NYFW Recap: The Knitwear Market
Two years in lockdown — when the only way to digest fashion was through the harsh, cold glare of computer screens — seems to have spurred a reaction among consumers now hungering for tactility. Case in point: knitwear is booming.
It has long been a key category for American sportswear, propping up brands like Halston and Donna Karan. But a new group of designers who specialize solely in the stuff has recently emerged, weaving together a niche corner of the market with expressive colors, innovative techniques and an emphasis on personal narrative.
Collectively they made a prominent display during the New York spring collections, proving a cold-weather staple is suitable for year-round wear. Here, WWD wraps up some of the highlights.
Rain on a Sunday didn’t stop Henry Zankov from taking over the courtyard at surf apparel shop Saturdays NYC. In fact, he applauded the weather, noting how gray skies allowed his Crayola-colored knitwear to really pop — and that it did. Underneath transparent umbrellas, an orchid pink shredded bouclé crewneck paired with matching high-twist cotton crêpe lounge pants and a calf-length dress with Tetris-looking blocks of yellow, cobalt and emerald were mood lifters amid the fashion week slog.
Zankov has a way of clashing patterns in a manner just so that makes his pieces easily identifiable — a tall order for a brand three years old. He also has a deft hand when it comes to fit and finish and here Zankov pushed his craft with experiments in perforated mesh, knitting some pieces on the bias to give an elegantly loose drape. “I like to use really minimal amounts of material and go really deep into them,” he said.
Zankov is going deeper into ready-to-wear as well, showing ultra-wide-legged chinos and collared button-fronts stitched with gestural figures (a collaboration between friend and artist Philippine de Richemont Tunstall that was peppered throughout). These struck the right balance between quirk and cool and made one curious what a full range from him might look like.
Zoe Champion loves taking knitwear to places it should not go: last fall she launched it into outer space and for spring, she plunged it into the depths of the ocean. It is part of her “tongue-and-cheek take on sustainability,” which outfits women for the post-apocalypse. Grim? Not so — in Champion’s hands the clothes are chic and bubbly, literally: The models were spraying down attendees with bubble guns.
Starting the season with Anna Atkins’ 19th-century monograph “Photographs of British Algae,” Champion digitally rendered her own prints (close-ups of coral and other aquatica) pixel-by-pixel to lend a futuristic Seurat-effect. Silhouettes riffed on nostalgic resortwear: sporty ribbed polos and high-waisted briefs were shown alongside dresses with a staple asymmetric wave hem. “They’re sort of like sirens that are drawing you in,” Champion said of her models, “but actually they’re just drawing you into a mountain of plastic.” Though PH5 keeps eco-friendliness top of mind, collection notes mentioned it is having trouble eliminating man-made fibers from its production run.
Gogo Graham unearthed her inspiration this season in the somewhat curious corners of YouTube: Speed-running videos, in which gamers run through digital universes as fast possible served as a metaphor for the highly pressurized, “beat-em-to-the-finish-line” mentality the designer feels is plaguing fashion creatively.
Her answer was to go back to square one, reflecting on a time before the internet infiltrated every aspect of daily life and minimalists like Helmut Lang and Calvin Klein ruled the runway. The standouts here were peekaboo white tanks (a key piece for fall with major carryover potential moving into spring) cut from recycled powermesh. Layered over a ribbed cotton halter in one look and beneath a zippered Empire-waist chemise in another, they toed the line between those designers’ streamlined approach to underwear as outerwear and Graham’s penchant for costume-y kitsch.
All signs of restraint, however, were pushed aside in the finale: a boned, full-skirted experiment in “demi-couture” constructed using scraps of leather crocheted together and laser cut with a family crest.
Black Boy Knits
Jacques Agbobly is getting noticed, first as a 2022 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist and most recently as the winner of this year’s DHL Logistics in Fashion Award. “I feel incredibly blessed,” they said during a spring preview. “I think I’m still processing it.”
Titled “Togo Vivina” (translation: “in Togo, life is so good”), this latest collection was a road map through Agbobly’s multilayered identity as a Black, queer immigrant from West Africa. Fitted pieces like a tank dress and turtleneck combo woven from soft merino wool in citrus tones recalling FanYogo — a favorite frozen yogurt treat — punctured a lineup of gingham and bead-studded separates inspired by their school uniform from childhood. Despite the name Black Boy Knits, Agbobly is focused on proving sweaters are not all they are capable of, saying, “I’ve always designed in looks, so it’s not necessarily [about] the individual pieces.”
Noticeably absent this week was Judy Turner’s Conley Averett, the man behind some of Khaite’s most covetable knits. His promising second showcase at NYFW was postponed due to sample delivery snafus. The brand said it continued with sales appointments and plans to revisit its presentation at the The Paris Theatre in the fall.
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