charlotte knowles is dressing the femininity of the future
In the first in a series of pieces profiling the young design talent presented in 1 Granary’s second VOID exhibition, we meet Charlotte Knowles.
Portrait Chris Lensz
Tired of seeing independent designers struggle to build a sustainable career, 1 Granary launched VOID, where young talent is connected to established creative teams. Now at its second edition, the project resulted in an exhibition during London Fashion Week and a series of unique zines, collected in one publication . We spoke to the six VOID designers about their work, the power of collaboration and their hopes for the future.
Charlotte Knowles is still a young brand, but they’re anything but naïve. That’s to say that the designer duo -- made up of Charlotte and her partner Alexandre Arsenault -- are more at the fearless, precocious teenage stage of their brand trajectory, rather than a wide-eyed childlike one.
For their spring/summer 19 collection, the brand imbued ready-to-wear pieces with the sentiments of lingerie, allowing fitted bra tops and oversized coats alike to carry the precision, intimacy and sensuality of the underwear-like garments of the labels’ origin. The duo are clear about who they are and about what defines them, but with an interest centred on femininity, female sensuality and everything in between it would make sense that the brand’s vision is forever evolving too, metamorphosing with the tides of society and culture -- just like femininity itself.
This multifaceted femininity came to life for VOID, with the collaboration with Ted Lovett, Harley Weir and Georgia Pendlebury allowing the brand’s vision to transcend the garments. We spoke to the two designers about dressing the femininity of the future.
Female sensuality is a recurring theme throughout your work, and feminism is an increasingly popular social and cultural conversation. Can you talk a bit about the relationship between your work and feminism?
I think our main interest is femininity and how we perceive it now and project it in the future. We think about it primitively -- the strength, the fragility, the sensuality. The idea of female sensuality and feminism, of course, go hand in hand, but we never design things to be ‘feminist’. Anyone who explores femininity and tries to propose a strong perspective on it, wherever it is found, will naturally share certain interests and ideas with feminist culture -- but we don't feel pressure to be politically correct. We are obviously feminists and stand for women empowerment in our own way and people seem to connect with that.
How do the themes you work with inform your treatment of the female body in your designs?
It really depends. We have a strange feminine world in our head, where our woman lives and thrives and every collection is about slowly building the multiple facets of it. We want this future world to be as inclusive as possible. We also like the idea that our woman is atypical and menacing as well. Working with Georgia Pendlebury (stylist) really helped us extend this into casting and styling. Our fit model, Jade, is the sweetest and most delicate girl we know, so if we can make her look and feel strong, confident, dangerous, ready for action, we know we're doing something right.
There’s talk around your brand occupying the next-gen space for what women want to wear. What do you think defines the people who want to wear your clothing?
It would be great if there was! We always say that we are trying to achieve what Helmut Lang did, but in our own way: creating a new wardrobe, one for the future of womenswear, something new that modern girls can relate to with an alternative edge. We’d like to think the people wearing our clothes would share similar interests to ours, and most importantly feel great in our clothes.
The origins of your brand are heavily rooted in the sentiments of underwear or lingerie. How do these techniques inform your latest collections?
Underwear and lingerie are intrinsically feminine or at least conventionally. The idea of underwear, its intricacy and status as an object of desire becomes part of the brand ethos. It is not necessarily just about using underwear details but a spirit that informs how we approach design, this could become important in anything from a coat to a constructed top.
For VOID you collaborated with photographer Harley Weir and stylist Georgia Pendlebury. You mentioned they brought different types of femininity to your work. Can you elaborate on this?
We definitely share a lot of similar interest with both of them. Georgia has brought and is still bringing a lot to the brand, she has a really strong perspective on womanhood and the future of it. As for Harley, there is something so unashamed and carnal to everything that she does, she is incredible and really passionate about her work. Their two visions just elevate our message so much.
What did you learn by participating in VOID this time? Anything which will inform future collections or ways of working?
I think working with Harley and Ted definitely gave a dimension to our work we thought of but never explored, which is great. It was interesting trying to portray our ideas by using a different medium – working with video and installation really opened our eyes on how to communicate ideas other than through clothing – we actually used very few for the shoot. It was about our woman and the situation, the elements and the way it was presented. I think Harley's energy and her as a person really helped us understand a bit more about who we want to dress.
As a young designer, you spoke before about the opportunities Fashion East has given your brand. What kinds of challenges do you think, female-identifying designers in particular, face in this space?
There is this weird recurring misconception that female designers cannot create a world that is too challenging without it becoming inauthentic. That only male womenswear designers have been challenging the codes. It isn't as bad as some other parts of the industry where misogyny is much more of a problem, but it’s definitely present in this space too.
Portraits Chris Lensz
Fashion photography Harley Weir
Styling Georgie Pendlebury
Creative Director Ted Lovett