When you think of top-quality knitwear, the legacy names likely first come to mind—from Loro Piana to Brunello Cucinelli. Perhaps even The Row, with its oversized blanket sweaters (Opens in new tab and shrouding turtlenecks (Opens in a new tabThis should be on your priority list. You have good reason to: They are timeless classics. When you turn to a Missoni or Marni, you know you’re getting pristine craftsmanship and will have a great sweater (opens in a new tab You can add to your collection. But the next generation of knitwear designers has arrived—and they don’t necessarily play by the old rules.
The most innovative knitwear brands are redefining the industry niche and pushing it in a more balanced, sometimes even unconventional direction. They’re not just creating exquisitely-crafted knits (of which they do), but they are also ensuring that ethical and sustainable practices remain paramount and that the entire industry listens to their opinions.
Here are seven top knitwear stars. Learn how they are changing the scene and changing the way people think about knitting.
Cherry and Home Phuangfueang know the past couple of years haven’t been easy. The grief, trauma, and constant upheaval, those ‘Unprecedented Times’ and ‘New normals’—the Thai-American design duo is here to provide a reprieve from all that strife. “Clothing can be really emotional,” Cherry tells Maire Claire. “So an important aspect of our brand Nong Rak (opens in a new tab It was to bring out the tactile qualities of wearables, and show how therapeutic a sense of connection can be in this digitally-industrialized world.
The Phuangfueangs’ work is sentimental and reassuring—like a hug from your mom, assuaging your worries and letting you know everything will be alright. And the pieces produced by the married couple (Nong Rak is Thai for ‘young love’—How cute, right?) They are a great way to soothe your soul. Fuzzy wool with a cotton candy-like texture; cocooning jumpers in colorful stripes, cozy scarves (opens in a new tabYou will love bonnets that you can wrap around like a baby.
“Much of it,” Cherry explains, “is letting the materials tell the story first with details, like their colors and textures, paying homage to the animals the fibers are trimmed from, the sincerity of the design, etc., and how these can ultimately influence feelings in the wearer.” This thoughtful approach is best observed in the 2018-launched label’s mohair pieces, a combination of deadstock yarn and new wool spun from Angora goats. You perhaps saw the brand’s lively mohair pieces—think textured balaclavas, kinetic sweater dresses, and floppy berets—in a recent Spring 2022 collaboration with Heaven by Marc Jacobs (opens in a new tabThe internet ate it up like candy.
“We spend a lot of our time sourcing the best quality modern mohair yarns from small, U.S. farms with the well-being of the animals at the top of our priorities. We want to make sure our pieces are made from well-loved animals’ wool, and we hope that can be felt in the caressing qualities of our work,” says Cherry. “The process is very long,” chimes in Home, “and takes a lot of muscle since the garments have to be very carefully hand-teased and brushed,” explains the Bangkok-born designer, who does all the brand’s post-knitting production.
Despite having developed a recognizable brand code (a rare feat worth celebrating), don’t expect mohair wool to be all you see from Nong Rak. “We’re evolving with each step,” says Home, and spontaneity remains paramount for the couple. “The spontaneous, creative process of Nong Rak is a driving force and one of the main reasons why we’re so focused on hand-craft and sentimentality in our work,” describes Cherry. “And through experimentation, we slowly find directions that are most meaningful to us.”
Nong Rak Palette Knit Wool Sleeveless Hoody
Nong Rak Mohair Knit Arm/Leg Warmer
“There’s a certain kind of honesty and sincerity with what we do, and I think it comes down to not just the craft, but the human hands behind the craft,” designer Lukhanyo Mdingi (Opens in new tab His tone is as soft as his words, he explains. The Cape Town-based designer was a joint winner of 2021 LVMH Karl Lagerfeld Prize. He is a well-known figure in the knitwear industry for reminding customers about the artisans who made his garments. Mdingi does not want you to think that a perfectly made sweater can be made by a machine. He wants you to feel that his clothes are made with love by someone who is deeply connected to the work.
“The provenances of craft and textiles, is really important for us,” explains the 2021 LVMH Prize nominee. She draws considerable inspiration from South Africa’s extensive history in Merino wool and Angora sheep farming. “More important than any other, I wanted to explore how I could bring that strong history in my culture to our clothing development.”
Mdingi’s humanity-driven approach to luxury fashion feels subversive, considering that luxury fashion is a niche industry. It’s rare to work with artisans who are passionate about craft, as it’s part their heritage. It’s important to have this sentiment reflected in our brand because it reflects the essence of the fabric. He explains that it is bringing in the human sense of ingenuity and sensibility in contemporary design.
He emphasizes that his South African heritage plays an important role in his work. A large portion of his clothing is handcrafted using the country’s eastern, western and southern capes. However, the label does not remain in one area of the world. He says that his brand is global. It doesn’t belong to any one area of manufacturing.
Mdingi details, “With these partnerships our brand can have the hybrid that’s both quite refined and also has a sincere, honest spirit within it which comes down to knitwear’s inherent craft element.” “It’s that collaborative spirit in my brand DNA and in the pieces.”
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Lukhanyo Mdingi Wool-Silk Sweater Vest
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Lukhanyo Mdingi Colorblocked Wool-Silk Sweaterdress
The Roberta Einer (Opens in new tab Kylie Jenner is a woman. Megan Fox is her stylist and Jorja Smith is her hairdresser. She wears sweater dresses with rib-revealing cut-outs and flirty crochet mini skirts (opens in a new window) They are not the same granny squares that you’re used. Her style exudes unapologetic sexual appeal. She is also an excellent model. You—whoever that might be.
Marie Claire interviewed Einer via Zoom. He said that the club is open to experimentation and has a genuine interest fashion. The University of Westminster graduate and Central Saint Martins grad says, “Our brand caters to a wide range of women. From Swedish girls to Atlanta girls, as well as those who enjoy partying in Miami or on vacation in France,” with a smile. “It’s for strong women who, when you look at them in our clothing—which has a lot of character— it doesn’t feel like it’s wearing them. They’re They are empowered by the clothing they wear. This is Roberta Einer’s perfect mix of all of it.
The London-based label has been around for six years, but it really began to attract its diverse and eclectic crowd of supporters in 2020. That was during the dark days when there was no way to escape the pandemic. “Through the use of social media, we have created a community for people who dreamt of a better lifestyle after COVID,” shared the Estonian designer.
Einer, who was trained at Alexander McQueen and Balmain, is now an expert in Instagram dressing. You’ve Certain seen her signature Bianca gown (Opens in new tab, a backless, asymmetrical knit number laced with sheer panels (opens in a new tab You can see it all on your feed. Her work is more than statement dresses that you can slip on for photos, it has a deeper and more intentional theme.
“I have been creating a new concept of sensual womenswear for quite some time. I am referring to knitwear as something that empowers. Short, see-through and long, open-back dresses, colors and patterns that would otherwise feel kitsch or cheap, or what one would perhaps even think of as anti-feminist—in my head, I see it the opposite way,” the 30-year-old creative says. Einer states that Einer’s provocative knit and crochet tops are designed to help women realize their power. “My idea behind [Roberta Einer] is that we’re selling a dream—a woman you could be; only then you realize you already are her.”
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Roberta Einer Bianca Knit Maxi Dress Violet
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Roberta Einer Angel Mini Dress
Yarn the color of a verdant forest floor, webbed knitting akin to a spider’s web, felted wool resembling a cocoon plucked freshly from a tree branch—perusing Lily Yeung’s (opens in a new tab It is clear that nature is an important theme in her work. Yeung describes her self-titled knitwear brand as “organic shapes and lines realized during walks in nature and memories about interactions with water, earth and air translate into my work subconsciously.” But beyond just a point of influence, the London and Los Angeles–based designer intimately understands and respects the natural world.
Yeung, who is Navajo-Chinese and is of Chinese descent, says that materials can have so many stories and power. They are a way to connect with a place or land, and to incite memory and emotion. So, letting the natural beauty of these materials—like naturally-dyed fibers and Navajo churro wool—influence my designs makes me feel more connected to the land. Yeung says that these thoughtful decisions regarding materials can lead to conversations about sustainability, indigenous history, and the cultural significance of materials.
Yeung believes that intention has been essential. Yeung was raised in fashion and used traditional Indigenous crafts and textiles to connect to her roots. She decided to concentrate her efforts on knitting after she became interested in crocheting during the pandemic. Lily Yeung will officially launch in 2021.
Yeung has kept her brand’s emotional core intact with every collection. “That personal touch and physicality in knitwear, especially crochet, is what makes it unique,” Yeung, a self-taught knitting expert, says. “The imperfections and subtle expressions left behind in the textiles give a soulfulness to a garment that makes it feel human—and people connect to that. In a fashion world that is saturated with options, it’s important to find something unique and authentic.
Lily Yeung Salt Water Gown
You know that life is not always what you expect. According to the old saying, “We plan and God laughs.” Aisling Camps (opens in a new tabThis sentiment is very familiar to the founder of the knitwear brand eponymous. Camps was unable to make it in the fashion industry after years of persevering. In 2013, she decided to return to Trinidad. Even with two degrees under her belt—one in mechanical engineering from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts in Fashion Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology—the artist couldn’t secure a visa sponsorship to secure her stay in the United States.
She describes, “I had all these big dreams, but the circumstances forced me to take a detour.” Camps was grateful for every bit of life’s unexpected turn that she had to make. It showed me that I don’t have control over my life and forced me to accept it. “I was also reintroduced into my culture and country as an adult, and was able view the beauty of Trinidad completely new,” she shared.
But what can a knitwear designer do to adapt to the Caribbean climate? She explains that the Caribbean climate doesn’t require wool sweaters. “I had this skill set, specializing in knitwear, and I was able to serve new clients that required clothing for hot and humid weather. Also, we’re not a conservative bunch in the Caribbean—[my work] had to be able to appeal to sex. The design perspective that emphasizes scandalous knits with cutouts and loosely-woven macrame to flash skin started to emerge.
Camps, however, won the greencard lottery in 2014. She returned to NYC just a few months after she launched her knitwear label. Her second stint in New York proved to be a blessing. Her sexy sweater designs were noticed by celebrities such as Gabrielle Union, Cardi B and Tracee Ellis. Aisling Camps was officially “It” after a collaboration with Pyer Moss, Kerby Jean Raymond’s Pyer Moss.
Camps tells Marie Claire, “Knitwear is so rich in history, but most of the material is European. Traditional knitwear designers tend stick to traditional shapes and stitch designs. But that never appealed much to me.” While she’s based in Brooklyn’s Dumbo studio, where she still makes the majority of the brand’s crochet and macrame pieces by her hand, Trinidad is always top of mind. “Why do I create work that has been done before? Especially when it doesn’t have any cultural connections to it?” I don’t find it exciting. I [want] To try something completely different, without any restrictions on how you are doing it. Supposed To knit a sweater.
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Aisling Camps Collarbone Cold Shoulder Pullover
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Top made of Kora Cutout Cotton-Blend.
Ambitious feels too small of a word to describe Copenhagen-based designer Nadia Wire (opens in a new tab. Central Saint Martins graduate Stine Goya was always going to be an iconoclast. Her resume includes big-league names such as Peter Pilotto, Iris Van Herpen, Peter Pilotto and Peter Pilotto. Marie Claire begins her conversation by saying, “I’ve always known that I wanted to become a fashion designer.”
The Danish designer explained that she wanted to create a brand in which the manufacturing was integrated into the brand’s structure. This would allow her to work closely with the production. Naturally, her solution was to create everything from scratch. “I set up my knitting factory in 2020 and created a team as well as a production site before launching the brand. The founder states that it was crucial to her that all aspects of the company work together under one roof. Her brand’s clothing—think graphic sweater vests (opens in a new tab, transparent ribbed dresses, and 3D-knit jacquard trousers—is all made-to-order in the Denmark-based factory.
Wire explained that thoughtful production helps reduce waste as eco-consciousness is a key tenet for her eponymous label. She states, “But, when you work as a fashion designer, it’s not possible to claim you produce sustainable collections.” She claims that just the fact of adding inventory to an already overwhelmed and highly-produced system is antisustainable. However, she tries to minimize the brand’s impact.
When designing new collections, I always refer to my textile archive for inspiration. Wire explains that every collection is based upon something already in existence. She also says that no scraps are allowed as nothing is waste. “We also code and program all our fabrics directly to the knitting machine, which means every product comes out of the machine fully-fashioned”—or, in layman’s terms, without excess material.
Even though her brand is two years old, it’s astonishing how much Wire accomplished. She’s not yet satisfied. The knitwear entrepreneur has high hopes for her production facility to grow and her closed-loop manufacturing. However, she believes that the future is not yet in her hands.
“I’m on a continuous knitting adventure that will continue in directions I can’t predict!” I am trying to not only honor knitwear but also to challenge it. Knitwear is an expansive concept and an adventure that can go beyond what exists. Fashion is fun if you don’t have any fun.”.
Nadia Wire Secret Stripes Dress
Nadia Wire Squiggle Trouser
In the colorful and kaleidoscopic world of Zankov (opens in a new window)Minimalism doesn’t exist. Geometric prints that purposefully play a trick on your eye and five-shades-at-a-time color blocking reign supreme under founder Henry Zankov’s (opens in a new tab purview. You’ll be closest to neutrality with the knitwear label’s version of argyle: A clownish, clown-ish diamond jacquard design in camel and offwhite with pops black.
“I believe color has power to transform, so print can be its playground,” says the designer. He first discovered knitwear design at Donna Karan, Diane von Furstenberg and Edun. “I want to create a visual language by injecting natural fibers, yarns with strong use of color, and using patterns. [with Zankov] This has obvious recognition and longevity. And this, to me, can become timeless—something you always go back to as a foundation and then build upon that.”
Zankov was launched in 2019 and has established itself as a ready to wear brand. It values whimsy, quality craftsmanship, and, as you would expect from any luxury knitwear label. I prefer to work with small producers that are still family-owned and operated. The St. Petersburg-born designer describes the Alpaca Mill in Prato, Italy, their hand knitter based in Brooklyn, and the women’s cooperative located in the Lot region in France—who raise special heritage wool that we used in our Fall/Winter 20222 handknits,” Zankov details.
The FIT graduate has become a popular poster child for the dopamine-dressing movement in fashion. You can see his multicolored polo shirts, chunky and comfortable cardigans, as well as his tubular, Piet Mondrian-esque, tubular dresses that inspire a sense hope.
According to the Russian-American designer, “Fashion has the power to affect how we feel.” So when I feel happy or excited about a color or silhouette, it means that I must make it possible for others to feel the same. [happiness] Also,
Slowly, but surely, Zankov is building a capsule wardrobe that maximalists can invest in. One vibrant, in-your face turtleneck at time. He explains, “What I love most about knitwear, is that it’s such a timeless and hand-touched textile, that naturally feels precious like an heirloom,” as he describes his investment wares. “Creating something with a small thread of yarn can be an exciting process, as the technical possibilities and visual possibilities are limitless.”
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Zankov Kevin Paneled Jacquard-Knit Organic Cotton T-Shirt
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Zankov Antibes Striped Open-Knit Organic Cotton Mini Dress