Peter Jensen (April 06)
In director Neil Jordan's latest film, Breakfast on Pluto (based on the novel by Pat McCabe), the protagonist, Kitten, is an imaginative but harmless teenage transvestite in 1970's Ireland who slinks off to London in search of his mother, only to find violence, deceit and pay-per-peep. Yet he perseveres with inner strength and good humor, not to mention a suitcase full of lingerie. That character, indelibly played by Cillian Murphy, shares more than a few traits with London designer Peter Jensen, whose lilt alone is a perfect match, despite that he hails from Denmark. No surprise, then, that Jensen, 35, bases each of the collections—women's and men's combined—of his 7-year-old line on one powerful female figure, either real or fictional, but almost always demented, tragically. For his fall '06 faux elegant collection, he drew inspiration from Helena Rubinstein, the ambitious cosmetics industrialist who became one of the world's richest women after clawing her way up from obscure Polish origins. For spring '06, the honor went to muse Sissy Spacek for her devilish roles in Badlands and Carrie, emphasized on the runway by models whose faces and limbs were dotted with freckles. Yet, as he tells LEE CARTER, it's Jensens own sins, ranging from putting on miniskirts to pulling off a gay wedding, that will likely land him in hell first. Kitten would be so proud.
If you had to describe your collections in one sentence, what would it be?
That they're very nice.
Okay, two sentences.
They're also very girly and charming, and a bit childish, I would say. It's probably very related to the kind of a person I am.
You're a girly, charming and childish person?
Maybe not girly.
Except on special occasions?
(Laughs.) Yeah, I suppose.
But, although youthful in appearance, your collections are based on specifically strong women.
Yes, I've always had a fascination with women, and they always seem to be quite strong, as you say, and quite bizarre in a lonely way. Helena Rubinstein obviously falls into the strong-woman category. She'd have to be strong to make up all those stories about herself to seem more fabulous.
Then, they're anti-heroines, in the way of anti-heroes?
Yeah, like Olga Korbut [Soviet gymnast and four-time Olympic gold medalist], who was the inspiration for spring 2003. After all the glory, she was arrested for shoplifting. I'm fascinated with that. She was so incredibly beautiful and sweet, and she worked so hard to achieve what she did, and was probably pushed really hard. I like that kind of passion. Helena had a great passion for making women want to buy her products, and making herself look fabulous in that way, and she was totally in control of her company. Tonya Harding was also the theme of a collection. We showed it in an ice rink. It's weird how a figure skater could gain so much weight and take up boxing. It just fascinates me. And people who fall from grace but are still loved, like Liza.
Does that fascination come from a gay perspective or a camp perspective, or both?
Have you ever had a fall from grace?
No, not that I can think of.
On the other end of the spectrum, what's your biggest achievement?
To get an email from Sissy Spacek. She was very flattered to be the theme of our spring collection.
Have you kept in touch?
Sort of, we've been writing back and forth. She's living a nice rural life now, married to the set designer of her movies. I can see her pulling out her Academy Award every now and then, and getting the husband to take pictures of her posing with it in bed like Joan Crawford. I think Sissy should be given even more awards, just because.
What awards do you have?
None. I'll be 70 before I win anything. But I attended the British Fashion Awards recently. I sat at the table next to Adrian Joffe, Rei [Kawakubo]'s husband, who told me he thought I should create a perfume. He said it's not that expensive. Other than that, the red carpet and I don't really mix.
Not unless the red carpet were a yellow brick road?
Tell me about your goals for the label.
To make some money. That would be nice.
Are you one of those designers who works in the basement and has to use bits of street mattress because you're owed by everyone?
No, I have a studio and I do try to be professional. I quite like having a nice product.
Did you work for other designers in the beginning?
No, I didn't work for anyone else before my own line. I started in 1999, immediately after getting my Master's degree from [Central] Saint Martins, where I currently teach menswear. Before that I went to an embroidery school for six months, and before that I went to a tailoring school for two years, both in Denmark.
Who's the Peter Jensen customer?
One who has a brain. Having said that, I recently got a call from Opening Ceremony in New York. They're very nice there. They said that someone bought something of mine; I think the name was Hilary Duff. But I'm not exactly sure who that is.
A Disney teen-flick blonde bot.
Maybe she'll become an alcoholic later in life and have a spectacular fall from grace.
Then she could be both inspiration for and customer of a collection. Who are some other idols of yours, with or without falls from grace?
Cindy Sherman, who was our muse for autumn '04. It was all about different characters. We had a model come in and we got together a lot of clothes and asked friends and collaborators to come in and dress her up and take pictures, so it was more about the process. I also love Kate Bush. I just found this CD with all her classic interviews that she's done over the years. It's really good. She's quite funny. When she describes the songs, you don't get a sense that there's a deeper meaning. She's actually quite simple, which I like.
Should we also take your collections at face value?
I suppose. When I think of people like Martin Margiela, who I admire, I hope and pray he doesn?t take himself too seriously, that there is some kind of humor in what he does. Not that you're meant to be laughing.
Who do you wear when you're not prancing around in your own girly creations?
Margiela, of course, and I like Westwood and Comme des Garcons, though I find my designs fall more into the group of Bernhard Willhelm. My things are always hanging next to his in stores, or next to Marc by Marc Jacobs. I'm happy with that. I always think I have to do something sexy, because that's what I think people want, but it never ends up being sexy in that way. So I decided not to think about that and just do what I want to do.
Do you struggle with your creative process, or is it one of those verdant kinds that springs eternal?
I think the creative process is the highest point in the whole thing, when you can do what you've been trained to do, and want to do. For me, doing all the research is what I enjoy most. I go to the library a lot, read books, listen to Shakespeare's Sister and try to figure out what it's like to be a woman.
Can't you just throw on something from your vast wardrobe?
Yes, sometimes I do that. In fact, I wore miniskirts to school when I was thirteen.
Were they obviously miniskirts?
Yes, I wore them with bare legs.
What was the reaction from schoolmates?
What was your reason for doing it?
It felt natural. I don't know if I would dare it now; I was quite brave then. It was around the time I was listening to Culture Club. Eventually it wore off and I moved on to trousers that were far too tight.
Tell me something else shocking.
Well, I'm in a gay marriage, one of the first under England's new law.
Is it called gay marriage or civil something? Civil partnership?
Yes, civil partnership, which sounds awful. I'm not at all in favor of the political correctness.
What does it entitle you to?
Well, if my boyfriend dies I can inherit his possessions, which is the main point.
How did you two meet?
We met through a friend of mine who I went to college with. We dated five years before getting married.
Did you ever double date with that other champion of gay marriage, Elton John?
No, but I wish we had.
Does he contribute to your designs?
Well, yes, but I meant your husband.
No and no.
Do you call him your husband or boyfriend now?
Like the Elton John song.
Oh, I never thought of that. That's very nice.