Knitwear, for those of us who live in temperate climes, is a perennial wardrobe necessity. But this winter’s designs are entirely more directional in their combination of creative zeal and technical innovation, making the thought of crisp autumn days and nights drawing in more than usually alluring.
Barrie, the Scottish knitwear house bought by Chanel in 2012, has long been making beautiful cashmere, but under creative director Odile Massuger you’d scarcely recognise this winter’s wares as coming from the same mills. Much of the collection represents a journey through the Scottish Borders. Massuger takes tartan for inspiration, referencing it for texture, pattern and colour in skirts (£578), scarves (£363) and sweaters (£437). Glorious long and mid-length knitted coats (£1,696) in black or navy and with raised collars have thistle flowers and tone-on-tone rosebuds winding their way round the sleeves, sprouting along the neckline and on the cuffs, pockets and hand‑painted buttons. An iconic Shetland vista is recreated on a crewneck (from £363) in bright reds, deep blues and greens, with turned-back cuffs. Other sweaters (£956) have knitted floral motifs blown up into raised blooms.
Using texture to create visual interest is another cornerstone of the collection. There’s a particularly wonderful funnel-necked grey sweater (£585) with crisscross stitching and bobble fringing down the sides of the sleeves for added glamour, and a sleeveless navy dress (from £630) with a deep V-neck and panels of herringbone-like stitching between two long, feminine lines of bobbled cabling. Oversized ponchos (£1,074) with hand-cut fringes and raised stitching over the shoulders are perfect for chic winter layering. Scarves (£200) too have been given a makeover, with plenty of raised patterns and varied textures to make them distinctive.
Pringle of Scotland continues to collaborate with architect Richard Beckett and explore the possibilities offered by 3D printing. “The main challenge is to make the 3D printing look like an integral part of the knitwear, blurring the lines between different mediums by interweaving them,” says head designer Massimo Nicosia. And this year it is adding another layer of technical innovation, “moulding” knitwear with the help of a hatmaker. “We’re using memory foam to create texture and volume.”
The result is some extremely desirable pieces – a black astrakhan coat (price on request) has 3D leather flowers trailing across the hemline; a merino cardigan (£2,595) is brought to life by neat rows of white beads, their uniformity broken by bigger beading on the cuffs; and a finely ribbed white cashmere top (£995) is embroidered with swirling white flowers. Especially glamorous is a contemporary take on a cable-knit coat (£8,795) in a fawn colour, with 3D stripes and crisscrossings in mink.
Erdem Moralioglu is mostly known for his wonderful dresses, many with an almost couture-like attention to craft, but for this winter he wanted to do something different. “I started looking at needle punching,” he tells me, “which allows the blending of two fabrics.” This centuries-old technique of looping yarn or threads through a secondary fabric with hollow barbed needles was often used for wall hangings or to embellish decorative objects. Moralioglu worked with an Italian supplier to create the textiles and experimented with joining a variety of fabrics together, most stunningly seen in a couple of evening dresses (from £2,240) where a merino top morphs into a richly patterned skirt. “The contrast between the utilitarian and the ornamental creates a sort of faded glamour,” says Moralioglu.
Such exploration of textural and material contrasts is a common thread in this season’s knitwear. Preen’s winter coat (£3,390) with panels in multifarious fabrics – shaggy sheepskin, fleece, fur – is not short on pizzazz, while a beautiful argyle-style knitted coat (£1,792) in multicoloured patchwork checks is perfect for early autumn. There is also a whole series of cute little cropped jumpers (from £428) – some appliquéd with flowers, others with lacing up the front – designed to be worn layered over its floaty dresses. And perfect for winter evenings is a black sweater (£686), which, with its knitted floral webbing, ruffles and bobbles, is full of decorative interest.
And at Emilio Pucci, woven jacquard prints, black Lurex and leather cut-outs are appliquéd onto a canvas of virgin wool and angora. The result is some dramatic sweater dresses (£1,855) in palettes of black, grey, white, blue and red, each one representing a sign of the zodiac and celebrating starry night skies.
Missoni, whose origins are rooted in an innovative approach to textiles and pattern, harnesses new techniques to create increasingly complex knits. “We’ve used layers of yarns and stitching, as well as raschel knits doubled up and interwoven with contrasting fabrics, and placed pleats and nets over the top to create ever-changing optical effects and pop-art patterns,” creative director Angela Missoni tells me. The new winter collection features trompe l’oeil designs decorated with wood and marble veining, mixing mottled and solid colours. “The pieces evoke a 1980s postmodern design and pay homage to that look of tight leggings worn underneath oversized knitted jumpers and jackets.” So oversized jackets (from £1,390) in printed marbled jacquards are designed to be paired with fluid, almost wispy woollen dresses (£1,160), creating a play between light and dark and an aesthetic that is more striking and dynamic than ever before.
A clutch of new brands and designers are also injecting knitwear with contemporary flair. Bethan Juliff was “discovered” by Joan Burstein, co-founder of Browns, who fell in love with her handmade “origami” cardigans that went on to sell out in 10 days last season. For this winter, Juliff has produced a series of beautifully structured knitted dresses (£1,250) reminiscent of Azzedine Alaïa or Alexander McQueen in the way they bring shape and an almost tailored air to what is usually a soft and unstructured medium. Intensely feminine, they accentuate curves, with nipped-in waists and skirts that flare out.
Lana Takori, the creative mind behind Tak.Ori, acquired something of a cult following for her rather eccentric and very colourful wool and cashmere hats. This season she has branched out and produced some gloriously patterned knitted coats (from £1,100). They were shown in both Milan and Moscow, and, to give you some idea of the originality of the designs, the exhibition was called Knitting Like Art.
Also impactful are designs by the Indian-born Yakshi Malhotra, who carries the country’s famous obsession with textiles into her pieces, combining machine and handcrafted techniques. Her small collection of really beautiful knits, all made only from natural materials, includes a particularly gorgeous crocheted scarlet sweater (£360) and a charming multitextured woven black and white jumper (£385).
Lastly, former Pringle of Scotland senior designer Angela Bell is garnering new interest for her knitwear label Queene and Belle. This winter’s collection represents an “urban attack” on traditional cashmere intarsia, with modern versions of this classic technique featuring unexpected “street” graphics and mixed merino yarns. There are camouflage cashmere sweatpants (£700) and matching sweatshirts and sweaters (£715) with imagery of a basketball and a “Nashville 77” graphic. And poking fun at the dreaded moth that has ravaged many a cashmere wardrobe is a beautiful crewneck (£630) with a large intarsia silver moth on the back – a classic cashmere sweater, but with a kick of contemporary cool.