In her Paris studio the night before her Spring 2023 show, Cecilie Bahnsen and her team were wondering about the weather. The forecast for the entirety of Paris Fashion Week was rain, but she planned to show outside, in a courtyard at the Cour Mansart Monnaie, regardless. If it did rain, they reasoned, it would be on-theme. The collection is titled, "We Are Water," inspired by an old Yoko Ono installation featuring a row of water-filled bottles, each one with the name of a famous figure (Sylvia Plath, Cindy Sherman, David Bowie). "It expresses so beautifully something that I feel to be true — that we are all the same, just placed in different containers," the designer wrote in her show notes.
Back at the studio, she showed me a beautiful blue silk dress that had been strategically shredded throughout, giving it a texture reminiscent of ripples in liquid.
"It reminds me of when you throw a stone into the water," she explains. In the show, it was styled over a similarly-hued knit T-shirt, black socks and Asics customized with flower appliqués upcycled from a previous collection.
When I arrived, I found Bahnsen — a quintessential dirty-blonde, petite Copenhagen "cool girl" — in one of her signature white, voluminous (but light-as-air), puff-sleeved dresses, thrown on over pants and sneakers, nervously braiding and unbraiding her perfectly undone, dirty hair. I assumed she was just trying on a sample, but no, that was just her outfit. There was something radical about treating such a precious, beautifully constructed (not to mention expensive) piece so casually, as if she'd randomly picked it up off the floor and thrown it on. In past shows, she might style her poufy, bow-adorned, hyper-feminine dresses and skirts with flats and/or minimalist sweaters, but for Spring 2023, she leaned into a more utilitarian way of dressing, inspired by the way she and her employees wear the brand.
"We all wear the dresses with jeans or with a denim jacket over it. It's really like this masculine counterpoint to the femininity and also really speaking to this Scandinavian way of dressing, like this effortless, kind of playful, not-too-precious way of putting your things together," she explains. This was more than just a styling decision: Bahnsen is expanding her offering to include more everyday pieces, including denim and a range of delicate knit T-shirts and tanks. She also introduced a collaboration with British heritage label Macintosh on outerwear (also very practical for the forecast) roomy enough to accommodate her billowing sleeves, and her first trainers, done in partnership with Asics.
"We are so known for dresses. So it's really nice to now also introduce like this denim jacket, the trousers and the outerwear," she says. "I'm really building the collection."
This practical approach to styling did not detract from her dresses' exceptional craftsmanship. Bahnsen put much of her focus on the way the dresses would move, creating each (often asymmetrical) silhouette right on the dress stand, transferring it directly from the stand to the fit model. To her, this juxtaposition is representative of her brand's evolution since she began showing in Paris last season.
"Paris, for me, has such a romance to it, and it's where I started my career — I worked for Galliano before — seeing the atelier the craftsmanship." she explains. "To me, that's also why showing here now it's like such dream come true. But then pairing that with this Danish effortless way of wearing it. It needs to be practical and it needs to be comfortable but also taking something couture and precious, but make it something that you just want to make part of your everyday and that you want to love and you want put it on on a Monday as well as to a party... So you can kind of mix the two, right?"
Also very Scandinavian is Bahnsen's dedication to sustainability. Her first denim collection will be produced locally without any dyes, and many elements of the collection are upcycled.
"It's this kind of thing where you're not starting from a blank canvas, but you work with what you have," she says. "I think it really gives an individuality to the collection a new twist."
With her latest collection, Bahnsen continues to build her business, and a name for herself. Among Paris's uniquely formidable of mix established and buzzy new designers, she is refining her craft while bringing it all back down to earth — and reminding us that, ultimately, we're all just water. (And yes, it did end up raining.)
See every look from Cecilie Bahnsen's Spring 2023 collection in the gallery below.