Charlotte Knowles AW20 is fashion on the edge of a new frontier
Baroque prints, Western shirting and armour-like corsets — we caught up with the pair behind the London brand ahead of their show to hear about the inspiration for their latest collection.
It’s a wild world out there right now, and tomorrow is trickier to predict than ever before. Still, there’s an inescapable feeling that we’re on the cusp of a momentous turn. You can almost feel it your bones-- or at least Alexandre Arsenault and Charlotte Knowles, the pair behind the label can. For AW20, they drew upon this sense of tense uncertainty for their latest collection, I Can Feel It In My Bones.
The brand’s signature corsetry takes on a distinctly Western flair this season, as if its wearer is standing on the edge of a new frontier, gazing out into the unknown. Think fitted shirts with built-in holster-straps and pointed snake-print boots made in collaboration with Marko Bakovic. Their fit-and-ready-to-fight take on femininity also translates to the prints, with reinterpreted swirling Baroque and ‘scratched’ out rose motifs communicating a refined take on the weaponised womanhood we saw in Venom, Charlotte Knowles’ SS20 collection.
Perhaps the most significant development this season is the broadening of the brand’s offering of easily wearable clothes. “This season, it was really a process of refining what we've done before, then adding things like shirting, more fluid skirts, and other things that people didn't necessarily expect from us -- t-shirts, too, adding a more casual wearable edge,” explained Alex a couple of days before the show. “ It's been all about expanding the new feminine wardrobe that we're proposing -- a new future, almost -- so it was about creating new angles on our usual universe.” To find out more, we sat down with the pair to dig deep into this season’s key inspirations.
Your title for AW20 is I Can Feel It In My Bones -- what’s the meaning behind that?
Alex: We had this feeling that there’s something accumulating in the air, which seems to be quite a common feeling. We don't know if what’s coming is going to be good or bad, but we wanted to create a collection that would ensure that our woman is ready for any outcome.
Last season, you spoke about reacting to this feeling of helplessness, and channelling that into something defiant and strong. The situation is hardly any better, or more certain now though. How have you responded to that in fashion terms?
Charlotte: We found ourselves looking at lots of weird, almost Western leather pieces, and quite armour-like corsetry too. There was an amazing piece I found in a costume archive that had all of this tiny boning stitched in to sort of frame certain parts of the body. We were really inspired by this combination of fluid femininity and a harsh, structured look. Some silhouettes also feel quite historical, but we’ve then modernised by using a super stretchy fabric in a bold colour. It almost feels quite futuristic.
Corsetry featured prominently for SS20. How does its implementation here build on the foundation you laid down then?
Charlotte: One of the main things we've done is broaden the range of people that can easily wear the pieces. One of the corsets we’ve introduced this season doesn't have underwiring, so it suits a wider range of different figures and body types.
Alex: Yes, inclusivity was really important this season. We had more time with this collection, so were able to focus on bringing more diversity to the catwalk, dedicate more time and resources to making a bigger corset, which is something we’ve always wanted to do. But we didn't want to just have a bigger girl just as a token to please the press. This season, we found someone that perfectly embodied the Charlotte Knowles woman. It just felt right.
Charlotte: We’ve also been working really hard on other easily wearable pieces -- shirts, for example. There's one that's looser, but still skims the figure, and another that's much more fitted. It feels very Western in the cut, as it has these holster straps that can go inside the leg, and the sleeves are set in a weird, angular way to create a silhouette that really draws your eye to the waist.
Alex: There are also t-shirts; more variation. And knitwear is returning quite prominently.
You really demonstrated your ability to work with print last season. There were florals, plaids, even reptilian patterns. How did you approach print for AW20?
Alex: When we were speaking with our stylist, Georgia Pendlebury, she mentioned that it'd be nice to show people that we’re able to make outfits that don’t need to be covered in print to be impressive. So we made a concerted effort to offer pieces that were less print-heavy this season. That said, it’s still a part of our DNA, and we feel like there’s still so much space to explore that haven't been done.
Charlotte: Yes, I found these really amazing prints from the mid-1800s, for example, which we reinterpreted in different colours and played around with them. They have very gestural shapes, flirting with a certain Baroque feeling -- pointy, but with lots of curves and swooping shapes. Almost like tribals, but with a Western feel.
The brand is now in its third year, and has grown impressively in that time. What sort of image do you want to foster as you continue to grow?
Charlotte: I think we just want to keep surprising people, season after season. We don't want people to be able to pigeonhole us. We always used to get a bit frustrated about being labelled as "the underwear brand", but I feel that we've now gotten past that. I think that, especially with this collection, we've developed enough of a range that we're thought of more as a luxury brand -- which is how I want it to be perceived.
Last season, there was a real hardness to the Charlotte Knowles woman, as if she were preparing to head into battle. What would you say is the driving energy for this collection?
Alex: I think it's somewhat the same, except that we didn't feel like we had to prove something to the industry and make a stand as strongly as we did last season…
Charlotte: It still feels a little bit like that...
Alex: True, but this time around it's more about maintaining that stand. We were talking about how the Western vibe you see here isn't really about the Western trend you see so much of at the moment, but it's more about a kind of frontier spirit. And I guess there’s a sense of excitement and adrenaline to be found in facing the unknown… But tell me, who is the woman stood on the frontline this season?
We always dreamed up the women in our universe, but she’s always been a compilation of the people that surround us, whether that's Charlotte's mom, Isamaya Ffrench, Harley Weir or Georgia Pendlebury -- they’re all women we find extremely inspiring based on who they are or how they present themselves.
Photography Carly Scott