Unravel: Knitwear in Fashion

Antwerp's MoMu celebrate the past, present and future of knitwear with the help of Sandra Backlund and Mark Fast

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Sandra Backlund, Collection 'Body, Skin and Hair'
Sandra Backlund, Collection 'Body, Skin and Hair' (c) Photography: Johan Renck, Master Stylist Ellen Af Geijer

Neon laces, plasticised textures and laser cut leathers may be the technological and progressive fabrics and ideas floating in a dreamlike form in our heads in recent seasons, but while knitwear appears to have had a resurgence in fashion, it’s relevance and diversity has been timeless. To honour knitwear's influence and presence, MoMu in Antwerp will present the exhibition 'Unravel: Knitwear in Fashion'. Knitwear pieces by Vivienne Westwood and Missoni, just to name a few, will star alongside Haute Couture by Patou and Chanel and the work of progressive new designers such as Mark Fast and Sandra Backlund, to illustrate the versatile luxury and continued fascination behind knitwear. 

Other renowned knitwear designers will introduce modern installations that will be departures from the historic pieces and techniques that will be on offer. Knitwear design houses have consistently offered the foundations and concepts offered in fashion, resulting in a vital love affair whose power and influence will be celebrated, together at last. Dazed Digital spoke with Sandra Backlund and Mark Fast about knitwear’s past and its relevance today.

Dazed Digital: What do you feel is knitwear's place in fashion, both in the younger avant-garde movement and the older established houses that are featured in this exhibition, such as Chanel?
Mark Fast: Knitwear is becoming such a strong viewpoint in fashion. There is so much beauty you can create with this art form. There is such talent out there that is creating its own point of view.

DD: What ideas and techniques have you been developing in your work?
Sandra Backlund: I am really fascinated by all the ways you can highlight, distort and transform the natural silhouette and I like to consciously dress and undress different parts of the body. I don’t sketch, but invent the pieces while doing them. I work with a collage method where I develop some basic bricks that I multiply and attach to each other until they become a garment. One thing leads to another and in the end the collection is like a three-dimensional mind map.

DD: You've both been credited, quite rightly, with revolutionizing knitwear and making it relevant. How can one make knitwear so modern?
Mark Fast: It is using tradition and injecting a contemporary yarn into the silhouette. I often use elastomeric yarn and this material already has a modern feel. Then, with mixing this yarn with wool or viscose, it creates a different aesthetic than what it is most often used. 

DD: How do you feel knitwear and its associated techniques and meanings will evolve?
Sandra Backlund: Everyone is talking about how ancient and slow handicraft techniques are in fashion again and how we all are a bit fed up with the mass production and mass consumption that is going on in the fashion business of today, but I am still not sure if it is just a temporary trend because of all the environmental red alerts at the moment or if it is a change that is going to last. Someone once told me that we have always been consumers and that it is natural human behaviour that we should not waste our time trying to fight. Since forever we have produced and consumed sights, sounds and sensations and that is something we could never live without. The problem we need to solve is how to best produce and trade in the future.

DD: What does knitwear represent to you? What influenced your decision to work with knitwear so closely?
Mark Fast: For me, knitwear represents being in control of how I interpret my mind. With knitwear, you are in control of the needles and the way the yarn is put through the machine. I love how I can see a texture in the world, like an alligator scale or an exotic feather, and interpret it into knitwear and over the body. It is a great way to work.

DD: How does one effectively marry the techniques, ideas and uses seen in the work of older houses such like Patou or, more recently, Ann Salens, with the new?
Sandra Backlund: It is a big responsibility to be working as a designer at this time and very difficult to state the reasons why you should be one of those with the right to produce new things into a world in affluence. I like to believe that it is true that we can not live entirely on recycled things, but also need to be treated with new visions and stories told in the language of our time. I often think about the way some things keep on living past different trends and times. I don’t think there is any kind of recipe for that and I have never noticed anything specific that these garments or objects have in common, and that is why timeless things is so fascinating. The same is with traditional handicraft techniques. I can’t tell you how to use them without being burdened by a classical mind frame, or if it is even possible to do that, but I guess the only way is to use them more as an inspiration and a starting point, then a law.

DD: Has there been a classic knitwear piece that you've ever seen that you would love to snatch in your dreams?
Mark Fast: Rick Owens has the most amazing knitwear.

Province of Antwerp Fashion Museum – MoMu, Nationalestraat 28, B-2000 Antwerp; 16 March – 14 August 2011

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