I've never felt oppressed or frustrated by short, cold days and long, dark evenings. I love winter, and that feeling of hibernation that comes with it. Red wine, church candles, slow cooking, burnt biscuit-coloured leaves and sugary coatings of frost on grass. I love how cleansed the air feels when it rains tooth and nail, and how better everything smells in the dewy silence afterwards. But more than anything, I love the child-like feeling I get from enveloping myself in an oversized sweater.
My love affair with knitwear is long-standing. When I was very young, my mother would handknit my navy school jumper (back then, parents were not obligated to buy expensive sweaters from a prescribed stockist). I would watch her methodically “knit-one-purl-one” night after night, dropping stitches when she was distracted by me or one of my five siblings, picking them back up almost absentmindedly as she deftly dealt with whatever minor crisis was unfolding. In those days, the phrase “handknitted” didn’t have the couture associations it does today. Shop bought suggested a affluence; homemade, a little hard up. But I happily wore my handknit jumper to school, understanding even then how textured and unique it was compared with those generic polyester V-necks the other girls had on.
As an adult, I’ve learned that a great knit not only has the power to soothe and comfort, but the ability to imbue a woman with the kind of effortless sex appeal we all long to exude. What could be sexier than a flash of shoulder beneath the tactile feel of a chunky boatneck knit? How subtly erotic is a beautifully fitted merino wool polo neck, caressing the body in all the right places, suggestively but subtly hinting at what lies beneath? I don’t think Marilyn Monroe ever looked as captivating as she did in the black cashmere polo neck she wore for a LIFE Magazine portrait shoot in 1953. Her exquisite curves were just as arresting in that sweater, and the Capri pants she paired with it, as in the famously flimsy dress that flew up around her thighs in the Seven Year Itch. But it’s Monroe’s expression in the photograph that lingers most. The pouty, wiggling blonde bombshell is replaced by a seductive ingenue. If we are what we wear, then Monroe’s pin-up personality seems to have been hung up alongside her satin sheath dresses. In a simple sweater, she embodies the kind of honest sexiness that is devoid of caricature. The cover line read “ The softer side of the showgirl”, and it certainly was. It was also one of the most sensuous images ever taken of the Hollywood icon.
For someone who loves clothes but is devoted to sweater wearing, the dawn of a spring/summer season can be a little like opening a beautifully packaged gift to find nothing inside. But luckily for me, SS18 is proving to be another slightly topsy-turvy season, with designers sending almost as many knits down the runways as sundresses and swimsuits. At Balenciaga, tight-fitting skinny
ribbed polos were the perfect foil for floaty, foral-print skirts (this was real world dressing from a label that has been veering toward the avant-garde in recent years). Only its second season of ready to wear, accessories brand Mansur Gavriel sent out sloppy cable-knit jumpers in juxtaposing shades of mushroom and passata. Meanwhile, the queen of French cool Isabel Marant offered a baby pink, open-weave cropped sweater as the perfect pool-side cover-up. Marant’s pieces have always had that languid borrowed-from-the-boys feel to them, so it’s not surprising she launched her first menswear collection alongside her womenswear in Paris last September. Playing on the “grey area of wardrobing, where pieces are exchanged,” Marant revealed an edit of knits for men that is just as covetable as those that were worn by Gigi, Kendall and Co, in particular the oversized midnight blue sweater and pebble-dash, round-neck jumper.
Isabel Marant SS18
Stella McCartney SS18
If there is one designer who can make knitwear look like the most sensible thing to send down a spring/summer runway, it’s Stella McCartney. Her collection was described/criticised as being too “real”, but the pairing of caramel faux leather trousers with a toffee asymmetric knit was an absolute dream to my mind. The wonderful thing about finding and buying your dream jumper is that you’ll never tire of wearing it, nor will it ever feel tired when you put it on (as long as you care for it correctly). Plus, modern dressing means knitwear is as appropriate for a cocktail party as it is at the school gates. My current knitwear crush is Ganni, available at BT2, Brown Thomas and in Arnotts. Parisian label Zadig & Voltaire’s cardigans are my passion – this season, Loop the Loop-like coloured stripes prettied up its signature raggedy, oversized cardigans and sweaters, which were paired with barely-there slip dresses. I’ve also fallen hard for online retailer Arket’s edit of cable knits and alpaca-blend sweaters. Emerging Irish designers Fintan Mulholland and Aisling Duff are transforming knitwear into wearable art. The textures, colours and shapes of their pieces feel utterly fresh and modern. Right now, I’m longing for a cashmere hoodie. It seems to me to be one of the most gratuitously indulgent things a woman can wear; like winter white or jewel-encrusted trainers. It’s that juxtaposition of utilitarianism and luxury that makes it so, of course.
Zadig & Voltaire creative director Cecilia Bo?nstro?m said before her SS18 show that she wanted to make a girl’s life easy. Isn’t that what we want from designers? Clothes that fit and flatter, that look womanly but effortless, too? It’s easy to forget that the humble sweater offers all of the above. Thank you, Stella and Co for reminding us.