London’s Fashion and Textile Museum is in the final days of its Knitwear: Chanel to Westwood exhibition (closing on 18 January) and I visited it wondering whether knitted garments could ever truly be considered cool or sexy. As I walked in the first thing that accosted me was one of Sibling’s pieces from AW 2013.
There were cobweb style jumpers from the 70s punk label, Seditionaries, started by Vivien Westwood and Malcolm MacLaren.
I was sorely tempted to liberate an early Comme des Garcons jumper, its distressed look intended to recall tangled fibres like a fisherman’s net.
Knitwear can definitely be cool and sexy. As I left the exhibition though, I was thinking about how technology has changed the nature of knitting and knitwear. This show begins with hand-knitted garments, displaying a (literally) homespun familiarity and comfort. From the 1960s, machine-knitting technology started to change the nature of design with densely-woven fabrics for sports gear or more complicated patterns or designs. By the 1990s, Julien Macdonald’s use of machine knitting and unusual materials was producing garments that bore only the loosest relationship to the traditional Fair Isle.
So where do we go next? Personalisation seems to be the latest direction. Sibling and some other contemporary labels are taking us back to a home-made look but in exaggerated proportions or silhouettes. At the other extreme, Knyttan is fusing ditigal and machine-knitting technologies to allow customers to design their own knit and have it created before their eyes. They currently have a pop-up shop in the New Wing at Somerset House. You walk in, choose or design your knit on an ipad and then watch the knitting machine go to work. They don’t call it Factory of the future for nothing.