During Copenhagen Fashion Week there is one show to look out for to see the most innovative and emerging designers, ALPHA. The non-profit provides a platform for its yearly lineup of 10 outstanding finalists from the Nordic countries, to showcase their talents, many of whom go on to work for the best in the fashion industry.
This year one of the 2023 finalists was Julie Lundgaard Christophersen, a Costume Designer originally from Oslo, Norway. Models walked the runway in all-white ensembles that were padded and draped in various areas all over the body and carried a deeply personal message. “BODY SHAME OR: how I learned to stop worrying and love my body”, was a look inside Christophersen’s very personal journey as someone who’s navigating the fashion industry and daily life with body shame, questioning body inclusivity, and finding self-love along the way.
Julie, how did you get into the fashion industry?
I don’t remember exactly. I have been interested in fashion and dressing up, for as long as I can remember. Since I was little I played with my dolls, sewed clothes for them or designed many outfits for my paper dolls. But it wasn’t until I was 23 I decided I wanted to go this way professionally. I took some courses and was a design assistant to Cecilie Bahnsen, before I applied to school.
When did you reach a point where you realized it was time to share your story?
Since I started studying my focus has been on exploring and discussing the human body. There is so much about our body that we keep to ourselves, and I wanted to share my curiosity and fascination I have with the human body. But it wasn’t until last year when I began working on my master project, that I knew it was the right time to share my story. Previously, I had been slightly touching my own story in my designs but still kept it at a distance. But last year, I had finally come to a place where I felt at peace with myself and strong enough to share. It just felt right. And right away, my concept fell into place, the words formed, and my designs took shape.
You presented a 5 stage process in your life starting with “this was my body, my overeating, my depression and anxiety, my genital herpes and this is me now”. What helped you through your most challenging periods?
That’s a tough one because it isn’t just one thing that has helped. And it has taken me a long time not to just lock myself in, cry and eat and hate myself, to where I am now. I still cry and eat and hate, but way less. I have had difficulties sharing and talking about the challenging things, and it still is difficult, but it is also the thing that I found that helps me. This project has shown me how much talking openly and sharing helps me to not be ashamed. Because I am not the only one with these feelings and thoughts. It’s calming to know that I am not alone and it helps to feel all the love from people around me and get support from friends and family, but also strangers.
An extremely problematic trend has resurfaced in the last year with harmful diet influencers a click away, top supermodels who are suffering from eating disorders on the biggest campaigns, and most recently no plus-size models walking at the NYFW. With rates of anxiety and depression at record levels and Women experiencing depression at roughly twice the rate of men, how do you handle this backpedaling in mainstream media?
This makes me so sad. I feel very strongly about women’s health in general and I don’t feel we have enough focus on what we women struggle with. Personally, I don’t follow as many influencers and famous people on social media as I used to. I do enjoy social media and everything good it can offer, but there are a lot of negative things there too. And I have realized that it doesn’t help my self-esteem to be drowned in photoshopped pictures and nonrealistic bodies. I would rather fill my days with positive things and follow all the inspirational women who try to make a change.
Is there anyone you admire and are inspired by in the fashion industry?
My friend, Sara Skogøy, who is also a designer and artist, really inspires me. She works with a political entrance and explores aspects such as class, sexuality, and satire. Through a theatrical approach to the art field, she focuses on the extravagant in the everyday. She designs for women to feel sexy and be comfortable in their bodies. She has inspired me to feel sexier and to stop hiding myself.
And my very good friend, Margareth Abeshu, who’s also an amazing designer and artist. She works across critical theory, art, and fashion in popular cultural contexts, where she uses the body and clothes as the starting point to explore society-related questions. You should really look them up and follow them. I know they will make a difference!
Copenhagen Fashion Week is known for implementing the minimum guidelines for model diversity and inclusivity. What does inclusive casting mean to you?
The fashion industry has moved forward, in some places more than others. You do see more color and size and genders etc. but in my opinion, it’s still way too little. At my school for our graduation show, we didn’t hire professional models. Every designer found the models who represented their collection the best and it was an amazing runway with a lot of different types of people walking. That is how I see inclusive casting.
I still wish for less perfectness on the runway, in the fashion industry, and just in general. It is tough for a designer like me, who wants to focus on body inclusivity. For example, at this CPHFW I requested four curvy models because my designs were fuller and wouldn’t fit the same on a skinny model. They could only provide me with one, whom I was told was a size EU40. I was shocked because the model in front of me wasn’t what I would describe as a curvy model. She was very beautiful and looked lovely in my design. But this whole situation made me realize that the fashion industry hasn’t come a long way at all. Luckily I got to find two girls myself, who were curvy and beautiful and really brought my show to where I wanted it!
Let’s talk about your 2023 show. Why did you use extra materials, shapes and fabrics in your designs?
As a fashion designer, I like to mix materials and textures in my designs. I saw it as an exciting opportunity and a strength for my collection, choosing to work with unusual and different materials. Both to put my shapes and lines in focus and also to create something deep and interesting like the human body is.
When designing I wanted it to reflect my body so I had my body constantly in mind when creating. But it was also important to visualize my feelings about every disorder in each dress. Every dress was made in my measurements; I used the lines of my body in the dresses and modeled them on myself throughout the whole process.
Why did you choose the color white?
When I worked with my body in canvas, I was captured by the beauty of the pure and the vulnerability of the white color. White is a color that I see as extremely vulnerable, as it can easily be exposed to dirt and it is disposed of almost anything. I felt that it was a very appropriate color for my project, because of the purity and the fragility I would be able to give the collection a white color, with the idea of the dirty world around. In relation to my own body, I also grew up being told that white is not a color I should wear. I should rather wear black because it is a more slimming color, whereas white makes the body more visible.
What does “Worthiness” mean to you? How did you learn to stop worrying and love your body?
To me, worthiness is the same as respect. To be worthy I have to also respect myself. When working with this collection, it was almost like I was going through therapy every day, for several months. But it was therapy sessions with myself. I was working with my feelings, my thoughts, my self-image, and my body, every day.
Being so open about my shame really helped me to accept it and looking at myself in the mirror and studying myself and my body, made me realize that I have a very beautiful body. I even started dressing differently and stopped hiding my body, as I have been doing for many years. But I have to be honest, since then, I stopped looking at myself as much and I am not working with myself as I did last year, so my self-love and thoughts are almost back to as it was before, unfortunately. This is something that takes time and something I have to work with every day.
If you could go back to your most vulnerable state and give yourself advice, what would it be?
It’s very cliché, but everyone should learn to stop worrying about what everyone else thinks. It’s not easy at all, I know. But I really think it’s the most important thing for everyone to do.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and need to speak with someone, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 or text at 1-800-931-2237, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)
“In conversation with… Julie Lundgaard Christophersen“
Interview by Marie Powell
Alpha Runway photos
Creative direction Ane Lynge Jorlen
Styling Anders Sølvsten Thomsen
Images James Cochrane
Flowers: A Crêpe
Images Johannes L. F. Sunde
Models Karoline Petronella Ulfsdatter Schau and Nora Moseid