Corrie Nielsen is a fashion designer who is clearly not afraid of dissecting the history of British fashion and costume in order to find inspiration for her collections. Whether as manifestly influenced by Elizabethan court and drama costumes or by Victorian dresses and capes, Nielsen’s garments are unapologetic embodiments of a personal reclamation of British ancestry.
Born in the USA to a mother who was a dress maker, Nielsen developed an interest in fashion from an early age. She grew up in Florida and Washington DC but always felt drawn to her British heritage: most of her family is English, although her great-great-great-grandfather John S. Burns was a Scotsman. The Scottish family roots are present throughout Nielsen’s Autumn/Winter 2012 collection, which is titled ‘Vestiarium Scoticum’ after the apocryphal 1842 volume that purported to be a reproduction, with colour illustrations, of an ancient manuscript on the clan tartans of Scottish families.
Despite its controversial status, and now confirmed lack of authenticity, the ‘Vestiarium Scoticum’ acquired tremendous importance after its publication, with many of the designs and patterns it contained becoming official clan tartans. It is interesting, therefore, that many decades later, the Scottish imagery and tartan patterns influenced by the Vestiarium become once again freely reinterpreted by an American fashion designer as approximate materializations of couture.
Corrie Nielsen moved to London in 2000 to study Fashion at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. Between 2000 and 2006 she worked for Vivienne Westwood, a designer whose influence is also very evident in Nielsen’s collections. In 2010, the fashion establishment started paying attention to her, when she received the Fashion Fringe award from John Galliano. Since then, Nielsen has established her studio in the vaults of Somerset House in central London, the building that also houses the British Fashion Council and hosts London Fashion Week twice yearly.
For Autumn/Winter 2012, Corrie Nielsen’s collection of sculptural forms for evening and daywear includes jackets with voluminous peplums, pencil skirts with side slits, wool trousers tapered below the knee, high-neck blouses in chiffon or silk grosgrain with lace overlay, and an abundance of tartans covered in plain or dotted overlays. Most pieces rely on expertly positioned pleats (quite often on the back of skirts and dresses, allowing for a swish effect) that contribute to effective illusions of depth and movement. Simultaneously, the garments evoke traditional Scottish garb in elements such as traditional sashes layered across the chest, large pins, or the beautiful Emma Yeo hats inspired by Scottish bonnets adorned with pheasant feathers. Key pieces of the collection include the Le Cigale oversized skirt in black and white tartan, and a stunning floor-sweeping cape in vivid dark blue Duchess Satin. United Nude provided remarkable footwear in the form of flats and woven leather high-heeled shoes.
With such an ambitious collection where volume, layering and pleating played such important parts, Corrie Nielsen’s Autumn/Winter 2012 collection confirms that her professional plans may lay elsewhere. If London and British ancestry have served as sources of sartorial influence, Nielsen’s Vestiarium Scoticum range confirms what she has claimed more than once: that her ambition is to concentrate on producing couture, ideally from a studio in Paris.