Knitwear is arguably the most exciting thing happening in fashion right now. Innovative designers are taking the simple, traditional method of looping yarn and turning it on its head to create extraordinary sculptural shapes and complex and beautiful textures. Ultimately, they are reinventing knitwear and redefining what it means to us and how it relates to our bodies; much of it could easily be considered wearable art.
Kevin Kramp is one of these exciting and richly talented young designers who found himself intrigued with knitting well before the knitwear phenomenon exploded. The Minneapolis native began his fashion career in the menswear program at London’s prestigious Central St. Martins, but found himself designing knitwear for each project. However, he couldn’t realize any of his designs as he didn’t know how to knit! After careful consideration, he bravely made the jump to the knitwear program, having never knitted a thing in his life. Fast forward a few years to his graduation collection which caused a stir in the global fashion industry. Today he boasts several awards, sponsorships from the best of the Italian yarn manufacturers and has worked with many influential designers around the world including Richard Tyler and Carlos Miele. How’s all that for inspiration?
Over the course of our interview, Kevin relocated back to his native home of Minnesota - a move he had never, ever anticipated after working all over the world - to take on the prestigious role of Men’s Knitwear and Collection Designer for the upscale men’s label St. Croix Collections.
Here are our conversations:
One of the things that jumped out at me when I saw your work is that you’re of the ‘more is more’ ethos. Is this a part of a signature style or is volume something you explored with this particular collection?
Yes, it’s true! I do often max things out to the extreme, more IS more! This applies to my daily life as well! I can’t help but gravitate to more pattern, more colour, more shape, more more more, so the presence of all this consideration definitely is a signature of my work. However, your specific question to volume is a bit different – certainly I explore and push shapes to new areas, but they are not necessarily always voluminous, nor do I associate ‘volume’ with ‘more.’ Obviously we have seen form-fitting tops that are extremely maximal, and billowy tops which are plain and minimal. And to be honest, much of this collection is quite balanced to me, because I had pulled myself back from greater extremes in order to arrive at these ‘less extreme’ versions. This collection does not represent the outer limits of my capabilities of maximalism, but rather the satisfactory compromise I reached between my cuckoo tendencies and beauty.
I love that, ‘cuckoo tendencies’! Something every truly exciting designer must have! So, within the context of your own body of work this collection is a balance between the full-on and an honest consideration of what beauty represents. Do you think you were willing to look for that compromise because you’ve been able to experiment with your maximal approach as you say ‘to your outer limits of capabilities’? Or is there more work to be done there, more boundaries to be pushed? What was it that made you pull it back? I’m sensing it’s something about the maximalism that is that root of what drives you.
Well, I think that I have always balanced my full-on approach with what is beautiful, and that is not because I have already exhaustively explored my maximalist ideas and therefore must now limit them, but simply because many of my ideas and initial maximal work is hideously awful and ugly! I (happily) lose myself in experimentation, boundary-pushing, technique investigation, materials…to the neglect of beauty. After a good spell of stirring up my idea pot (many of which are ugly and hard to understand,) only then do I attempt to contextualize my ideas with what already exists in the rest of the world and the history of creation. This contextualization, or ‘compromise,’ is when I understand what of my work is very good, is beautiful, and what of my work should be hidden forever! Beautiful ideas often do not manifest into beautiful physical realities. It is my job, in the process of creation, to carefully consider the physical reality and honestly evaluate it regardless of its ideological inception. That is the hardest part…being honest with yourself.
Of course there is always, always more to be done in ‘pushing limits,’ in maximizing ideas and concepts (even if ‘maximizing’ means taking away.) I cannot imagine a point in my life when I will ever feel that I have satisfied all the exploration that is to be done, that I have ‘maxed out’ my maximalism.
That’s the beauty of creating, isn’t it? There’s no end to what’s possible. But as you indicate it’s also a challenge in knowing where to draw your own limits. It must be extremely frustrating to have a beautiful idea that doesn’t translate in reality. Have you ever taken an ‘ugly’ idea and made something beautiful out of it?
Well of course! So many ideas start with such promise, but then very quickly become ugly or lose their potential. This is just yet another part of the process that then requires careful thinking and strong decision making. Besides, life is often ugly, and undoubtedly I would not survive without rooting out the beautiful and focusing all attention on it! This ‘transformation’ process is inherent in living for all of us I think.
In the past decade we’ve seen a metamorphosis in what knitwear can be, it’s taken on a sculptural quality through the work of Sandra Backlund and Craig Lawrence and others, and your work in playing with proportion offers a new take on knitwear’s relationship to the body. I can’t think of a more exciting and innovative facet of fashion at the moment. What do you see for the future of knitwear?
I agree, knitwear is hot hot hot at the moment, I don't know why this bonanza of knit innovation occurred now, but it has and it’s damn exciting. But I honestly began (and continue) my work totally ignorant of the wider phenomenon of the growing sexiness of knitwear in fashion. I am just bizarrely excited by knitwear and all its potential…whether or not knit is hot on the runway, it’s going to be hot for me for a good long time. I never stop thinking about it! Ideas are a constant flow. There’s never enough, and always more. This knit frenzy will grow to be quite mainstream in the next ten years, of this there is no doubt. Knit is, or can be, simultaneously comfortable, casual, sporty, luxe and ultra high fashion. It’s easy, and immediately understandable. And much more difficult for the average person to make than is cutting and sewing basic fabric. Many people won’t wear oversized structured woven shoulders, but they will wear oversized piles of knit on their shoulders. Knit is intuitive, organic, much closer to the feeling of human experience. Wovens are forced, hard to understand, uncompromising. I can’t face those qualities in life anymore, I too easy crumble emotionally. I need the flexible, the sympathetic, the easy, for survival.
I think we can all survive - and flourish - on that!
All images courtesy Kevin Kramp