Peter Jensen has long had a thing for artists. His spring 2007 collection was dedicated to Tina Barney; resort 2010, to Diane Arbus, and last season was devoted to Laurie Simmons. For his fall lineup, Jensen enlisted artist Charlotte Mann, known for her intricate life-size illustrations, to design the backdrop for his Sunday show at Milk Studios—the first New York outing for the London-based designer. As it turns out, Mann, who went to Central Saint Martins with Jensen’s business partner Gerard Wilson (both are 2000 grads), has already created sets for two of Jensen’s previous shows. This go-round, the inspiration was Muriel Spark and her novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. “It’s based on schoolrooms and has this very English aesthetic to it,” says Jensen, adding that Nina Persson from The Cardigans will perform at the presentation. “It will all tie together—my clothes, Charlotte’s [illustrated] universe and Nina standing in front of it singing sad love songs.” Here, an exclusive chat with Mann about the collaboration.
For years after I graduated, I worked in fashion design, not art. I was deciding what to do next—I realized I wasn’t really a designer—when Peter and I began talking about his new collection inspired by Tina Barney. I just love her photographs and said, ‘I would love to do something for your show.’ So I did his backdrop. After that, I realized I didn’t have to find a job in fashion. That was the first example of my [signature] type of work.
You’re famous for those trompe l’oeil wallpaper illustrations. Where do they come from?
I’m from this little town Bungay in Suffolk, where you can get free rolls of paper because the big industry there is book-printing for Penguin Books. So every time my parents had a party, we would get this paper, staple it to the walls and ceilings and just draw over it. So my creating that kind of scale partly comes from that.
I haven’t actually read any Muriel Spark, but I’ve known Miss Jean Brodie as a cliché in my mind. As a child, I had this really charismatic teacher and my parents and their friends were, like, ‘You’ve got to be careful. She reminds me of Miss Jean Brodie.’
What does the runway backdrop look like?
A very typical British school room with that specificity of architecture—that late Victorian period. There are all the incidental things of an environment that, as a child, you’re looking at: the parquet floors, the Victorian cornices, the pipes and cracks in the walls. I also drew a section of the floor that’s strewn with newspapers and they’re real papers, half from New York and half from London.
Were you inspired by your own elementary school?
Yes, I wanted it to be an actual school instead of an art-directed, stylized school. I actually called my school, Lyndhurst primary school, and they let me go there and take photographs. The secretary actually remembered me when I called, which really freaked me out.