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Hyun Mi Nielsen SS19Photography Adrián Catalán

The former Balenciaga & McQueen designer creating looks for romantic punks

We speak to Christine Nielsen – of Hyun Mi Nielsen – about her magpie-inspired SS19 collection

When leaving fashion school, design students often face the choice between starting their own label immediately or going into the industry to gain experience at various design houses before going it alone. Among the designers in the latter category is Christine Nielsen, founder of Hyun Mi Nielsen.

After stints at Givenchy, Alexander McQueen, and Balenciaga under Alexander Wang, Nielsen decided to start her own label to bring her closer to the tactile side of design. “Working for somebody else is a great experience,” she tells us. “It teaches you a lot about empathy and having love for a brand.”

With the idea of creating clothes for the working women, she has been putting out collections during the couture shows since 2017. “My idea of a woman is about someone who is strong, but super sensitive too, and I think the working woman is the best example of that,” Nielsen says. “It’s the closest thing to what I’d call myself.”

The clothes themselves are constructed using couture techniques, but are ultimately pieces for the working woman’s wardrobe, including chic leather dresses, oversized coats, and clean-cut tailoring. Adding a touch of ‘punk’ are metal embellishments, over-the-knee skintight leather boots, and bralets worn over printed tops.

While the brand is not sustainable, Nielsen hopes her focus on luxury techniques and attention to detail will help create looks that people want to keep forever. “I’m all about ‘buy less, but buy better’” she explains. “When people see my collections, I hope they see something well executed with longevity.”

Here, we speak with Nielsen about her recently released SS19 collection and why she decided to start her own label after years of industry experience.

How did you first get started in fashion?

Christine Nielsen: I started out in Denmark at the Academy of Fine Arts, and then I ended up at the Royal College of Art. So it was a very normal BA/MA kind of thing. I learnt lots there and it was good to be around other creative people.

I think what sticks with me though, is that it doesn’t matter if there are five minutes to a deadline, you should continue to try to make whatever you’re working on look as good as possible with the time you have.

When did you decide to start your own label?

Christine Nielsen: Being at Balenciaga with Alex (Alexander Wang) gave me time to think about what I really wanted to do. Those teams are always huge, so I missed being immersed in the materials, having that physical contact in the process of garment making – that’s what I really love about design. I had tried so many things, and worked on so many labels with amazing people, but it was the right time.

How would you describe Hyun Mi Nielsen’s aesthetic?

Christine Nielsen: I hope people see something innocent but super punk at the same time. I like the contrast between light and dark, romanticism and perviness.

“I hope people see something innocent but super punk at the same time. I like the contrast between light and dark, romanticism and perviness” – Christine Nielsen

What is your design process when approaching a collection?

Christine Nielsen: I’m always moved by images, so a lot of research is images. Then, we create a lot of different samples and textures and put it all together. We’ll take the concept of a coat, but then develop it, creating a new texture or shape. The starting point is always something very tactile and then it develops into the final garment.

What can you tell me about your SS19 collection?

Christine Nielsen: For SS19, I was really attracted to the idea of the magpie. The beauty of an animal that’s attracted to shiny things and picks up lots of different things. I like the contrast of a mundane object that could be something to precious to somebody else. There was something nice about making the most of what you have and turning something humble into an embellishment.

Another thing was the concept of carrying baggage. We all move through time and space, so the idea of travellers or people who are very bohemian but a punky, romantic version of all of that.

“I’m really into working out how you can elevate things that are humble, how to use a couture technique with mundane everyday materials – that’s the exciting part of having no budget” – Christine Nielsen 

How do you go about visually communicating the label’s aesthetic?

Christine Nielsen: To me, it’s not something that I want to dictate because then it becomes boring. Collaborating is the way forward and that’s when it becomes more interesting. We’re not doing campaigns at the moment, but if I was to do one I’d want to work with someone whose view I find interesting. The photographer we shot with for SS19 is one we have worked with before and I completely trust him.

What kind of difficulties have you faced starting your own label?

Christine Nielsen: Budget, budget, budget. I’m completely self-financed so that’s always been an issue for me.

I think there’s a beauty in it though. It’s a challenge. Now, I’m really into working out how you can elevate things that are humble, how to use a couture technique with mundane everyday materials. That’s the exciting part of having no budget, finding a way to execute what you want anyway.

What advice would you give to others looking to start their own label?  

Christine Nielsen: I had many years of experience in fashion before starting my own label, so I’ve done everything in reverse – I think there are pros and cons to both. When you’re straight out of college, it’s easier to struggle because you’re already used to that life. I was comfortable and I completely turned my life upside-down.

I say ‘go for it’. Do things your own way and stay true to yourself. Even though I had worked in fashion, that was only as a designer. I hadn’t worked in marketing, sales, production, or development. But if I hadn’t tried I would have never known I could do it.