Knitwear: Chanel to Westwood

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Knitwear: Chanel to Westwood
Sleeveless, side buttoned, heather grey knitted ensemble, US Vogue, February 1947 by Horst P. Horst © CORBIS

Knitwear – it’s big business in fashion and it’s been elevated to an artform recently, after Scandi drama ‘The Killing’and its Fair Isle-wearing star hit our screens in 2011. The faithful friend in the autumn wardrobe is about to have the spotlight shone on it once again thanks to a new show opening at the Fashion and Textile Museum next week. ‘Knitwear: Chanel to Westwood’ is an exploration of the knitwear clacked up by some of the biggest names in fashion. (Look out for crafty workshops happening there too.) From the ’20s to the noughties, every piece on display is from the collection of knit-fanatic couple and renowned vintage clothing dealers Mark and Cleo Butterfield, who’ve been squirrelling away interesting knits since the ’60s. And we have their unusual fetish to thank for this charming new exhibition for fashion lovers.

You’ll be able to see how shapes and styles in knitwear changed over the decades, from Coco Chanel’s neat twin sets – which introduced jersey to the world of couture – to the vibrant, multicoloured knits that came out of the ‘make do and mend’ movement in the ’40s, and were created from thread unravelled from old garments. Then there are glitzy cocktail sweaters from the ’50s, whose embellishments and nipped-in waists made the knit something much nattier. Pieces from the ’90s push the boundaries – courtesy of fashion rulebreakers like Julien MacDonald –who designed garments to look like they were knitted from tinfoil, plastic, rubber and fishing line. And that’s just for starters: there will also be bundles of eye-catching – if not always tasteful – items, including kitschy novelty '70s knits from Kenzo and Fiorucci and a fetching set of knitted swimwear from the ’30s. For posing, rather than the butterfly, we imagine.

On the gallery's mezzanine level, ‘Visionary Knitwear – new directions’, promises to showcase the very latest advances in garment creation – and prove that you can legitimately put the words ‘visionary’ and ‘knitwear’ in the same sentence place without it. without being laughed at. Much. Pull out your knobbliest sweaters and get down to the show, London. It’s time to pay respect to the knit – the world would be a colder place without it.

By: Flo Wales Bonner


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