This Artist Takes Knitting to Haute-Couture Heights
Cécile Feilchenfeldt keeps it tight knit.
by : LEAH VAN LOON- Mar 30th, 2023
SCHIAPARELLI (DOJA CAT)
We often think of knitting as an ancient but commonplace craft, generally used to create pieces that hold us snugly in a comfortable and familiar warmth. Swiss-born artist Cécile Feilchenfeldt, on the other hand, uses each stitch she makes to express a futuristic vision of something just out of sight and around the bend in her expansive imagination. Her fabrics are woven by hand with the help of a knitting machine, and they’re made up of unconventional materials such as paper, raffia and plastic as well as more traditional ones like cotton, silk and wool. Her creations might be considered more akin to wearable sculpture, especially given the fact that they’ve been featured in multiple solo and group exhibitions at museums around the world, and she has used the art of knitting to create one-of-a-kind garments for Balmain, Jil Sander, Balenciaga, Schiaparelli, Dior and many more haute-couture and ready-to-wear brands.
Educated at Zurich University of the Arts as a textile artist, Feilchenfeldt had always dabbled in knitting and embroidery but was particularly captivated by the art of weaving. After winning the prestigious Brunschwig Prize for Applied Arts in 1998 while still a student, she used the almost $30,000 in prize money to set up her studio in Zurich and began making scarves to sell to boutiques. A hot tip and some encouragement from a friend in the theatre world led to her meeting with a director in Paris who desperately needed a costume designer. “[The director] didn’t have any doubts that I could do it, but I couldn’t show him any theatre projects because I had never done one,” says Feilchenfeldt. “But in the end, I got the job.”
While it was the theatre that drew Feilchenfeldt to Paris, the intensive workload it entailed proved impossible to sustain while also starting a family. She set up her current studio in 2010 with the intention of breaking into the fashion industry using her inventive ideas about what textiles can be. Contacts from her days as a costume designer pointed her to Première Vision, a major event for the textile-and-fabric industry and an opportunity for her to connect with fashion professionals. She was the subject of much interest and soon began innovating and collaborating with some of the biggest haute-couture creative directors and designers in Paris. Feilchenfeldt’s knitwear is currently featured at Dior’s newly created fashion-exhibition space, La Galerie Dior, and was in the latest Schiaparelli exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, definitively sanctifying her relevance in the world of haute couture.
For Schiaparelli’s spring/summer 2023 couture show, Feilchenfeldt’s studio created a beaded knit material for a long brown skirt and matching clutch. VIP guest Doja Cat—who appeared in a head-to-toe-red Schiaparelli ensemble with her exposed head, shoulders and arms painted red and covered in 30,000 red Swarovski crystals—also wore one of Feilchenfeldt’s knitted skirts as part of her headline-grabbing look. The ingenious technique—which she had used before when collaborating with Schiaparelli’s designer and creative director, Daniel Roseberry—involves knitting beads directly into the stretchy fabric rather than attaching them after the fact. “The [skirt] on the catwalk was quite long, and there is always the technical question of how to walk in long, slim-fitting skirts, so the look for Doja Cat was shorter,” says Feilchenfeldt. “For a VIP dress, everything has to be 100 percent perfect and comfortable since the person will be confronted with the realities of walking, going up stairs and sitting.”
Feilchenfeldt’s small studio is used by her all-women team of assistants and has expanded to include the space next door, where she develops proposals for clients. The artist and entrepreneur presents a variety of proposals to designers and creative directors for each collection. She will often show past experiments in order to spur new ideas for both herself and the designer she is working with. Her table is littered with past proposals, including a piece of knit that looks like silver chain mail and ended up being used in the Balenciaga fall/winter 2022/2023 couture offering. Lying next to it are samples of the design in other sizes and colours, showing the variety of directions even a single fabric can be taken in by the right designer in future seasons.
Never one to rest on her laurels, Feilchenfeldt is constantly looking toward what’s next. Right now, it’s multiple art exhibitions later in the year, including two in Munich and a group show in Montreal at the Centre de Design in November. She is also starting the long and laborious task of organizing all those samples into a cohesive archive at her studio to streamline the pro- cess for future clients and projects. While Feilchenfeldt is enjoying this chapter of her career, her innate desire for new challenges means we will see even more daring and unconventional work from this singular craftsperson in the rarefied world of high fashion.
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