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Unfathomable Knits

French designer Xavier Brisoux’s new knitwear collection is inspired by Penelope’s mythical tapestry and features deconstructed pieces in luxurious materials.

The story of Penelope weaving and unravelling her tapestry while waiting for her husband Ulysses inspired throughout the centuries many artists who highlighted in their paintings Penelope’s feelings, anxieties and dedication to her work. Yet, though connected to the world of crafts, Penelope’s story rarely inspired any fashion designers, at least until now. French knitwear designer Xavier Brisoux has indeed drawn the main inspiration for his 2010-11 collection from Penelope’s myth, making and unmaking the structure of his garments, adding almost imperfect details to otherwise flawless pieces, over-layering an unfinished jumper on a finished one and weaving subtle minimalist tapestry-like motifs into his knits.

Brisoux – who started his studies in Belgium, where he began working on hand-knitting techniques, and then moved to London’s Central Saint Martins for his master degree – is currently based in Lille, in the north of France. After graduating Brisoux began designing knitwear for Anne Valérie Hash and, in 2007, launched his own line, xavierxbrisoux. While at the beginning he mainly focused on menswear, he has now developed a unisex collection featuring approximately 30 designs, but, he promises, his collection will soon develop and grow into a bigger range.

Dazed Digital: Your 2010-11 collection takes inspiration from Penelope's tapestry: did you find it challenging deconstructing and reconstructing your designs, creating unusual asymmetries and almost architectural motifs?
Xavier Brisoux: It was actually very easy to create-undo-reinvent. It is how I usually work and craft my designs: I look at classic jumpers and try to recreate new ones. It was also how I felt when I started designing: every six months you have to create new designs, so it is a never-ending process of creation. As a designer you have to face the fact that you have to constantly do/undo/redo. The seasonal cycle is like the day and night routine and every time you have to build from scratch again, even if the main canvas of your aesthetics essentially remains the same. Unexpected shapes emerged from this process and I think that, if someone looking at my designs feels that a specific garment I created tells its own story, then I will have reached my goal and managed to tell the tale of a contemporary Penelope who, rather than embroidering her tapestry, is working on a knitted piece.

DD: Some of your new designs such a sweater with a tie-like motif, feature hand embroidered details that look like prints, what inspired them?      
Xavier Brisoux: I basically moved from classical embroidered tapestry. The idea was to let the actual canvas under be seen in some places to express the idea of it becoming undone. It ended looking like some charcoal print, which I loved. It took approximately twenty-five hours to embroider that first piece, it is a strong design that perfectly represents the collection.
DD: How would you define your knitwear?
Xavier Brisoux: I conceive it as “poetry to wear”. A collection is at its best when it tells a story, but it’s also important that the garments remain wearable. That is why I think a collection must be conceptual yet accessible. I am always cautious with the word “avant-garde” as it often relates to garments that are just that or to pieces that are good to be exhibited in museums. I was young when designers such as Hussein Chalayan, Viktor & Rolf or Martin Margiela were creating their conceptual installation-like shows and, in a way, that must have influenced me. But my collections also show constant attention to details and feature classic knitting techniques reinvented in a modern key. I conceive these things as very important as they convey an entire new world of possibilities. This is why my label’s motto is “99 per cent wool, 1 per cent unfathomable”.

DD: Which materials did you choose for your new designs and would you like to experiment in future with any special blends?  
Xavier Brisoux: The designs are made in merino wool and cashmere. I tend to choose yarns made from one single fibre. I feel blends can be tricky as fibres react differently when they are washed. Having said that, I experimented with a totally transparent polyamide yarn for the coming summer 2010 collection and mixed it with a cotton yarn.
DD: What fascinates you about knitwear and do you feel that knitwear has helped you developing a precise aesthetic for your brand?
Xavier Brisoux: For me knitwear is still an unexplored field. I like to think that the technique itself can be pushed further. In my opinion you do not construct a knit in the same way as you do a woven piece. You can totally envision knitwear as a sculpture, since you can increase the stitches into the knit itself. I feel I have more to say with knitwear. It can create modern piece as opposed to the general idea that knitwear is just made up of basic jumpers. In the long run I do see myself designing woven pieces as well. I believe knitwear has helped me in my process of designing and in the entire way I work. Because I use knitwear as my medium my themes, concepts and inspirations are filtered through the techniques of knitting and their reinterpretation.

DD: Is there a particular designer among the ones who distinguished themselves for their knitwear who represents an inspiration for your work?
Xavier Brisoux: I admire the work of Sonia Rykiel and what she brought to fashion, but I don’t have a special designer that inspires my work. I am more inspired by concepts, myths and tales. Having said that, I think the knitwear scene is very exciting at the moment thanks to Louise Goldin, Sandra Backlund, Pristine Smut or Clare Tough’s designs. Thanks to the work of these up-and-coming designers knitwear has gone beyond what it usually was, that is a small part of a designer’s collection. Nowadays there are entire knitwear collections that can be considered as real fashion statements.

DD: Do you feel that menswear offers more chances and possibilities than womenswear?
Xavier Brisoux: Menswear design comes very naturally to me and I think it comes from a frustration in the menswear market. I know things are slowly moving, but I feel it’s not where they could be. There is still so much to explore. But the market is very tricky and it often demands more subtlety design-wise. I wish buyers were more adventurous and help through their choices men to have more varied and exciting wardrobes.

DD: What are your future plans and ambitions for your label?
Xavier Brisoux: I have recently introduced womenswear into the range and that was a big step. I would like to see the designs I present every season to grow not only in terms of numbers but also in terms of variety. I have started offering jackets and trousers this season and I would like to expand on this. As I said, I see myself designing woven pieces as well in future, but approaching them from the point of view of a knitwear designer. Ultimately I would like to develop – both commercially and in terms of design – and be able to present a proper catwalk show.

DD: Did you enjoy taking part to the Pitti trade show and did you see any interesting designers/labels there?
Xavier Brisoux: It was my first time in Florence, and, when I decided to go, I wondered if I should attend Pitti Uomo or Pitti_W. In the end, I felt I would be more visible in a smaller venue, so I went for the latter. We had a good feedback and lots of visitors as well, so I did not really get a chance to wander in the alleys of the show as I would have liked, yet what I saw from Morfosis looked strong.

Xavier Brisoux’s new collection will be on display at Rendez Vous Homme, 22-25 January 2010, and at Anne Valérie Hash's showroom, 26-30 January 2010.

Photography Mathieu Drouet
Assistant Photographer Vanessa Coquelle