LVMH Prize Semi-Finalist Anne Isabella Reimagines Modern Luxury

The Berlin-based designer discusses her process, developing her design language and her experience as an LVMH Prize semi-finalist.

French-Danish fashion designer Anne Isabella Rasmussen launched the eponymous label in 2020. Having graduated from Central Saint Martins, the emerging talent developed her technical skills at Jil Sander, Kenzo and designing for Courreges. Meanwhile behind-the-scenes, Anne Isabella was quietly developing her own unique design language – one that plays on her interests in print-making, her fascination with vintage furniture and her proclivity for spending a long afternoon nestled in a good book at her local library. 

Her consciously crafted, handmade pieces hint at nostalgic rebellion with a mix of bold patterns and delicate tailoring. She creates garments from deadstock and organic fabrics, and utilises recycled and organic yarns for knitwear, which through woven strips of recycled polyester mimic the latticed decay of shells, while ruched denim dresses consider the poetic repetition of visual and haptic illusions omnipresent in nature.

Her designs caught the attention of the French fashion governing body early, inviting her to showcase her designs at Paris Fashion Week for the past three seasons, and in February she was selected as one of the LVMH Prize’s 22 semi-finalists. The prize, which sees the semi-finalists meet with industry stalwarts including Maria Grazia Chiuri, Stella McCartney and Bernard Arnault, supports the very best rising talent in fashion design with a grant and a one-year business mentorship.

Below, Anne Isabella discusses how her research, materials and sustainable outlook inspire her designs.

What were your earliest inspirations to practice fashion design?

I was always quite interested in drawing, so that’s what got me into it. I started taking some lessons when I was still at school. Then, I had a really encouraging teacher, she organised little fashion shows at school. She was interested in fashion illustrations so she introduced me to a little bit of that. I think I was attracted to fashion because there’s so many dimensions to it – there’s image-making, there’s construction, the communication side. I thought there was just so much to work with, so I think that’s how I got hooked.

Where did you study and did your practice develop during your studies?

I studied at Central Saint Martins, I did a foundation there and then a BA in Fashion Print. I then went on to do an MA in womenswear, so I was there for a while!

I think I really learned to be quite independent in my work, and I learned not to have to always seek the approval of other people. While working that’s obviously quite a tricky thing to do, but it was a journey of figuring out my own voice. Fashion print was sometimes a little bit of a different aesthetic, I was super interested in print but I wanted to approach it differently. When I did my MA, I managed to mix the two elements together and find the balance that suited my aesthetic. University was also a really good place to meet people. I made a lot of friends there that I’m still really close with.

What barriers, if any, have you experienced in accessing the industry? 

It’s an industry that has a lot of competition, so I think you have to be able to deal with that and not take everything so personally. Another element that has been tricky is managing all the elements that are involved in working on a small label. I have been trained as a designer, and have had to learn a lot along the way. I spend more time on Microsoft Excel than I thought I would!

Can you describe the first steps of your design process? 

For me, the research process is really important. I got really into it when I was studying, but it’s something that I like to spend a lot of time on and something I really enjoy. I have these pools of research that I keep in my archive and I like to bring it back out when I start a new collection.

I gather these pools of research and build from the areas that feed my interest. It’s an ongoing process that I always have happening. I’m based in Berlin so I go to a lot of galleries. I also go to libraries, find old magazines, and spend a lot of time reading online. 

Are there any materials that are significant to your work? 

I definitely have go-to fabrics, and often it’s based on what worked well in a previous season. It’s also about what’s accessible because as a small brand, you don’t have endless possibilities of what’s available. When I first started the brand I was quite interested in considering the materials that I bring into the collection, so a lot of them are consciously sourced. That means I use a lot of recycled polyesters and organic cotton, and I use a lot of dead stock. Dead stock can be the most challenging because you have to work with what’s there, and this can introduce interesting elements into your collection. Otherwise, for knit I like to use recycled polyester and the denim I’ve been using is organic. 

We spent two days in the LVMH showroom and we met a lot of experts who are the ones voting. I lost my voice at the end of it because I’m not used to talking so much, but it was a great exercise in talking about my work and presenting the concept around my brand.

Anne Isabella

Congratulations on your selection as a semi-finalist for the LVMH Prize. Can you tell us a bit about your experience?

I didn’t expect to have so much fun during the process. There were 22 of us this year, and it was a really nice group and good atmosphere, especially considering it’s a competition. It was quite positive, it felt a bit like being back at university. We spent two days in the LVMH showroom and we met a lot of experts who are the ones voting. I lost my voice at the end of it because I’m not used to talking so much! But it was a great exercise in talking about my work and presenting the concept around my brand. And getting the chance to speak to so many people I’d never get the chance to meet normally and have some of their time was very special.

How do you like to present your work? 

I’ve been a part of Paris Fashion Week for three seasons now, so I’ve had a little bit of an opportunity to start building the universe around my collections, ad it’s something that I really enjoyed because I’m quite interested in furniture, it’s something that I also like to work with and like to develop. I think that there’s something really interesting about being able to bring the clothes into real spaces and to build up from the clothes. For Spring/Summer 2023, I developed a tablecloth that has some of the same design ideas as the collection. For me, it’s a design process, it definitely doesn’t stop with the clothes. 

Who would you love to see wear your designs?

I’m not good at pinning down one person. There’s a photographer I really like called Alex Prager, I think it could be cool if she was into the brand because I love her work.

Looking into the future, how would you like to see your brand develop and how are you approaching this now?

I’m always looking ahead in small steps, because I think as a small label, your goals are usually what you’re doing immediately next. But I’d love to have a slightly bigger team. I’m really happy working from Berlin, so I would love to continue working from here. And going back to this whole furniture story, that’s something that when I look further ahead into what the brand could become, that’s definitely something I would tap into maybe in a more real way. But that’s really far ahead, that’s not really something that I’m seeing happening in the next season. That’s more of a long-term goal, but I think that could be quite interesting.

What changes would you like to see in the fashion industry, if any, and how is your brand contributing to this? 

I think for small brands that are my size, it’s really hard to compete with bigger labels. With buyers, we sort of have to follow the two seasons per year structure and we need to provide them with a lot of options. It’s a lot, especially at the beginning, but it’s also hard not to do it because then you’re not in the loop. So in the future, I’d like to see some alternatives for smaller designers to get to work with buyers.

Then on another hand, I think that sustainability is so important, but it’s also something that I find challenging. When I first started the label I thought about it a lot, having the right materials, producing everything in Europe and in small quantities so I know who’s doing what. However, it can be really difficult to navigate the different certifications, where things are actually coming from, and it’s quite a big job to have to inform yourself about. If there could be an organisation that could help certify it so that the designer doesn’t have to worry about it so much, that would be amazing.

Enjoyed this story? Help keep independent queer-led publishing alive and unlock the BRICKS WORLD Learner Platform, full of resources for emerging and aspiring creatives sent to you every week via newsletter. Start your 30-day free trial now.