Photography Maxime Imbert

talking sexy minimalism with charlotte knowles

In a new series, 1 Granary profile six of their favourite young designers for you to look out for in 2018. First up, Charlotte Knowles...

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15 January 2018, 6:28pm

Photography Maxime Imbert

When we meet Charlotte Knowles she’s with her partner Alexandre Arsenault, a few hours from arranging the final line-up of her new collection and days from shipping it to Los Angeles to be shot. Having bounced from her MA graduation in March to working on a capsule collection for Helmut Lang in New York, Charlotte then returned to London to start her first collection. “It has been quite intense,” Charlotte laughs, thinking about the speed with which it has all come about. A graduate of Kingston, LCF and CSM, and sat in “beautiful industrial Bermondsey,” as Alexandre puts it, in the studio she has been building throughout her MA, it seems only natural that London will be the home of Charlotte's brand. “I love London, I can’t really see myself doing this in another city,” she says. “All my friends are here, my family is close by, and my sister lives in London too.”

Yet Charlotte’s MA collection was a far cry from the manic, colourful, creative more-more-more that often dominates the work of London’s young designers. “That’s what we are trying to stay away from,” she says. “We are trying to make pieces that are really interesting but not shouting. There’s sort of an element of minimalism to the pieces. Everything is very refined and worked on.”

Though Charlotte’s MA collection was sold positively in articles as “bold and brash”, the collection is more complex than that. Tough yet fragile, the smallness of each item is at tension with the strong shape of the garments; antique silhouettes contrast modern techniques and materials, and skin-tight flares are juxtaposed against satin T-shirts that are styled below some bras. The colours are neutral, dark, serious, sexy, the boldness comes through in Charlotte’s mantra and thought process -- the idea of a woman who understands her sexuality and enjoys it.

“There’s sort of an element of minimalism to the pieces, but not in a futuristic way. In a way that everything is very refined and worked on.”

“Since the graduate collection, we have been trying to steer away from underwear and lingerie because I felt that the collection was quite confined to the bedroom. We’ve been trying to move the girl into the real world. Like, take her outside,” Charlotte laughs. “We have used poplins, we have made shirts. We have made real pieces, there are jackets and skirts,” she continues. “They all still feel very small and seductive in a way, as we’re trying to retain the goodness that came out of that collection. We want to retain all these pieces that are really intricate and thought through.”

If you can believe it, Charlotte explains that the MA collection was never intended to be lingerie-based. It was more that Charlotte had an idea, and felt a certain mood, and after a BA where she spent time indulging in her creativity -- “playing around with textures, making something that looks quite arresting, but doesn’t make much sense today” -- the MA marked the start of a deeper understanding of the woman she was creating for, and the mood that was to encompass her brand. “It’s more an interest in femininity, and women that are confident in their bodies,” she explains.

Charlotte grew up in Bramshott, a small town in the English countryside. I try to make a tenuous link between the sensuality of her last collection and the nature she grew up in. “I just remember there being just so much time spent outside,” she says. “It was so quiet and peaceful, so maybe that is something.”

“We have been trying to steer away from underwear and lingerie because I felt that the collection felt quite confined to the bedroom.”

She would spend time as a child at the fashion boutique her grandmother ran, or stay with her granny’s best friend where they would make a dress together based off a sketch Charlotte had made. It seems like fashion design was always the next step, but Charlotte assures me that she was always more interested in fabric than the making of the clothes themselves. “It is mainly my family that encouraged me to be creative. My dad was always making stuff, and we always had loads of clay around the house and art tools and paper.”

The mood of Charlotte’s sexually confident woman is perfectly now. “With me, there is always an element of appreciating the female body,” Charlotte says. “I looked into female photographers and especially Bettina Rheims. I guess I’ve always found women really attractive. It’s funny because you can become obsessed by certain women -- you become transfixed.”

There’s a steeliness to Charlotte, in her need for creative freedom, and in her strength to start her own brand; one that is hidden behind her Queen’s English accent and English rose-ish features. She tells the story of how Alber Elbaz saw her MA collection and said that it did not make sense that she had designed it -- he could not marry the two. Charlotte suggests that her woman “could be an alter-ego, or it could be the fantasy of somebody I want to be, or respect. It’s such a double standard,” she argues. “So many men design sexy clothes for women, why can’t I?”

Charlotte Knowles by Danielle Neu and Emma Wyman