We’re Going Back To School With Cecilie Bahnsen x Charles & Keith

Georgia Murray

The Cecilie Bahnsen x Charles & Keith footwear collaboration drops today and our tootsies could not be happier. We’ve been waiting with bated breath for the Danish designer’s partnership with the Singaporean accessories brand, and we won’t be taking the capsule collection – made up of four mule and Mary Jane-inspired styles – off for the foreseeable future.

Even if you’re not familiar with Copenhagen’s coolest export, you’ll likely have worn something inspired by her romance-laden, hyperfeminine aesthetic. Her frothy dresses – all light-as-a-feather fabrics and intricate appliqué – and meringue blouses with their lace-up backs and pouffy sleeves have long been the jewel in Copenhagen Fashion Week’s crown. Over the past few seasons, though, Bahnsen’s eponymous label has travelled outside Denmark and influenced the prevailing aesthetic in more ways than one.

Cecilie Bahnsen’s biannual shows often take place in industrial hanger units on the outskirts of Copenhagen and feature a bevy of angelic models walking in unison, her intricate creations blooming as they move (her SS20 catwalk was a concrete jetty, with her buttercup silk and duck egg blue organza pieces floating magically in the August breeze). It’s this breathtaking, saccharine aesthetic for which the designer’s known – but she’s far from a one-trick pony. For AW20 we saw a darker take on romance: reams of black ruffles and Victoriana jackets, monochrome lace and chocolate brown quilting.

Bahnsen fuses fanciful, history-inspired pieces with a contemporary cool that makes them wearable now. Every fashion fan worth their salt cites her designs as their dream wedding dress but her tops and accessories work just as well with denim for a Sunday session at the pub. The designer has long championed a flat shoe (the Danes ensure comfort comes first when dressing up) and this isn’t her first footwear collaboration: back in 2018 she teamed up with Suicoke on a collection of embellished, Insta-worthy sandals. Her newest offering with Charles & Keith provides further proof that the heel is well and truly dead.

The collection, named Back to School and starting at £220, is inspired by traditional school uniforms, with Charles & Keith’s signature styles reinterpreted by Bahnsen in sumptuous fabrics and flourishes of colour. We caught up with the designer ahead of the launch to discuss everything from her favourite Mary Jane moments in fashion history to her fondest school disco memory.

Hi Cecilie! What was your favourite class at school and if you could go back, what would you study? 

Arts and crafts but I also liked history. I have always known that I wanted to study fashion and I loved my years both at Denmark’s Design School and at the Royal College of Art. I have, however, always admired my little sister who is a schoolteacher, and how she inspires the kids to be curious and learn. So maybe I would do the same.  

Did you ever bunk off? 

I can’t remember I ever bunked from school! 

Who was your favourite teacher? 

My favourite teacher is Anja Vang Kragh, she was my teacher at the Danish Design School and took me with her to Paris to work for John Galliano. She showed me the poetic and emotional appeal of craftsmanship and gave me my love for couture-level details.

What advice would you give your high-school self? 

I always wanted to just study art and fashion so I hated high school and spent most of my time complaining about how I had to do an A-level degree in mathematics. I now know that it takes much more than creative skills to make it in fashion and I’m so grateful for everything I learned. 

Do you have a favourite school disco moment? 

I always used to make my own dresses for proms, I would work on them for weeks. They were all big, beautiful, romantic clouds of fabric that looked fantastic when you moved. Unfortunately my boyfriend of the time didn’t think so – apparently it was more cool not to dress up, so he didn’t dance with me all night. Luckily I had my girlfriends there who also loved ‘90s music and dancing in tulle dresses all night. 

If you could have had a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off moment, what would you have done with the 24 hours? 

Spend it with my girlfriends, looking in vintage stores and buying amazing items that we could change and adapt to be our own style and then wear them in the evening for a party. 

What did you love about working with Charles & Keith? 

I met Emma [Emmanuelle Mace-Driskill, Charles & Keith’s executive director] a year ago and started talking about the project. What I thought was so interesting about what Charles & Keith presented was that we would do the full package. It has been about creating a concept and finding a shoe we really felt could be the brand and tell a story in itself. To also have the chance to work on this product for over half a year, to have the time and chance to perfect it was amazing. We really did start more or less from scratch and went through every single part of the development stage to make it perfect. Together we have created a whole universe and story surrounding these four pairs of shoes. It’s been a collection in itself. The storytelling is what makes the collaboration so interesting. It presents the values that the brand stands for already and the timelessness of the collections and how we can develop together. 

Talk me through the inspiration for the collection.

I have always been inspired by school uniforms, probably because I, as a child, never had to wear one. My very first runway collection, for AW17, was inspired by black and white Italian Catholic schoolboy uniforms from the late 19th and early 20th century, focusing on the layering and beautiful details. The uniforms are actually dresses and there is an intriguing contrast between the femininity of that proportion, the layering of smocks over shirts and the masculinity of the precise edges and finishing. Also, when moving to London to study at the Royal College of Art, I got fascinated by preppy school uniforms worn by private schoolchildren in South Kensington and this inspired a lot of my school project. 

So for this Charles & Keith collaboration it only felt natural to look at the Mary Jane shoe, which is considered part of a traditional schoolgirl’s uniform, and how we could reinterpret this traditional shoe design to fit in the universe of Cecilie Bahnsen. I kept circling back to the same inspiration and with this title, Back to School, it gave me the chance to fully live this inspiration both in the shoes, styling, collection, location, photoshoot and film. 

How are you styling this collection? 

I always love to style shoes with a pair of socks and voluminous dress. 

What do you think is the Mary Jane moment in fashion history? 

I love the way Queen Elizabeth II often wore Mary Janes as a child. It was a very classic schoolgirl style, with a bit of historical royal glam.

Back to School, the Cecilie Bahnsen x Charles & Keith collection, is available from today.

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