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.
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 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
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
I think we can all survive - and flourish - on that!
All images courtesy Kevin Kramp