Payzee Malika spoke to fashion designer Peter Jensen about the influence of icons, and what he’s learned. Plus: an exclusive look at his notebooks.
Payzee Malika: How do you find judging at GFW?
Peter Jensen: Well I have to start off by saying I have been teaching at St Martins for 14/15 years now. It’s once a week, menswear only. Looking at students’ work and going to judge those things – I find it really uplifting and very much in touch with a new generation that is appearing. I have always been a big fan of youth, because I think that’s where fashion really comes from.
PM: Do you have any advice for young designers getting into the industry?
PJ: It always depends on the avenue you want to take… I would really advise people not to try and sell their product within the first three seasons. I think you can risk putting yourself out there… [but avoid selling until] you get into a situation where you won’t have made any mistakes. Then maybe slowly try and sell bits that you know you can control, like jerseys or whatever it is that you are planning to do. I think a lot of young people who are trying to set up a business fall through because they can’t deliver the quality, or what the buyer is after. Unfortunately the system is being built that way, [so] that they don’t have any leeway; you’re under the same terms, delivery dates, quality and all of that.
PM: Are there any up-and-coming designers that you love?
PJ: Yes, I really like Charles Jeffrey’s work; he was one of my students at St Martins. I think what he’s trying to do is something that’s a bit more underground. There’s a new generation coming up and I think what happens is, when new people come up and they start doing these things, they might not get noticed at first… but then they will start to notice, and then the whole establishment will start to get really jealous because they are creating something new, something exciting. And all of a sudden they start to become employable, they start to get something that people are buying into. And fashion needs that. Fashion needs these people to come up with these refreshing ideas, so it doesn’t look all polished and like you’ve spent a lot of money on it.
PM: I heard that you were studying tailoring back home in Copenhagen before you came to London...
PJ: That’s not entirely true… I did train as a tailor for two years, but it wasn’t Copenhagen, it was in Aarhus, which is the second biggest city in Denmark. And then I moved to Copenhagen and lived in LA for a period of time. I moved to London to do my MA.
PM: Is design something you’ve always been passionate about?
PJ: Yes, I think it was. Looking back, I think it really started off by being interested in style and really doing costumes for myself. I was very interested in my mum’s sewing machine as a tool. I was really interested in what it could do for me and that is really where it started. Then I started making outfits for people on my street.
PM: LA and Copenhagen are very different environments to London. Did your inspiration and the way you design change after you moved here?
PJ: Absolutely, but I also think it comes down to the fact that I came from a BA, and a BA is a very experimental period of your life. You’re trying to find yourself, and 75% of things you do is crap. I have to credit [Fashion Professor] Louise Wilson… she very much drove me into something. She said to me, “Why do you not design for yourself, why do you design for other people?”...I started to really think about that and I started to design for myself. And all of a sudden it became a package.
PM: Your women’s collections have very specific, female muses. Tell us how that began.
PJ: It actually came from my MA collection which was based on Marianne Faithful, and for me, [having] trained in menswear at St. Martins, it’s almost like a box. I just needed something else that I was doing that I could keep going back to. And that was what fascinated me the most, that I could build each collection on a woman. It was like a story.
PM: You have collaborated with a number of people already, but is there anyone else you would love to collaborate with?
PJ: Yes, there is; I would love to work with a Danish furniture company, [or] a company which do a lot of the renowned Danish furniture designs… because everything is done by hand, it’s a craft, and I very much respect that. I would love to do a theatre act as well – more costumes.
PM: How about your own team; was it hard to find them?
PJ: Nope. Well Gerard [Wilson], who is still with me and has been from the start, he owns part of the business. He very much knows everything. The rest of the team? No, I don’t think it was very difficult. I have a small team. We’re seven people in total, but I kind of like that. It feels like a small family. You can control things and I really like that; I think it’s healthy.
PM: Was there a reason you stopped doing LFW?
PJ: I think I was just bored. It just became a routine – doing the same thing again and again. It became crazy... [the] money you spend on models, casting agents and God knows what else to make this ten minute thing happen. I felt like I lost contact with it because it became something you just did. It wasn’t something you could talk about your clothing on – it was very quick. I lost the excitement for it, [but] it’s coming back now. I did a fashion film, called Screen Test, where I am interviewing the boys. It had humour and everything. I think a lot of fashion films are really cringe worthy.
PM: There’s so much humour in your work. How did you find your humour, where does that come from and how do you incorporate it into your work?
PJ: Yes, which I really value. Humour is very precious to me. I think fashion has become very uniform; everyone does the same shapes and various people put decorations on that shape. It’s hard to say where it comes from, I think a lot of it is a tweak of proportion… in my head it looks exactly like normal, but I am sure it’s not. I think my humour definitely comes from my grandmother, who was incredibly funny, she just had the best sense of humour. I mean we spent a lot of time making crap phone calls to people especially to the woman across the street who was much older than her when she had her afternoon nap she would have to get out of bed and answer the phone. She was really funny, I really loved her. I grew up with her and it really comes from there.