Hans Christian Andersen and his pivotal fairytales came to life on the runway, as Danish designer Christian Juul Nielsen presented Aknvas' spring/summer '24 collection at New York Fashion Week
Christian Juul Nielsen always looks to his Danish background when putting together a collection. "This season, I looked at my favourite author ever, Hans Christian Andersen," says Nielsen. Aknvas – derived from the way the Danish pronounce 'a canvas' – was just that for Nielsen: a blank canvas. An art-lover, Nielsen "constantly" frequents the galleries in Chelsea in New York for inspiration, seeking out artists like Egon Schiele, Helen Frankenthaler, and Olafur Eliasson. "I love the concept of thinking of a collection as a canvas," he explains. Nielsen always approach his creative process as a crisp, clean canvas, beginning every collection by asking himself: "What are we painting this season?"
Since the 2019 launch of his New York-based brand, Nielsen's vision has been to create a relevant fashion brand inspired by his Nordic background, using the couture knowledge he learned while working in Paris cutting his teeth in the ateliers of Dior, Nina Ricci and Oscar de la Renta. As Nielsen notes, his brand and the latest collection are reflections of his design journey. "This season, we created a lot of handmade details," Nielsen points out, listing the budding flowers blooming from poplin shirts, the swans made from strips of cotton stitched together, and the broken mirror dress brought to life with cut-out foil petals. Craftsmanship the designer picked up in "the studio of John Galliano."
Furthermore, Nielsen personally draped each dress in the collection on the mannequin, just as he "would do it at Dior." "I learned a lot about materials from Raf Simons at Dior," Nielsen says. "He challenged me to use polyester blends from Japan in couture styles." A challenge Nielsen rose to, leading to Japanese fabrics still making up a large part of his collections today.
"I think there is something we learn in the north about less being more," Nielsen ponders. "And over-decorating does not necessarily make things better." Drawing on Hans Christian Andersen, Nielsen began this collection with the author's papercutting hobby translated into crisp cotton, stonewashed denim and fused prints on menswear shirts. Swans are the national bird of Denmark and a symbol seen in the fairytale author's work The Wild Swans – not to mention recreated in the form of dresses and bra tops in Nielsen's collection. Thumbelina's water lilies can also be ascertained, alongside the previously mentioned broken mirror found in The Snow Queen. "Furthermore, I simply try to think about how I would like a woman to dress," says Nielsen. "What do I think looks cool and why? I don't want my collection to be theatre. I want it to be worn again and again."
The venue itself was also imbued with Nordicism. "The plan for the show was to do a minimalistic setting and let the clothes be the centrepieces," says Nielsen. The choice of location fell on Manhattan's Spring Studio. DJ " theothersideofthebrain" cemented the ambience with music featuring the voice of Björk, "Viking Techno", and the designer himself reading from Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen in Danish. "I do the casting myself," Nielsen adds. "I have great relationships with a lot of the agents and models, and somehow it comes together when I do it myself." Proven by the gorgeous cast of models "representing people from all nations."
Nielsen wraps up. Looking ahead, he says: "Next season, we get a fresh new canvas and paint a new story."
Below, discover the full Akvnas spring/summer '24 collection: