“Kun Engle har Vinger” ["Only Angels Have Wings"] by Nikoline Liv Andersen. Photo: Signe Vilstrup. Model: Josefine Svenningsen, Elite.

"Nature is everything: all small structures, surfaces, ornaments and constructions belonging to the natural world inspire me."

Danish designer Nikoline Liv Andersen

A natural flair

Fashioned from Nature, one of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s most successful and topical exhibitions for our time, opened in Denmark in April 2019. Shown at the Natural History Museum in Copenhagen, it traces how fashion designers, working in the past and present, have been inspired by the natural world. British Council Denmark spoke to Nikoline Liv Andersen, one of the Danish designers featured in the show, about her career and her interaction with the fashion and clothing scene in the UK. 

When did you start designing clothes, and why? 

I have always enjoyed drawing and painting, and as a child my mother taught me to knit. All the women in my family are very good at knitting, so I have been brought up with a deep respect for all kinds of craftsmanship. When I was around seven years old, I made books with drawings of imprisoned princesses, all of them miserable and sad. So I suppose I have always felt the desire to tell a story – often a sad one – using my skills in craftsmanship. 

What’s the difference between designing clothes for the catwalk and clothes for daily use?

Much of my work involves creating clothing and working on textile projects for exhibitions; and there is a huge different between making wearable clothes and clothes for an exhibition. At an exhibition there are often no rules, and the way in which the clothing can express a certain sentiment can be the most important part of the final work. Nevertheless, I also know that it’s important to create well-made clothes as well as installations or paintings. To this end, items can be worn and have lasting value – just like garments for daily use should. I am not fascinated by conceptual art if there is no craftsmanship behind it. 

Was all of your training in Denmark, or did you benefit from training abroad? 

I was educated in Copenhagen at the Danish Design School. But I also managed to get some international working experience: during school I completed an internship at John Galliano, Christian Dior in Paris. 

Have you lived, worked or shown your clothing designs in the UK? 

No, unfortunately. Actually I had a job interview at Alexander McQueen when he was alive, but I didn’t get the job. It was a shame as I absolutely love McQueen’s designs. In the future I would love to exhibit in the UK. 

Are you interested in the fashion scene in Europe?

When I am working on my projects at my atelier I feel as if I am hiding in a cave trying not to focus on what others have made. I become really focussed and have no interest in being influenced by other designers; I prefer to be inspired from elsewhere. For the past three and a half years I have been working for Fendi in Rome. Of course, when I am working there I need to have a clearer knowledge of what is going on in the world of fashion. A journalist once called me ‘The Queen of No Man’s Land’, which I found curious but quite flattering, in a way. I don’t see myself as a queen though; more of a lonely soldier fighting for what I believe to be right and true, or fighting to find meaning in something I don’t easily understand. But I definitely belong to the ‘No Man’s Land’ in the sense that I often work in the middle of two worlds – fashion and art.

Talk us through how nature has come to guide your work? 

Nature is everything: all small structures, surfaces, ornaments and constructions belonging to the natural world inspire me. From the sound of the leaves when the branches of a tree are moving slowly in a calm summer wind, to the colours of the sky when the sun sets, and the waves in the water when you’re swimming. I find all of this healing but also humbling. I don’t want to shy away or remove myself from all of this. Through my work I try to create my own kind of nature and love of the environment. But it’s hard work, because you can never make anything as amazing as the real thing.

What are your thoughts about sustainable fashion?

Sustainability is crucial, and big brands have a huge responsibility to make their production ecological. World leaders also have to act as role models. But it is equally important that all members of human society, whoever they are, are aware of the way in which day to day activity affects climate change. We all need to be more thoughtful about how we live, but also how we take action. 

We’ve only borrowed the planet temporarily, and we need to act as friendly and polite guests. A big problem is that most of the time we live as blind customers without knowing that how we behave can have serious consequences for the environment, animals, other people around the world or even ourselves. Politicians as well as the fashion industry need to take a lead and set the example, but we also need to think for ourselves and act sustainably.   

The dress that I am showing at Fashioned from Nature is made of reused fur. Instead of throwing out I find it very exciting to reuse old garments or ‘clothing’ leftovers. I love wearing second hand items and to repair textiles instead of throwing things out. One might say that a good thing about the world of fashion is that when something has been ‘out’ for a certain amount of time it’ll soon get a revival.

How do you know when a design is finished?

If I am unsure it is not finished, then I know! I then acknowledge that I need to continue until, hopefully, I reach a magical moment when it is completed. I am hopelessly determined to work without compromises, so completion is a loaded word.

Does nationality ever matter in your profession? 

In Denmark, being a Danish citizen matters in the sense that our social security system allows us all to get an education, wherever we come from. Moreover, lots of Danish artists are helped by grants from the Danish Arts Foundation which helps artists to dream big.

Does the chance to show in exhibitions like Fashioned from Nature make a difference to your professional success?

I am so happy to participate in the exhibition and I am looking so much forward to seeing it. Because I don’t sell my works in any store, it is at exhibitions like Fashioned from Nature that I get to show my things.

The dress design by Nikoline Liv Andersen on display at the Fashioned From Nature exhibition.
A silk waistcoat embroidered with a pattern of macaque monkeys, France, 1780-89. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Pragtbiller (Sternocera sp.). © Statens Naturhistoriske Museum.

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