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Sandra Backlund: Otherworldly Knits from Within

The Swedish knitwear designer has moved up a level with her S/S 09 collection and is waiting for the perfect platform to show the world what she's capable of.

Both of my encounters with Swedish knitwear designer Sandra Backlund have resulted in the two of us being thrown into a strange coerced companionship on each occasion. The 2007 Hyeres Grand Prize winner, who has been quietly impressing with her exaggerated, complicated and ultimately beautiful knits, whilst lacking big shows or retail presence, is a rarity in fashion. She immerses in her work in solitude and her own emotions are intrinsically linked to her knitted pieces which almost overwhelm you at first sight.

Her AW08-9 collection “Last Breath Bruises” came about from Backlund falling down the stairs at the same time that her beloved grandmother passed away.  “She took her last breath at the exact same moment that I fell down the stairs.” That the first time I met Sandra was not too long after this incident was unbeknownst to me but that we met in the pastel surreal sheath of Miami through an event organised by Arts of Fashion, a fashion initiative founded to forge links between the US fashion education system and fashion creatives from Europe, made the situation even stranger for Backlund.

Our second encounter took place a year later in October this year at a comparatively more subdued affair in San Francisco, again organised by Arts of Fashion. Backlund was invited to teach students from fashion schools all over the US, a short but intensive knitting masterclass, and she became instantly affable to the students who basically formed Backlund’s unofficial fanclub during the course of the week.  

Dazed’s December issue highlighted Backlund as part of “Fashion’s New Optimism” and whilst by definition she is a young designer, I took her aside in the quiet hub of Japantown in San Fran to talk about the difficulty of graduating from being a young designer to something else, amongst other things.

Dazed Digital: An obvious question but how did knitting begin for you?
Sandra Backlund: It's difficult to say. I could never give the perfect answer for that. I don't even know when I learnt to knit!  
When I asked my mum she told me that my grandmother taught me as a kid. She said that I always had a talent for that kind of handicrafts.  I was always kind of good at it as soon as I tried it. That of course encourages you as a child because people appreciate what you do and give you compliments.

DD: You were always attracted to unconventional uses of materials as I distinctly remember some human hair pieces in your first collection…
SB: I wanted to be a hairstylist when I was little! I can't really track my ideas. It was a conscious decision to try something I wasn't sure of.  My second year project (at Beckmans) was about knitting and I started to discover the technique that I have developed for myself; that collage technique.  

DD: What are your other contemporaries from Beckmans college doing?
SB: They’re mostly working for other companies; Acne, Filipa K. Most people knew from the start that they would be working for someone else. I always knew I didn't want to work for someone else. I never applied for any jobs. When I did our internship, I did it with a set designer.  

DD: Your work is often regarded as sculpture or pieces of art. How do you feel about that statement?
SB: I have a background in art. I guess I approach fashion in a more conceptual way than other people. Then again my university education is fashion and I'll always call myself a fashion designer but I enjoy that my pieces can be put into different contexts. One day it can be in Vogue Italia and the next it will be in this handicrafts exhibition in a small town in Sweden.

DD: Where do these ideas that seem so personal to you, come from?
SB: Even though I might not show it as much in a daily environment, I have strong opposites within myself that are really powerful and I use my pieces as an outlet. There is this one side that is really mathematical where I want to measure everything and I'm like a control freak. Then there's this other part that is really free, artistic side; I just want to forget about everything that is important and be really free as an artist.
It has been difficult my whole life because it has been so stressful to combine the two.