As Oscar Wilde once wrote, “One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.” Liz Collins’ capsule collection of knitwear is now available for those who choose the latter option.
“The Void” is a new exhibit by acclaimed artist, knitwear designer and educator, Liz Collins. Designed to challenge viewers to rethink their fashion consumption habits, large-scale knitted wall hangings cover the brick interior of the Textile Arts Center in Manhattan, and a pile of machine-knitted pieces are heaped on the floor generating questions about the true scale of our culture’s addiction to purchasing ever more clothing.
The antidote, says the designer, is to create truly unique clothing. “There’s a certain timelessness to interesting designs,” says Collins. Launched in tandem with the opening of the exhibit, her collection of limited-edition unisex designs are as bold and thought-provoking as her latest installation.
We caught up with Liz as she was preparing for the opening of the exhibit, here’s what she had to say:
Rowena Ritchie: Why did you decide to launch a collection alongside the exhibit?
Liz Collins: People are always telling me how much they love the pieces of mine they have. They come up to me and say they’ve been wearing their sweaters for years and cherish them because they’re such special pieces. After devoting more than 10 years to my art and performance project, KNITTING NATION. I thought it was time to get going on some new wearable design ideas that have been percolating in my imagination for some time.
RR: What is the collection comprised of?
LC: There are 4 different sweater styles: HOLE, BUBBLE, FRINGE and HALF FRINGE. They are all the same basic design, featuring a drop sleeve and oversized, sweatshirt-style shape. It looks great on so many different people. They are hand loomed in Peru with baby alpaca and silk yarns with a basic neutral and bright palette. I work with a women-owned enterprise in Lima, Innovative Knitwear, which I’m really excited about. They employ some amazing craftspeople that are able to do more specialized work.
RR: What do you see as the ‘The Void’ in today’s fashion consumption?
LC: There are just way too many products on the low to mass-market level. It’s at an extreme and totally overwhelming level. No one needs all the options that are out there now. Where does all that stuff go once no one buys it? It’s so depressing. Closing down all the factories that are making all this low-grade apparel and laying everyone off certainly isn’t going to help. The whole infrastructure of countries and communities would have to change in order to support people and allow them to sustain their lives with alternatives to those jobs. I fear we’ve gone down a path that is perhaps irreversible.
RR: What was the concept behind your critically received installation project, KNITTING NATION?
LC: Knitting Nation is a performance and site-specific installation project. It reconfigures textile fabrication and apparel manufacturing in relation to the human labor behind it, with performance and collectivity as mediating forces. The project functions as a commentary on how humans interact with machines, global manufacturing, trade and labor, brand iconography, and fashion. The concept emerged in a series of conversations I had beginning in 2002 with friend, fashion designer Gary Graham. As independent and emerging designers working in the fashion industry, we felt the need to create a platform to reveal the emotions – the raw creative energy and labor-intensive processes that were part of our work. The project has been extremely well received and has been going now for almost 8 years, with 10 different phases.
RR: Your sweater designs are as relevant today as when they were first released, what do you think are the qualities of a design that makes it timeless?
LC: Design concepts that are based on simple phenomena and experiences, high quality materials use a straightforward color palette work best. A pared-down silhouette that is easy to wear, comfortable, versatile and accessible for various body shapes helps. A playful sense of joy is ultimately what I want to express in my designs. A garment that has a fun quality is enduring because it makes a person feel special, happy, and unique.
RR: What is it about knitwear that you find so inspiring?
LC: I love making things with knitting machines because this is where I have found a language. I’ve been able to create material and visual experiences I could not find and make anywhere else in any other way.
Images: Liz Collins