Peter Jensen’s Spring Muse

Danish fashion designer Peter Jensen is best known for his quirky prints and knitwear, and his unusual muses—from Tonya Harding to artist Cindy Sherman. For his Spring/Summer 2013 collection, Jensen looked to seminal British sculptor, Barbara Hepworth, for inspiration. Tomorrow, Jensen will showcase the collection at the Hepworth gallery in Yorkshire’s Wakefield. As Jensen discusses his work, models wearing his creations will sashay through the galleries, taking their places on allocated plinths amongst Hepworth’s casts.

We caught up with the designer on the eve of the show.

STEPHANIE HIRSCHMILLER: You’ve chosen to present your collection in a gallery. How would you define the relationship between fashion and art?

PETER JENSEN: They definitely overlap somewhere, but I see them as quite separate. I always think it’s pretentious when designers talk about what they do as art. I think when I was studying in the late ’90s, the two got much closer: all the designers wanted to be artists and the artists wanted to be fashion designers; the designers wanted to be conceptual and highbrow and the artists more pop culture.

HIRSCHMILLER: You described your seasonal muse, Barbara Hepworth as “so bland”—not the typical quality one looks to for inspiration… Can you elaborate?

JENSEN: Haha! Yes! I was referring more to the work, it’s quite blank for me, most of my reference points would be more about personalities, and often more related to popular culture. Hepworth’s sculptures are very impersonal to me. There’s a certain dowdiness about British mid-century art that I love. I don’t find her appearance bland, though; she’s clearly a grand dame.

HIRSCHMILLER: What drew you to Hepworth?

JENSEN: She was a considered choice; she seemed like good material for the kind of collection I wanted to make. The idea of using organic forms as an inspiration is very uncharacteristic to me, so I thought it would be interesting challenge. I wanted to make something more sober, and the forms and the colours seemed right. I also love a lot of the portraits of her, which have an oddness more typical of my muses.

HIRSCHMILLER: You’ve had a pretty interesting selection of muses for your past collections—actress Sissy Spacek, photographer Cindy Sherman, model Helena Rubenstein, and scandal ridden Olympic ice-skater Tonya Harding… is there a pattern here?

JENSEN: Yes, they’re an odd assortment! They’re all people I’m fascinated by, in some way or another. Sometimes they’re long-standing favourites, other times they’re someone I saw on a TV program, or in the paper. It’s not deliberate, but somehow most of the resort and summer muses tend to be American, and most of the winter ones have been European, which is interesting to me.

HIRSCHMILLER: Your Spring/Summer 2013 collection certainly references Hepworth’s iconic, ovoid hole shapes and abstract collage drawings, but also her wardrobe of artists’ smocks and her life at her St. Ives studio, with its garden prints. It’s a pretty all-embracing portrait. How did you go about your research?

JENSEN: I’d been to the St. Ives museum years before and loved it, so I had a memory of that. I looked a lot at her work, portraits of her in books, magazines, the internet. The artist’s smock is a bit of a staple in our collections; it’s something I always come back to. All of the prints tell stories about the muses, they’re some of the most narrative elements.

HIRSCHMILLER: What was the most interesting fact you learned about Hepworth?

JENSEN: What is really odd is that both Hepworth and Viv Nicholson [Jensen’s muse for Fall/Winter 2013] are from Wakefield, a small town in West Yorkshire, and I didn’t note the connection at the time. They must be the two most famous women from the area, but quite unalike.

HIRSCHMILLER: Don’t take this the wrong way, but what is the purpose of a hole for you? Is it about what is removed or what it reveals?

JENSEN: You can’t escape the hole jokes! I think I’ll go with what it reveals.

HIRSCHMILLER: Who is the woman—apart from Hepworth herself—that you might imagine wearing this collection?

JENSEN: Buyers always tell me that the clothes sell to a really wide range of women, of all ages, which makes really happy. I have the feeling that the people who buy my clothes are probably nice people—is that delusional?

HIRSCHMILLER: You also collaborated with millinery duo Bernstock Speirs, who designed the sculptural headwear to compliment S/S13 and whose classic bunny ear hats also informed your Fall/Winter 2012 collection. How did you work together?

JENSEN: We’ve worked with Bernstock Speirs on lots of collections now. Sometimes we have very specific ideas of what we want, but this time we gave them some of our reference pictures. The hats are perfect, very photogenic and very Barbara—there’s the opportunity to gaze through the hole, which is such a Hepworth trademark. It’s sort of based on the topless hat they made, which Kylie Minogue wore on the cover of her first album. It’s a high-low mix of references.

HIRSCHMILLER: Glitter dipped brogues—what part of an ascetic sculptress was that?

JENSEN: Yes, probably not a lot of glitter in Barbara’s wardrobe, but they do have holes in them.

HIRSCHMILLER: Tell me about your soundtrack for the show…

JENSEN: Well, apparently Hepworth listened to a lot of early English music, but you can take ascetism too far! I always want the shows to be light, so the soundtrack is always pretty cheerful. We use a lot of music from film scores, some parts from Edward Scissorhands and The Elephant Man—not sure what she’d make of that.