Fact: It’s already been several weeks since the weather got all autumnal on us here in Sweden. For many, this just signals the inevitable descent into winter darkness, but for me, it means I can happily bust out the knitwear. Being cocooned in soft wool or cashmere ranks highly on my list of life’s little pleasures. But for a few years now, there has been a Swedish designer defying the cosy conventions of knitting and creating something entirely her own.
Sandra Backlund graduated from Beckman’s College of Design in Stockholm in 2004 and promptly set up her own label thereafter. Hand-crafted (by her own hands), three-dimensional collage knitting became her hallmark, and all her pieces were special orders made-to-measure. Fêted as an “artist-designer,” Backlund’s works have therefore felt right at home in several museum exhibitions around the world.
Like many others, I marvelled at the intricacy and (wo)man hours involved in each piece. But what really struck me was the sheer innovation needed to create such sculptural clothing. The term ‘body-conscious’ took on completely new meaning – the human body was deliberately emphasised or contorted through the layers of built-up yarn. I was intrigued: What kind of mind comes up with such novel forms? Or is there perhaps some innovative spirit inherent in Swedes? The list of ground-breaking Swedish inventions is impressively long given the size of its population.
For her part, Backlund has not rested on her fashionable (and hard-earned) laurels, instead choosing to evolve. Over a year ago, she started working with an Italian producer of knitwear, challenging herself to add pieces to her collections that would only require a limited amount of manual work.
“It was, of course, a big step for me,” she says, “to go from working alone in my studio, inventing pieces while doing them myself by hand, to suddenly be working with a team of experts within a field of fashion that I never before have had the chance to get to know. I was overwhelmed by all the possibilities I saw and even though I will never give up doing my hand-knitted pieces, I now see how to develop my collections in ways that I never thought was possible.”
Backlund’s A/W 2010 collection was the first time she started integrating other fabrics into her designs. She pushed herself to apply her iconic knitting techniques to cutting and tailoring, which resulted in familiar-looking yet more retail-friendly ribbed, angled and folded pieces. For S/S 2011, Backlund started experimenting with metal yarn made from 100% copper to stunning effect. So now that we are nearly in full-on autumn mode, I’m beginning to think that I need to innovate, too and start embracing the sculptural side of knitwear for myself.