Colourful knitwear brands for brightening lockdown dressing
Bring a prismatic punch to your personality with knits in kaleidoscopic hues, designed by a host of emerging labels, from Hong Kong to Barcelona
If we were to spin the colour wheel, grey is the tone we’d used to define 2020. A socially-distanced life has turned from weeks to months, and a sense of flatness emotively synonymous with this shade has prevailed. But as the nights themselves get darker, we’ve discovered warming knitwear in kaleidoscopic tones has an uplifting effect. A host of emerging labels, from Hong Kong to Paris, New York to Barcelona, are celebrating snuggly silhouettes in vibrant shades and patterns, sure to brighten up your day. Here we present those scoring flying style colours.
‘We love simplicity but also within simplicity, we need whimsy and colour,’ says Julian Taffel, co-founder of cardigans and sweaters specialist Leorosa. Taffel, who launched the line last autumn, with fellow Parsons School of Design attendee Paolina Leccese, has a passion for nostalgic silhouettes and thrift shop finds. The brand’s cardigans have been cropped with a boxy fit, and are imagined in paintbox Bennetton-worthy hues, with bordered collars, colour-blocked pockets and bright buttons.
‘We’ve gotten so many ideas from watching old movies, screenshotting them and sending them to each other, but we also get a lot from being in random places. We go to such weird little shops and pull things from anywhere!’ Taffel adds of the duo’s research process, which involved binging on 1980s American cinema and the films of Lina Wertmüller, Éric Rohmer and Rainer Fassbinder. For Leorosa, the importance of cheering, long-lasting designs is paramount. ‘We’re interested in that attitude,’ Leccese says. ‘Creating something where people can come back 50 years from now and buy the same cardigan again in a different colour.’
‘Knitwear requires every stitch to be meticulous’, says Barcelona-based Carlota Cahis, who, uninspired by the frenetic, trend-focused pace of the fashion industry, launched her slow-paced eponymous knitwear brand in 2019. ‘My principle intention has always been to design garments, which act as a second skin and have outstanding beauty,’ Cahis adds of her designs, which include multi-toned sweaters with inbuilt scarves, striped vests, ribbed v-neck sweaters and button detail jumpsuits, that have a feminine and subtly Seventies flair.
Cahis’ designs are manufactured in Barcelona, and the oceanic blues, sunset reds and verdant greens in her designs nod to the colour palette of the Mediterranean. ‘I want the pieces to be warm for winter yet fresh for summer,’ she explains. The tones in her designs are the result of dedicated testing and experimenting. ‘I am constantly sat with my notebook in hand, a colour card next to be and glue pasted to my fingers, pasting different yarns together,’ Cahis adds. ‘I’m searching for that sense of harmony.’
‘I find strong colour to be transformative,’ says founder of knitwear label Zankov, Henry Zankov, from his Rhode Island studio. An experienced knitwear designer who has spent years in the wings designing knits for household names, the New Yorker released his first eponymous knitwear collection in February 2020 with a presentation at New York Fashion Week, just before the world ground to a halt. Since then - and remarkably given the circumstances - his recognisable trademark contrast checkerboard mohair and bold collegiate stripes have been popping up all over Instagram.
‘I started Zankov as a visual exploration of a bold and graphic use of color in the realm of knitwear and textile,’ says the designer, who also teaches fashion part time at Parsons School of Design. Luxurious fibers such as brushed alpaca, extra fine merino and super soft cashmere, executed in refined knitting techniques and finishings, come in crew neck sweaters and cardigans, as well as knitted basketball shorts, t-shirts and oversize scarves. Zankov cites the 70s and Russian Constructivists such as Stepanova and Rodchenko as inspiration for his ‘colourful visual language’. Intentionally genderless and eschewing trends, each special piece is intended to be worn, loved and returned to. Look out for a segue into home textiles coming soon.
Waste Yarn Project
‘I told my business partner Sebastian, when visiting his production space in Shanghai, we should really do something about all this wasted yarn,’ says Paris-based knitwear veteran Siri Johansen, who launched her prismatic sweater brand Waste Yarn Project in October. The concept? One-off colour-blocked jumpers knitted manually on machines in Shanghai, that weave yarn from small excess quantities, which cannot be reincorporated into large commercial production runs. ‘It’s actually just cheaper for brands to buy it new,’ Johansen explains.
Johansen, who is Kenzo’s former head of knitwear, spent the summer of 2019 in Shanghai training knitwear technicians to create her jumpers. They were first flummoxed by the idea of creating single styles, their tones dictated by the excess yarn on offer. There’s a cheering sense of free-spiritedness behind how the colours are matched for each style. A Wheel of Fortune-style colour wheel is spun, allowing chance to predict the pairings. ‘The wheel decides the style of the jumper, not me!’ she says. Each sweater takes a day to make, from linking, washing and final photography and Waste Yarn Project has already created over 350 jumpers, from yarn that would still be sitting on a factory floor. Thinking of adapting for the future, Johansen is considering changing the parameters of her colour wheel, to focus on different tonalities. A collection of bold beanie hats is also on the way.
When former knitwear director at Rag & Bone Phyllis Chan relocated to her home city of Hong Kong, she was struck by a local design scene, embedded in craft and heritage preservation, that she barely noticed as a teenager. Last year, she and best friend Suzzie Chung launched Yan Yan, a colourful and pattern-centric knitwear label, which celebrates Chinese visual culture and craftsmanship.
‘We start by looking at photos, fabrics and clothing that we imagine our grandmothers, our moms or our aunties would have worn, movies they would have seen or comics that theyd have read,’ says Chung of their designs, which include boxy knot-detail sweaters, matching jumpers and trousers in colour blocked tones and polo shirts in sparkling tinsel. ‘Some general elements that always inspire us are Samfu (matching top and bottoms), Cheongsams and traditional Chinese opera costumes,’ Chung adds. ‘Sometimes we interpret these ideas literally, and other times they’re more conceptual.’
YanYan’s latest cardigans and bell bottoms feature cheering figurative patterns, inspired by a traditional Chinese image, ‘drawing of a hundred children’. ‘It is usually seen in paintings, illustrations, ceramics, or embroideries and wall hangings,’ Chan explains. ‘It’s a symbol of luck and prosperity’. If that’s not enough to brighten your mood, the brand is also launching lurex head bands and tinsel hair bobbles this week, meaning you can match your scrunchie to your sweater. §