Frustrated by social inequities in Europe and elsewhere, and a generation that seems to have forgotten those who forged change on the front lines, Berlin-based Danish designer Mads Dinesen decided to celebrate those fighters through fashion.
From suffragettes to gay rights activists to Russian feminist punk rockers Pussy Riot, his fall collection, dubbed “Smoke-clad Warrior,” takes protest and demonstration as inspiration. Adopting some of the signifiers — covered faces and hoods, slogan patches, badges and T-shirts — and applying his own tribal-tinged, handcrafted spin, he’s infused it all with the mystical spirituality that has become a trademark.
This will be Dinesen’s third season, and his first event on-site at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin. And there’s another first: He’ll be adding women’s wear to his men’s designs, many of which have always had unisex tendencies. RELATED STORY: Berlin Fashion Week Calendar >>
Dinesen, who comes from Copenhagen and has a background in dance, graduated from Berlin’s UDK (University of the Arts) in 2010, and went on to intern at Boudicca. He participated in Hyères in 2011 and was invited to compete in the 2012 Mango Fashion Awards, for which he was surprised to discover he had to submit a women’s wear collection. Ever resourceful, he turned the men’s wear he was working on into women’s, then transformed it once again for his well-received January 2013 off-site men’s wear presentation, which took shamanistic street musician Moondog as its starting point.
Now, Dinesen wants to use his designs to send a message more powerful than a style statement.
“I think fashion is quite a strong voice, I think there’s just not enough people using it that way,” he insisted, citing the pointed provocations of Vivienne Westwood and the more visual commentary on masculinity offered by Bernhard Willhelm.
Dinesen’s modern armor showcases inspirational slogans such as “fight the fight,” “choose your battles” and “look within” inscribed on separates and accessories. Only readable when close up, the words are embroidered tone-on-tone with pearl details adding a glam touch. Additionally, the circle shape of badges and patches encourages wearers to think about filling in the blanks.
“Some will see it as pure decoration.…Others will buy it because of the message and the visual,” he said, noting it’s not necessarily cause-specific, but supports the idea of a struggle.
In a mostly black, white and red palette with some blue, next fall’s women’s looks lean either unisex or ultrafeminine, while men’s shapes are mostly fluid. High-collared coats fasten across the body. Trousers have volume and come cropped, tapered or flowing. They’re topped with hoodies and sweaters layered with tunics in jersey or knitwear similar to oversize T-shirts, or Asian-influenced dresses with deep slits at the side.
“It’s also a little bit Nineties — I kind of liked it when women were wearing pants under these long dresses,” said Dinesen, explaining he finds the combination elegant and strong.
Materials include thin wool, linen, waxed cotton and organic silk, as well as repurposed jersey and recycled camouflage. He’s moved away from fur and leather, and uses only found feathers. Still, Dinesen doesn’t want to make green his signature color. He says he’ll go with environmentally inclined fabrics whenever he can, but not at the expense of his creative vision.
Produced in small runs and requiring copious handwork, wholesale prices start at 70 euros, or $96 at current exchange, for T-shirts, 95 euros ($130) for trousers, long sweaters at 300 euros ($413) and coats and jackets at 215 euros ($296). Pieces are currently available at The Flag in Berlin, Hong Kong’s 10thshop.com and The Unconventional in the U.K.
While his point of view is clear, Dinesen is still finding his audience. To that end, he’s using crowdsource tool IndieGogo to help fund his MBFWB show, as well as assistance from German shoe retailer Deichmann, which hosted Mads Dinesen and others in an atelier project. He will also show in his home city of Copenhagen for the first time this year.
“We can’t save the world as one person, but we can at least take a little step,” said Dinesen. This season, his will start on the MBFWB stage.