Christian Juul Nielsen Explains the Process Behind Creating the NYFW AKNVAS FW23 Show

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Shot by Zach Nelson / ONE37pm

“To find a story. Where do I want to take it?” Christian Juul Nielsen, founder and Creative Director of AKNVAS, outlines step one when he's beginning to work on a new collection. The brand's FW23 Show, which will take place at NYFW next week, will mark the second runway presentation for the brand—Christian's second gig since becoming Hervé Léger’s creative director back in 2018, a role which he maintains to this day.c

Christian and I caught up ahead of the show to hear a bit about how he begins putting together a collection and the ways in which he incorporates his couture background into his work today.

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Shot by Zach Nelson / ONE37pm

“I was in London—in the portrait gallery—getting really inspired by some of the old paintings,” he tells me, before going on to explain: “So I wanted to do something around royalties.

“What would American royalties look like? That's sort of the story. Once you have a little bit of a story in your head, then you can start building on it. For example, normally when you look at a lot of pictures from the past, they have oversized white shirts on, which get tucked in. And draped in and cinched. And then they put on their layers. And at the end of it, they get very dressed up." 

So this collection is very much a play on that. How would it be if there were American royalties?

- Christian Juul Nielsen

With a narrative in mind, Christian also has to begin to incorporate notions of texture and material to bring the collection to life. In his studio, he has an eclectic board hung above the work station, a concoction of an amalgam of inspirations for design elements of the show. "I sort of just add things I love up there," Christian smiles to me.

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Shot by Zach Nelson / ONE37pm

“This weekend I went to Brooklyn just to go to various vintage stores,” he tells me, going on: “I went by the Tierry Mugler exhibition. I think he's fantastic. Like the energy he managed to put into shows is really amazing and very inspiring. If you look at Thierry Mugler's work in that exhibition, there's about 25 years of work, if not more.

"Now I feel like things have to go so much faster. You have to be good right away. And if you do a show, everything needs to look amazing. So that's definitely a big challenge."

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Shot by Zach Nelson / ONE37pm

Christian soon begins to talk about the more technical side of putting a collection together: "What I do early on is also starting to look at fabrics. I work with a lot of Japanese mills, but now we've started working with more Italian mills as well.

"Often they use a lot of tech fabric, like a cotton when there's nylon blended in it. Something that makes it feel a little bit like outerwear. I love these super crispy outerwear fabrics, and doing something glamorous in them.

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Shot by Zach Nelson / ONE37pm

"One thing we've been doing really well with is these ruffle dresses. Almost all of them have been done in Japanese fabrics, so they're very crisp and if you go close it could almost look like a rain jacket. I think that makes the collection look more modern."

As someone with an impressive background in couture, Christian still brings the practices from this portion of his career into his work with AKNVAS. He spends a lot of his time developing silhouettes and garments by working in three dimensions, manipulating the fabric on a stand in his studio.

"I work a lot on the stand, for sure," he begins:

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Shot by Zach Nelson / ONE37pm

"That's something I spend a lot of time on myself, and now also training my team, is doing a lot of draping on the stand. It's very important for me to sort of refer to my background in couture, the way I used to work at Dior—especially when I worked with John Galliano—he wanted me to drape everything. I never sketched for him. Everything I did was 3D. So that's why now I like throwing things up on the stockman. And just creating new shapes.

"I'll work 3D like this on ideas first. Get all this together into something I think feels fabulous. Then I get my house model to try it on. She'll run around in it. I haven't even done the sketch yet—in this story. It's like a last minute adding. Then I’ll show the pattern maker, make sure she gets a sketch and a tech pack."

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Shot by Zach Nelson / ONE37pm

Christian is in a unique position as a designer, as the creative director behind an incredibly established label, now spending time on a more personal project. As we conclude our afternoon, he reflects a bit more broadly on developing the direction of AKNVAS before each show:

"I basically look into, where am I at with the brand right now? What is it that's going to make the brand look new and even more elevated season after season? How can I take it to feel and look like what I love, but still feel new?"

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