Press release March 2017

"I am black velvet..."

Nikolina Olsen-Rule
Head of communications
+45 31 44 30 61

Kirsten Toftegaard

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Mik Eskestad
Pernille Klemp


Erik Mortensen Haute Couture

The exhibition is on view from 16.06.2017 – 28.01.2018.

“I am black velvet, black chiffon and sophisticated.” These were the words of the fashion designer Erik Mortensen in an interview in the Politiken newspaper in 1994: the same year as his very last fashion show. This summer, Designmuseum Danmark will open a major special exhibition, presenting about 70 creations from the fashion designer’s Golden Age: 1982-1995. The exhibition will also feature a selection of Erik Mortensen’s fashion sketches.

Erik Mortensen is the nearest Denmark has ever come to the Paris fashion world. At the tender age of 16, he moved from North Jutland to Copenhagen, where he became an apprentice to one of the most highly acclaimed fashion designers of the day, Holger Blom. At the age of 22, he continued his journey to Paris with the clear-cut intention of working for Pierre Balmain’s fashion house. His dream came true and an haute couture fairytale began in 1947 when the young Erik Mortensen became an apprentice of Pierre Balmain. In 1951 he became Balmain’s first assistant and in 1982, after Balmain’s death, he took over the position of head designer.

In the future, Designmuseum Danmark intends to focus on craftsmanship. Craftsmanship is also a theme that permeates this exhibition of Erik Mortensen’s haute couture. The exhibition also portrays a very special chapter in the history of Danish fashion and a talent that has been hugely significant for later generations of fashion designers.

The curator of the exhibition, Designmuseum Danmark’s Kirsten Toftegaard, says:

“The aim of the exhibition is to provide a close-up view of his craftsmanship and to highlight the special qualities of haute couture. Of course, the exhibition is also a tribute to Erik Mortensen, his talent and the elegance he brought to fashion. Erik Mortensen’s design from the 1980s represents an elegant, understated picture of the power woman of the time with her accentuated shoulders, shorts for both everyday wear and special occasions and (after all, it is haute couture) an excessive use of fabrics – stunning silk, velvet and chiffon, and embroidery on huge ball gowns. While his design could occasionally be challenging, it was never vulgar.”

Black and sophisticated
Erik Mortensen’s countless collections are the best evidence of his sophisticated, yet passionate approach to design. During his time as head designer at Pierre Balmain, not only did Erik Mortensen win great acclaim amongst his clients; he was also highly respected by his colleagues in the industry. On three occasions he was awarded the Oscar of the fashion industry: the prestigious Le Dé d’or [English: The Golden Thimble].

The exhibition is based on a number of themes, which reveal Erik Mortensen’s unique talent as a designer: for example, the Balmain legacy; Mortensen’s design process; the celebration of materials and his superb craftsmanship; his fascination with the colour black; and how he played with transparent fabrics and naked skin. In addition, areas of the exhibition will be devoted to the presentation of fashion shows and the tale of his private clients, in which celebrities and royals are major protagonists.

About Erik Mortensen

  • Erik Mortensen was born on 26 April 1926 in Frederikshavn.
  • At the age of 16, he moved to Copenhagen, where he became an apprentice to the fashion designer, Holger Blom.
  • In 1947 he moved to Paris and became an apprentice of Pierre Balmain. After just a few years, he developed a close and trusted working relationship with Balmain. In 1951, Erik Mortensen became Balmain’s first assistant.
  • After Pierre Balmain’s death in 1982, Erik Mortensen assumed the mantle of head designer, perpetuating the legacy, while adding his own style.
  • As head designer at Balmain, he designed a total of 17 collections.
  • Erik Mortensen ceased working at Balmain in 1990 and became head designer for Jean-Louis Scherrer in 1992. Here he designed 4 collections between 1992 and 1995.
  • In 1987 he the Gyldendal publishing house published his memoirs, Not Just For Decoration.
  • Erik Mortensen had many regular clients. They included several celebrities and royals: for example, Queen Sirikit of Thailand.
  • Erik Mortensen died on 23 June 1998 in Paris.