring is the idea of success but, also, failure – which is something I’ve been looking at for the past year and a half. What the criteria for success are. Dressing for success and what that is. There are definitely some gender things within that, with the suit and how a more masculine, streamlined body has become the ultimate symbol of control and success. I’ve been looking at ways to make the power suit more fragile or skanky – garments that illustrate success and control but in a way also ruining that part to make them more contradictory. There’s so much focus on success, but I really believe there’s huge potential for failure to be the starting point for something amazing. To dare to be somewhere where you’re doing things that might not give you an instant feeling of success.
Speaking of daring, I’d love to hear about the thoughts behind those witchy newspaper shoes from AW17 inspired by one of Esben’s sculptures.
Anne Sofie Madsen: Again, it’s that thing of things occupying different spaces. As a sculpture, it’s a non-wearable object. And the show version is kind of the same, because it’s papier mâché. It’s like that (#heelconcept) trend with objects as high heels – standing on a peach, a conch, a lighter. These fantasy high-heeled shoes. I’m really into how a trend that you can’t use in any way whatsoever becomes such a massive phenomenon. I like that our shoes can be worn for a show and yet they can never be put into production, sold or used. They live at the show and then never again.
It’s kind of the definitive ephemeral fashion.
Anne Sofie Madsen: I also think I’ve been chasing a form of realness that I’ve realised I’m less interested in making than I thought. There’s something really freeing about letting go of a realness I’m not sure if others have expected of me or I’ve been expecting from myself.
“...it’s something we’ve not really let inside our visual culture. Grand emotions are always related to shame and exhibitionism.” – Anne Sofie Madsen
Do you think those realism expectations have anything to with being Danish?
Anne Sofie Madsen: There are definitely some protestant and social-democratic things in there. Both have brought some amazing values with them, but at the same time, they’re about the functional and the uniform – a resistance to excess and everything that’s flamboyant or without a purpose. Which means you’ll always have an ambivalent relationship with fashion, which can never be 100 per cent about function.
It’s funny because someone like Karl Lagerfeld always mentions the more romantic and gloomy and overwrought side of Danish and Nordic heritage.
Anne Sofie Madsen: That’s so true. Like the work of Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) and HC Andersen, perhaps the two biggest Danish authors ever. And somehow, it’s something we’ve not really let inside our visual culture. Grand emotions are always related to shame and exhibitionism. You have a very puritan relationship with body and adornment. Maybe it’s the cultural heritage of the protestant reformation. While the Sun King was decorating we were painting over all the Danish church frescos, removing anything that glittered. Anything non-essential – whether that’s emotionally or visually – is a bit frowned upon here.