If you go down to Shacklewell Green today – or on any given afternoon when the British sun decides to shine – there’s a strong chance you might catch a glimpse of Peter Jensen walking his dog. The Danish born London based designer has long held an office in the area, from which 16 years of his eponymous label has come to fruition.
When Wonderland meets him, in a bright studio off Kingsland Road, the designer is dressed in three different shades of brown while Abba’s “Greatest Hits” plays on the stereo; his manner, and that of his extended posse, alludes to a sense of calm typically inconsistent with the kind of shoot that is playing out around us: a selection of cakes dress a neighbouring table as said posse (hair, make-up and the respective assistants; Jensen’s in-house team as well as a couple from the PR company) are spread out across the room.
Kickstarted by menswear at the end of the 90s (a unisex offering continues to exist), today Peter Jensen womenswear is the nucleus of the operation – the AW17 collection here is the focus of our chat. One of the greatest elements behind the label’s charm, Jensen selects from his nearest and dearest (and some), a different muse each season: think the IRL women in his life like Thelma Speirs of headwear label Bernstock Speirs, with whom he’s collaborated several times or the stylist Shirley Kurata, who held the honour for SS16, likewise the ladies whose lives, played out far away, he holds dear, such as Pools winner turned Smiths cover star Viv Nicholson and Diana Ross (AW13 and SS14 respectively). This season? Solely the hits…
So who’s your muse for AW17?
There is no muse – I know, kind of a shock – I’ll tell you why, it’s because it was the 15-year anniversary last year so it’s all about looking back. It was like the greatest hits collection, I suppose. I mean, pick and choose and then refine it, but if there is one person that influenced the collection it would be Julie Verhoeven because she’s done – we had to do drawings of most of the previous muses – and we’ve used them in embroidered socks (in this collection) and on T-shirts, sweatshirts in print, and things like this.
AW17 aside then, you’re known for anchoring your collections around a distinctive muse each season. Why has it been important for you to keep the collections personal in this respect?
Yes, I think that’s stupid actually of me probably. Though I shouldn’t say that.
Stupid, how so?
Well, I suppose sometimes it becomes stupid. I don’t think it becomes too personal but, I can be a bit jealous of people who can do a collection that’s like, ‘this is inspired by the 60s or the 70s’, and it’s all about floating kaftans or something like this, but I just can’t do that, I have to do it this way. And it’s worked, so it’s ok, we’ll continue. And the nice thing about it, I think, is because we’ve done a newspaper of all the – it’s not all the muses – but with all the press releases, invites and a new one by Julie, for the 15th anniversary (last year), and when you put them all together, it sort of makes sense, it sort of makes it into a book of women, of strong women – they’re strong.
And the shoot today – you’ve had people in and out all day – why have you chosen to debut the new collection in this way, as opposed to doing a classic fashion week set up?
Well basically, it was again, kind of the theme of looking back. The first collection that I ever presented at London Fashion Week, after I had done three menswear collections, Alasdair McLellan did a shoot for my collection in an old house in Leeds and it was just like, it was meant to be a shoot as well but then I last minute decided it was going to be a little tea party situation in a nightclub in Mayfair. So we just set it up and it was people I knew modelling; you could hear me and the stylist giggling from backstage, it was a really intimate, nice situation and all of Alistair’s pictures were sort of a slideshow in the background, and I had two violinists, playing the violin like, really mad, that was it you know and I thought, it’s kind of fitting to do it like this now, and I kind of like it sometimes because it takes the pressure off. And it’s so expensive as well, doing presentations and shows, I mean it’s ridiculously expensive.
And for 15 minutes.
Yeah and then it’s gone, and you’re broke again – no – but you know what I mean. I don’t think that people, enough people do realise how expensive it is, but it is an extraordinary amount of money. I like it like this, it’s something that people can come and look at and be familiar with.
So tell us about the shoot, how did you cast the models and who are you working with?
The stylist is Alice Goddard and the photographer is Amy Gwatkin and for the models – we sort of wanted to go for a grunge, neural look, you know, they look beautifully normal, I suppose, if that’s the word for it. They fit, I think, my universe and they fit my DNA, so it’s good.
And do you have a favourite piece from the new collection?
Just in this case, or do you prefer to stay neutral as a general rule?
I think I just stay neutral; you always have it like this I think, the collection you’ve just done – or I always have it like this – I have a hard time with anything because you’ve seen so much of it, but then when it goes away and then comes back, you actually think ‘oh it wasn’t quite so bad, it was ok’, it’s the same thing with, I think, when you write something.
Totally. So away from Greatest Hits, you’ve just done something with Spongebob Squarepants, is that right?
Haha, yeah. They asked me and I said I love Spongebob Squarepants – I’ve watched it for ever and ever every Saturday morning – and I’ve got my favourite characters, and so I thought it would be really fun. That was basically it: they asked and I said yes.
And so which characters did you get to work ‘with’?
Well I had my favourite but what I wanted to do actually was Spongebob, and – there were rules, Spongebob was the one rule – but I really liked (the idea of) if I was allowed to mix it with my rabbit and we were allowed to do that, and then with other suggestions we came to Gary, then Sebastian.
Cool. How many pieces have you done?
Seven, so it’s very tiny, which is nice. I mean you could do so much…