thistle brown knits a bold new aesthetic
A few weeks ahead of moving to New York, the Kiwi designer talks about his love of knit wear and how he’s elevated it above the crafty kitsch stereotype.
Derya Parlak and Zara Mirkin
Thistle Brown's audacious creative vision and relentless drive have taken him from a tiny town in New Zealand's far north to London and soon, New York.
After honing his craft as a 17-year-old Student Costumer at London's Young Shakespeare Company, Thistle enrolled at AUT University's Textile course and established the creative collective Flagship Studio in Auckland.
There he created three capsule collections that he describes as "experimenting with form, shape and illusion of pattern". The first of which received critical acclaim and landed in American Vogue.
Flagship has now finished and its members are moving on, including Thistle. But before he follows his dreams to New York, he shares his wild ride so far.
Youu grew up in Kamo, a small New Zealand town where you said you "stuck out like a sore thumb". Have you felt more at home in Auckland?
It's like growing up in any small town, if you want to express yourself differently to the conventional, you're going to be somewhat questioned. Auckland is still a big little city, but it definitely has a sustainable creative community.
As well as designing your own label you've been working as a Designer at Stolen Girlfriends Club, Fashion Editor at Black Magazine, and as a model. How do you juggle it all?
Everyone that I work for has always been very flexible with what I do. For whatever project I am working on, I try to give it my full attention until it's complete. I enjoy being busy and collaborating with people in an array of fields. Late nights are good for the young.
You were self-taught until you went to AUT. Do you feel that studying has had much of an effect on your creative vision and process?
I still think I am self-taught in some way; there is only so much you can learn from the institution. It exposes you to great facilities and a foundation to start from. In retrospect, I feel like I learned a lot more outside of class, immersing myself in the industry while I was studying. I had an amazing Scottish technician in the textile laboratory who taught me heaps. We bonded over Depeche Mode and Killing Joke.
What drew you to study textile design as opposed to fashion design?
I wanted to discover the process before the clothes were made. For me textiles is a true foundation, it induces the design to unfold, developing its own identity through its reaction to shape and form.
How have you found growing up and being creative in New Zealand?
People always complain about how isolated we are, but I tend to think that this encourages us to create. For most New Zealand creatives, "isolation" is a subconscious conversation in their work. For me, it's a mix of this and escapism.
How would you describe your attitude toward fashion?
I think when you are young you are constantly evolving and experimenting with what you like and feel comfortable in. For me there is no difference in feeling comfortable in a pair of jeans or a feather boa. Everyone's mood changes on a day-to-day basis; so should your clothes.
Do you have an aim with your designs other than personal expression?
People can wear what they want to; I am not trying to shock or push people into a direction that is completely foreign to them. But I do think people should make themselves aware of shape and proportion. As for colour and pattern, this depends on the wearer and what they are attracted to tonally. If you remove all of this then you are left with only the form; this should speak first.
Your neoprene sweatshirts, which you've described as "pseudo knitwear", were constructed via computerised knitting. How did working with this technology affect your creative process?
Knitwear is a staple in everyone's wardrobe and I have always loved its organic behaviour, but it sometimes receives a crafty kitsch stereotype. While I was studying I was immediately drawn to the Shima Seiki software, expanding the possibilities of what you could create from the process of coding on the computer. It has revolutionised knitwear and put it back into a contemporary context. It is the future.
You're moving to New York in November. What are your reasons and aspirations for going there?
I need to be put outside of my comfort zone again. It's time to discover new possibilities and immerse myself in a fresh environment. Ideally, I would like to find a position on a design team; a knitwear department would interest me most. Being part of the textile team at Calvin Klein would be really cool. My other option is to keep to my pursuit within art direction, working for a great publication and collaborating with people that I have admired and followed for a long time.