Rational Beauty

Unravel Knitwear

It’s pretty simple—right? Drop one, pick up two, drop one. In knittings most basic form all you need is a pair of needles and a ball of yarn. Think again. Early summer I had the opportunity to see the “Unravel” exhibition at MOMU—Fashion Museum Province of Antwerp. The show helps re-brand knitting from old fashion to “uber-cool”.

Kaat Debo, director of MOMU, states in the show catalogue—“This exhibition does not intend to sketch an exhaustive history of knitwear, but aims to look beyond the stuffy image that may seem to attribute to it.” The exhibit has been curated by Karen Van Godtsenhoven (MOMU) and Emmanuelle Dirix (Winchester School of Art, Southhampton Universtiy and the Fashion Department of the Royal Academy of Antwerp). The examples presented range from ready-to-wear to haute couture encompassing both hand and machine knitted from established names to young emerging designers.

The highlight for me were the designers who hand-knitted the garments. The pieces show innovation with a bespoke stamp. The garments appear to emerge from knitting rather than patterns. I particularly feel this way about the work by Swedish Sandra Backlund. (top picture)

For those who would like to learn more, the exhibition catalogue by Emmanuelle Dirix takes a look at the history, production methods, social histories and the aesthetic (r)evolutions of knitwear in fashion.

After leaving the exhibit I wanted to pick up my needles, gets some yarn and start a project. Once the summer heat dies down I’m definitely going to make the Margiela military sock sweater since he offers up the instruction in the true spirit of making.


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Tilda Swinton wearing four Sandra Backlund silhouettes photographed for Another magazine by Craig McDean.

A tribute to Ann Salens’s multi-colored silk dresses. (1970-1975)

Christian Wijnants created the tie-dye dress for the exhibition. He is a teacher, specializing in knitwear, at the Royal Academy for Fine Arts in Antwerp. His work has been inspired by Ann Salens (above). Photography: Viviane Sassen

1910 - 1930s knitted swimsuits ranging from wool, jersey and
cotton became an icon for the modern era.

Bathing Suit by Elsa Schiaparelli, circa 1928 © Condé Nast Archive / Corbis

The garments from Swedish Sandra Backlund appear to emerge from knitting rather than patterns.

Dirk van Saene’s Petite and Heidi, two woolen jumpers with knit trompe l’oeil motives. (2008-2009)

John Car Doughtly, 1966 © London College of Fashion

Woolen sweater made from military socks, Maison Martin Margiela, 1991-1992. Photo Jacques Sonck

Martin Margiela instructions on how to make your very own woolen sweater from socks
published in A Magazine ( June 2004 ) curated by Maison Martin Margiela.

Installation “The Supermarket of Style” designed by Angelo Figus, art director and trend forecaster at Pitti Filati/Pitti Immagine, Florence. Originally the installation appeared in 2006 for the Italian Fashion fair Pitti Imaagine to predict fashion trends. He created a world that is all knitted ranging from status symbols like the fashion bags, Rietveld chair to groceries and washing machines. In 2006 ironically enough a real knitted Vuitton bag appeared. As stated in the catalogue that Figus chose knitwear because “it is an art, but also a science, almost like algebra, that gives rise to new formulas that lead to new results.”

Mind-boggling handknitted pieces from various designers from Yohji Yamamoto to Sandra Backlund. My personal favorite of the exhibition.

Included in the exhibition was fashionable and historical hosiery.
Above shows hosiery by Bernhard Wilhelm from his women’s collection from 2007. Photo by Carmen Freudenthal. Styled by Elle Verhagen

Knitted fishnet stockings by Jurgi Persoons, 1999. Photo by Ronald Stoops