Unlike any other element of today’s fashion landscape, knitwear spans a heritage almost as long as we do.
Nomadic tribes first started creating their tentative version of today’s woollen socks long before we developed a penchant for skinny jeans or Jeffrey Campbell’s. Knitwear wasn’t born from fashion; it was born from necessity. It’s thought that early versions of the cable or honeycomb designs were used to identify the bodies of drowned sailors, with each sailor wearing a unique familial pattern. Knitwear provided a world of warmth, durability and practicality. It may have been the choice of clothes for generations and generations before us, but it’s still very much alive and flourishing today.
'Knit is intuitive, organic, much closer to the feeling of my human experience. Woven’s are forced, hard to understand, uncompromising. For survival, I need the flexible, the sympathetic, and the giving.' - Kevin Kramp
But certainly, in new ways that don’t just lie in tradition. Of course we’ve all suffered the itchy sweaters, the handmade Christmas jumpers and the gawky polo-neck; but today, it’s so much more. Designers seamlessly integrate the knitted piece into their full collections. Diane Von Furstenburg is constantly reinventing her popular wrap dresses, whilst Ralph Lauren’s classic cable jumpers are still received adoringly by all ages. Knitwear is firmly aligned in any man, woman or child’s wardrobe.
Yet, there’s also been an influx of contemporary talents working specifically with knits in completely new ways. It's cutting edge, innovative fashion that no longer needs to be confined to the depths of the winter wardrobe With knitwear designers creating lingerie, light summer pieces, and even swimwear, there’s no reason not to embrace an old and new fashion staple.
Portugal based designer, Bettencourt’s latest collection is inspired by the ways in which individual lives intricately overlap. She explores the tangles of experience and directly translates this into her explorative use of the intertwining threads. She asks herself “What connects us all? How do our journeys cross? What makes our life's wires tangle?” and it’s in this primitive design statement that she combines both the basic and the ever complex. Her patterns, often inspired by African tribes, are bold and vibrant, yet surprisingly intricate. Susana Bettencourt often incorporates traditional lace techniques, fusing her appreciation of the past with innovations of the future; seamless structural pieces and her own fabric creations characterise Bettencourt garments.
New York's Paula Cheng was awarded with the prestigious McQueen Savage Beauty prize, and her most recent collection, “The Beast Within”, hauntingly echoes the innate luxury and avant-garde excessiveness associated with the McQueen spirit. Cheng's own interests lie in deconstructive knitwear; mixing fibres and assuming an explorative attitude towards knitted pieces. She’s spent years developing her own processes; her garments possess a unique theatricality in the intricate build up of roped layers, and dramatic shapes. In a project she named, “Knit Theory”, Cheng worked on creating these new techniques, the results are incredible; chunky knits looped within much finer sections, and drapes of excess material perfectly adorning the wearer.
Similarly, since graduating from Central Saint Martins, Derek Lawlor has been working on his design procedure with a particular focus on his now trademark wax cording. Inspired by Japanese body armour, he reinforces his dramatic shapes with wax to create pieces that defy the traditional structural limitations. Lawlor makes all his own fabric, and it is during this process that he conjures up the image and design of the final piece. It’s an exciting and organic way of working. His techniques are constantly developing, and with collaborations with lingerie designer, Nicole de Carle, and the Royal Ballet; Lawlor shows no signs of slowing down.
The accomplishments of such designers are starting to be truly recognized by a larger market. The €3,000 “Modateca prize” set out to award those showcasing innovative and accomplished work. The winner, another CSM graduate, Kevin Kramp is already splashing the pages of high fashion publications. His unique style showcases oversized striking silhouettes, and a new style of unapologetic, urban knitwear. He’s one of a league of designers rewriting knits as we know it. In the same way that the Chanel knitted suit became iconic in making knitwear something, that for the first time was fashionable and sexy; burgeoning designers are creating new statement pieces with new design intents.
From Kramp’s dramatic capes, to Lawlor’s looped structures, knitwear designers are finally in the ranks of high fashion. The focus is on innovative craftsmanship; going back to the basics, creating new materials from scratch and developing pioneering methods of working. It’s a far cry from the mass production and throwaway attitudes that too often dominate fashion. These pieces embrace both tradition and history, whilst simultaneously being heralded as being at the forefront of fashion innovation and design.