A Collector’s Eye: Madeleine Holth on Comme des Garçons
It’s weird how certain pieces of clothing can mean so much. I feel rather strange sometimes, thinking about how much I need a certain jacket or dress. I think everyone has some sort of obsession when it comes to fashion; whether it be shoes, bags, dresses, or a specific brand. For me, it's Comme des Garçons.
I never called myself a collector until I realized I was searching for new items every single day—it’s an obsession. As a journalist, collecting a niche fashion brand like Comme des Garçons has in many ways helped me stay true to my own voice. It’s a tone that can’t be tampered with, something solid that will forever be unaffected by my circumstances.
What’s really important to me is that, since collecting eats up a big chunk of my salary, the items I own have to be wearable and they need to be worn frequently. I can’t think of anything more depressing than beautiful clothes being locked away.
People don’t ask where my clothes are from anymore, they just assume it’s Comme, which I think is funny. The brand has become a part of me in a weird way. My boyfriend calls it circus clothes, who can blame him though–here I am on a Tuesday morning in a Junya Watanabe Latex top with Mickey Mouse ears on the shoulders and a pinafore dress? Casual.
On her unbreakable individuality, fervor for avante-garde design, and devotion to Comme des Garçons, we spoke with the Norwegian collector, Madeleine Holth. She reflects on the process and significance of building a personal archive and shares her favorite picks on Heroine, below.
Follow Madeleine on instagram here.
Kristen Dempsey: What is your cultural background and how does that influence the way you dress?
Madeleine Holth: I’m Norwegian, born and raised from the outskirts of Oslo. Being from a Scandinavian country definitely has multiple benefits, I know how to dress for extreme weather conditions and I should be somewhat of a master of all-conditions footwear by now. What it doesn’t teach you is to have freedom of dress—strict and minimalistic style has been a staple for every young Scandinavian girl or boy for the past 20 years, and it’s an aesthetic I could never relate to. I’ve never been into sleek and timeless dressing—the a-typical sScandi-girl loves it, without being too generalizing—and I do not consider myself to be atypical.
KD: What do you consider to be beautiful?
MH: Individuality is definitely what I consider to be beautiful, something that’s unique, something that’s raw and untamed. That is beautiful to me.
KD: So you believe in clothing as a way of self-expression.
MH: More than anything!
KD: What is ugly?
MH: Conformity in modernized dress is ugly—everyday uniforms, something safe, something timeless and something unthreatening. I don’t necessarily participate in trends, however, I try to keep my mind open to new and exciting ideas!
KD: When did you first become aware of Comme des Garçons? How did it make you feel when you first saw it?
MH: I must have been 14-15 years old I think. My initial thought was, ‘Where are the clothes?’ It was all so abstract and hard for me to grasp! I was definitely mesmerized by the shapes and how unorthodox it felt compared to what other brands did at the time. I quickly understood that there's only one Rei Kawakubo. She always stood out as someone unique, someone who is different and someone who’s not afraid. I guess as a young girl I wanted that too.
KD: We see lot of Japanese or avant-garde designers exploring similar concepts of silhouette, construction, and fabric—what was unique to you about Rei Kawakubo’s approach specifically?
MH: She didn’t just work with black, white and blue. She dipped her fingers in abstract prints, check, knitwear printed on nylon, she did vivid red - and whenever you saw the collection in store? It would just all make sense, even down to simple jersey items or bags. It feels very well executed and that’s rare these days in my opinion.
KD: How did you dress before finding Comme des Garçons?
MH: I grew up in a very brand dominated and posh area of Oslo, however, I could never match the wardrobes of my classmates as a young girl for financial reasons. I turned the other cheek to conformity and went full-on crazy-person—I cut clothes up and put them back together with safety pins, I bleached and made holes in all of my clothes before wearing them. Enrolling in an arts school far away from the city also played a major part in this aesthetic change of mine.
KD: What was the first piece of CdG you bought?
MH: This one is tough, I want to say this super old patchwork t-shirt from Junya Watanabe Comme des Garçons. It’s funny that I bought a t-shirt from Comme as my first purchase and I think I wanted to play it safe. I became obsessed with it and used to wear it all the time. I’ve stepped my game up right now!
KD: Do you feel sexy or attractive wearing Comme des Garçons? Is that important to you?
MH: I feel like people look at me for the right reasons when I’m dressed in CdG, the way I dress complements the way I feel about myself and my creativity. It’s not one specific feeling, more like a landscape of emotions being expressed through a needle and a thread.
KD: How do you think the clothing you wear relates to your relationship with your own body?
MH: For me, standing out and not blending has been very important for my own personal growth. Being independent and confident in my own skin is definitely something the clothes I wear has helped me with. I’m 5'11’’ and nothing is going to stop me from wearing runway Comme des Garçons pieces that will make me look twice the size.
KD: How does wearing something that others might consider unflattering give you confidence?
MH: It’s sort of goes back to why I fell in love with the brand in the first place, when everyone was making sexy clothes, bandage dresses and crop tops - Rei made art and she told stories. I guess that fits my personality better.
KD: What does it mean to you to have a collection of clothing?
MH: It’s a hobby and it's a relationship. I get frustrated when I want something for a long time and I can’t find it, and I’ll be ecstatic if I find something from a collection I admire in my size and at a decent price! It’s a rollercoaster you’re kinda afraid of, but have to ride again and again.
KD: How long have you been a collector?
MH: Going on 8 years now.
KD: How many pieces do you have?
MH: Right now around 30 individual grails, but through the years the number changes as I continue to buy and sell. I don’t count t-shirts, jersey, thin knits and black slacks—including those, I would say I own close to 50/60.
KD: What types of garments do you seek out most often? Are there certain characteristics you look for?
MH: I would say a mix between wearability and quirkiness is what I look for. But also volume, no one is better than Rei when it comes to volume.
KD: Have you collected any pieces you would never wear? Why?
MH: Only a few, I have some of the latex Junya Watanabe Comme des Garçons pieces, and they are a bit tricky to wear under coats or even on the bus—I take up too much public space.
KD: At what point do you decide to let something go that you’ve collected?
MH: No matter what I own or how crazy I may look from time to time, if I don’t wear it then it has to go. What’s important to me is to wear the pieces I own because if they’re going to be a way of self-expression they have to be worn.
KD: Is there a certain era or season that is especially important to you?
MH: In Norway, the weather can get pretty bad which makes AW13 the ultimate dream collection for coats, but SS14 and SS15 is also high up there on my list of favorite collections. I’m still looking for the red PVC belt coat from SS15!
KD: Many people consider Spring Summer 1997 (Lumps and Bumps) to be one of Kawakubo’s most iconic yet wearable collections. What do you think about 90s Comme in comparison to what she is designing more recently? As a collector do you think it’s important to have a certain range of eras within your archive?
MH: It’s funny how people think that. I kind of disagree. Because Lumps and Bumps has most definitely some of her finest knitwear, but the collection is very voluminous which might not appeal to everyone. I would say SS11 is very wearable, but definitely not her most iconic. I think she created the formula in the 90s and looking back at let’s say Lumps and Bumps or Sweeter than Sweet, so many silhouettes have been reworked in her more contemporary styles. A wide array of AD’s is of course very cool, but it means nothing unless you genuinely want the pieces.
KD: How do you store or display your collection?
MH: Some pieces are more fragile than others, I keep most of them on wooden hangers on front display. The more fragile stuff is wrapped in acid-free paper.
KD: Do you send a message through the way you dress?
MH: I’m not you and you are not me. I dress for me and me only.