The Chasidic fashion label

By Paul Berger, September 2, 2010
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Christina Højris Ottosen is sitting in an artist's studio in a former industrial area on Copenhagen's waterfront.

Spread across a table in front of the 27-year-old fashion designer are images of a male model in tight black trousers, billowing, knee-length frock coats and a variety of wide-brimmed hats.

The inspiration is quite obviously Chasidic. The clothes are anything but modest.

"We didn't want to offend anyone and we didn't want to celebrate anyone," said Ms Højris Ottosen, one half of new Scandinavian fashion label Uncommon Creatures. "We just wanted to use this incredible inspiration."

It was Ms Højris Ottosen's 24-year-old co-designer, Jens Kold-Christensen, who had the idea for the collection after sitting opposite a Chasidic man on the New York subway.

"After he returned to Copenhagen we started to look at pictures of Jewish people and we found it very inspiring," said Ms Højris Ottosen. "There were so many elements that we felt we could use and take further."

Ms Højris Ottosen and Mr Kold-Christensen had no experience of Jewish culture in Denmark.

"It's very difficult when you live in Copenhagen," she said. "We didn't know any Jewish people here and we never see any."

They had to research Chasidic fashion at a library and at the Danish Jewish Museum -where they were told off for taking photographs. In the end, they did most of their research online. The resulting collection, is expressed in monochrome blacks, whites and greys. It went on sale in Copenhagen and London last month.

Uncommon Creatures is not the first label to be inspired by the Orthodox.

Almost 20 years ago, Jean-Paul Gaultier unveiled a Chasidic-themed fashion line with models posing to klezmer music. Some outfits looked so stereotypically Jewish that they bordered on the offensive.

Uncommon Creatures' designs, however, take Chasidic clothing in another direction. Long, straight lines, flowing robes and an accentuation of silhouette are more Gothic than Gaultier.

Most items are harmless. But a few, such as a black sweater with cutout holes in the shape of a cross, are potentially controversial. A cream sweater emblazoned with an image of two bearded, hasidic Jews is unlikely to win admirers in Stamford Hill.

"I am against offending anyone," said Ms Højris Ottosen. "But if you have something you want to use because of your creativity, I don't think you should hold it back."

She does, however, have reservations about wearing the cream sweater in some places. In a couple of weeks she will travel to the city where the collection was inspired.

"I might be a bit scared to wear the clothing in New York," she said.

    Last updated: 1:34pm, September 2 2010