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Join Date: Jun 2004
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Karoline Kjeldtoft 86 / 77 / 96 Conceptual Clothing Exhibit
Text and photos from photos by Miklos Szabo


Karoline Kjeldtoft was born in Denmark in 1970.
Having graduated from The Kolding School of Design in 2000 she took up a position as fashion designer with Junk de Luxe, 2000-2002. In 200? she was awarded a three-year bursary from the Danish National Endowment for the Arts. For more information visit

The 86/77/96 project focuses on the aging female body aided by conceptual clothing. The body is both fabric and a three-dimensional shape integral to the design. In traditional tailoring cut and design are used to effect a young-as-possible look. Kjeldtoft’s project instead aims to emphasise body shapes in stark reality.

The 86/77/96 exhibition of 2 photographs of elderly women modelling nine black gowns by Karoline Kjeldtoft runs from 7-2 May 2007, at Øksnehallen, Copenhagen V. Photographs by Søren Rønholt.

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Danish fashion designer and artist, Karoline Kjeldtoft, has created nine exquisite black evening gowns specifically for octogenarians. Rather than concealing the all too obvious signs of the aging process, Kjeldtoft has opted for emphasis, throwing flabby upper arms and sagging breasts into re-lief. A photographic exhibition featuring these elderly, well-lived dames, attired in Kjeldtoft’s elegant creations will go on show at Øksnehallen in May.

16 centimetres. This is how far a woman’s bottom will on average drop from the heydays of youth to old age. Karoline Kjeldtoft announced this recently to a rather stunned audience as they reflected the distance between her outstretched thumb and index finger — 16 centimetres! A rather concrete illustration of how truly fleeting youth is. And while we mere mortals age by the day, the fashion industry’s ideal of beauty becomes ever-more wrinkle free and youthful.

“Women in the ads of the 1950s were as a rule in their thirties, with husbands and children, representing the age society con-sidered the prime of life. Today most models are in their twenties, or even younger. This would seem to indicate that the age at which we are considered at our best has fallen, with life peaking in our early twenties. This is so frightening, and it’s an approach with which I just cannot concur,” says Karoline Kjeldtoft.

Having qualified as a fashion designer in 2000, Kjeldtoft’s first job was with Junk de Luxe, a position she held for eighteen months.

“Although my job was exciting, I was constantly confronted with an ideal of beauty which re-sisted every challenge. And it’s just not in me to be so feature-lessly uniform. Fashion tends to focus not only on a certain age but also on an extremely thin body shape of certified propor-tions. It’s high time for a few squeaks to come from inside the industry stating that mo-dels need not be so gaunt and skinny,” says Karoline Kjeldtoft. In 2002 she resigned her position as a freelance fashion designer to concentrate on her pet project — 86/77/96, the title of Kjeldtoft’s octogenarian creations, the figures represen-ting the average measurements of an eighty-year-old female body. Her idea was to design unique gowns for older women, highlighting the reality of an aging body.

Kjeldtoft quickly realised that she was working on a variation of Coco Chanel’s classic little black dress, launched in 1926. That dress profiles the supposed ideal female frame, contouring, lifting the bust and concealing any bumps and lumps on the tummy. Kjeldtoft takes the op-posite approach. Her gowns accentuate a body marked by the wear and tear of a long life, complete with wrinkles, under-eye bags, flabbiness, lumps, skin discolouration and a disintegra-ting skeleton. Eighty is when age truly kicks in.

“Chanel’s little black dress became an icon. It’s a woman’s garment. My project takes age and ageing as the only circumstance. I have used the eighty-year-old female body as an artist would a sculpture. So my dresses are neutral in form, and designed based on the con-dition of the body itself”, explains Karoline Kjeldtoft.

The project’s nine gowns were first exhibited at a fashion show in Aarhus, Denmark’s second city, in 200 . Nine octogena-rian women took to the catwalk modelling Kjeldtoft’s creations, attended by the usual teams of hairdressers and stylists. A series of photographs commis-sioned on the same occasion were recently exhibited in Oslo and will arrive at Øksnehallen, Copenhagen, in May.

“The exhibition is intended to encourage people to rethink their relationships with their own bodies. A gasp of horror here and there when the penny drops and they realise that this is what happens to real bodies wouldn’t go amiss. These pic-tures attract and repel in equal measure. Viewers tend to probe the quibbles they have with their own bodies, and this direct chal-lenge to the age taboo comes as a relief to many women. And this, too, I suppose, is an indi-cation of how much our idea of beauty is bound up with youth,” says Karoline Kjeldtoft.

“Working as a professional in this context demystifies the beauty myth for me. Being so close to aging flesh and flabby skin makes one less apprehen-sive when signs of aging ap-pear on your own body. Truth be told, older women have as many and varied preconceptions about their bodies as the young. Some are quite satisfied, others think they look appalling,” says Karoline Kjeldtoft.

But inner beauty is thankfully devoid of age, so what’s 16 centimetres here or there?


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