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Corrie Nielsen: From Inspiration to Realisation

With her signature costume couture style and strong Elizabethan influences, the American designer currently exhibits her dresses at London's Design Museum

Corrie Neilsen, 40, has put couture back at the forefront of fashion with her timeless approach to style, hand-stitched garments and liberal use of fabric. She’s studied at Central St. Martins, worked with Vivienne Westwood, and after being chosen by the king of couture himself, John Galliano, at the Fashion Fringe last year, her scheduled show at London Fashion Week last month was as highly anticipated as any established design house. Her signature costume-couture style with dramatic silhouettes and quirky take on classic historical tailoring is now being honoured by the Design Museum, cementing couture as the art and architecture it is. Dazed met the acclaimed designer in her quintessentially British studio in Somerset House. Within the brick trenches underneath the historic landmark, lies a row of artisan studios, and we could not think of a better setting for the Elizabethan-inspired couturist.

Dazed Digital: So the Elizabethan period is definitely a major influence?
Corrie Nielsen
: The collection draws inspiration from two different periods in the history of dress; the Elizabethan period; and 1940’s and 1950’s French haute couture. I take inspiration from traditional tailoring, but distorting the shape and adding a sense of diversity, a quirkiness, quite unusual.

DD: Do you think these couture pieces are more clothing or art?
Corrie Nielsen: I think both respects. They are wearable, but they are works of art. I view fashion in a different way than most modern designers, who just think it’s a commodity. I like to take the whole art of dress and change it and make it dramatic and make it also very classic, but with a twist. Some people might view it as outrageous but that’s just how I see things and create. 

DD: So you think couture should be wearable? Some people have said your pieces are like costumes...
Corrie Nielsen: Not so much this time as they did the last collection, because that was to win the John Galliano thing, so I really exaggerated the pieces and made them quite fun, and some were more wearable, but some were more outrageous. But this is what fashion is. Why not!? Couture should be really extravagant and accentuated and then can be defused down into everyday clothing. 

DD: Is there always continuity between your couture and ready-to-wear collections?
Corrie Nielsen: I think it all ties in with a story, with a theme. With my work I like to take inspiration from different periods, even novelists, artists, and then do from the extreme and then just take it down to the everyday wearable pieces. 

DD: I guess couture is the more artistic aspect.
Corrie Nielsen: I think couture is an expression on ones outlook on the whole art of dress. I think designers do it because it’s part of the show, you have to have your showpieces to make the statement and to show who you are and to get your message out, as an artist, as a designer. For myself, it’s an expression of artistic vision.

DD: So the idea of couture is very important to you?
Corrie Nielsen: I think it is. It’s becoming a lost art, there’s so much work in those pieces, it’s an art form in itself.

DD: It must have meant a lot to you being awarded the prize by Galliano then.
Corrie Nielsen: He is the most creative genius when it comes to the cloth. Nobody can create like him; he sees fashion in a whole art form which I have such appreciation for. In a way I see myself like him, so to be picked by him, it was a massive achievement, it was an honor. When you’re recognized by someone like that, it’s saying something.

Corrie Nielsen: From Inspiration to Realisation, 9 March – 15 May, Design Museum, Shad Thames, London SE1 2YD
Fashion Fringe will shortly be opening the call for the 2011 entries. Keep an eye on for more information