Benetton: The Art of Knit

Tourists emerging from the Broadway/Lafayette subway station in New York’s Soho were in for a shock this fall: Perched atop an old garage behind the BP gas station were two life-sized mannequins, clad in knitted wool and engaged in a rather un-family friendly act. (New Yorkers, used to such things, weren’t particularly fazed.) The artwork was part of the Lana Sutra series by Fabrica artist-in-residence Erik Ravelo, and it was commissioned for a Benetton pop-up shop that opened in the space this past September and closes at the end of this month. But once you stepped inside the 2,200-square-foot garage, you realized that though the knit sculptures were the attention-grabbers, the space was actually full to the brim with ingenious objects that offered clever takes on color and wool, created by the young talents at Fabrica — Benetton’s Treviso, Italy–based designer-in-residence program — under the creative direction of Fabrica’s design head Sam Baron and Benetton’s brand-new creative director You Nguyen. “The concept was to adapt Benetton’s DNA to a more modern vision,” says Baron.

If you were alive in the ’80s, you know that that DNA tends heavily towards color and knit, so the space was organized in homage to that by hue and unified by an especially enthusiastic devotion to wool — ceramic vases atop customized bobbins, vinyls depicting pinking shears or stitch diagrams, and everyday objects wrapped in the stuff (hair dryers, skateboards, scooters, inner tubes, snorkels, saws, kitchen utensils, basketball hoops, and more.) “Benetton has always been really democratic so the idea was to not just have young designers doing fancy shelves or glass pieces with wood inside, which are more like gallery items,” says Baron. “So we decided to mix in very basic objects, which also gave the whole thing a sense of humor.”

The idea was also to showcase the various talents at Fabrica. The beauty of the design think tank is that its designers come from totally different backgrounds, are of all different ages, and specialize in different media. In the shop, this translated to an incredibly diverse array of objects — some 3-D, some graphic, some functional, some conceptual, but all insanely covetable. Everything is for sale, so if you can make it by the shop by the end of the month, you might be able to take a piece home. If not, here’s a look at what was made for the short-lived but much-loved pop-up.


The copulating sculptures atop a disused garage at the Soho/Noho border.


The sculpture series continued inside, where everything was arranged by color. “We didn’t care about man vs. woman, or sweaters vs. accessories,” says Baron. “We mixed everything together because the important story was about wool and color.”


One of our favorite items were these “Flags,” designed by Catarina Carreiras and Daniela Mesina, which stitched together four or five patterns from the Benetton archive (middle).


When I asked Baron about this crazy yarn hat, he said, "That was actually Nguyen's idea. It was nice of him to include some of the crazy shit we made, like this blue cactus made of yarn, in the merchandising."


Wool-covered dolphin floaty.


In the blue section was one of the more conceptual pieces: Exquisite Clock, by João Wilbert. The piece wasn't made specifically for the pop-up — it's been exhibited in museums like the V&A in London — but it fit the theme. Each "number" is photographed and uploaded by people from all over the world. It can be made from objects, surfaces, landscapes, vegetables — anything that has a resemblance to a number. "All uploaded numbers are tagged according to a category selected by their creator, and are added to the growing database. People viewing the clock can then choose to view all types of numbers, or can make a selection to view only numbers from a specific category – a clock made of vegetables, or clouds, or garments etc."


The shop's fixtures, which consisted of colorful metal trestles and shelves, were designed by Fabrica resident Dean Brown.


The graphic slogan decals were designed by Catarina Carreiras.


Yarn-wrapped mirrors by Kirsty Minns; in the bottom right are glass domes capped by a fringe of yarn hair, by Mariana Fernandez.


The yarn-wrapped dowels at left are actually shelving units designed by Giorgia Zenellato. At right is one of Baron's favorite items — a canvas that depicts one of the members of the Benetton family as a woolly creature. "It reminds me of when you go to a castle and there are portraits of the family."


A golden abacus, red poufs, knit iPad cases, feather dusters, and selections from Benetton's Fall/Winter 2012 collection round out the yellow and red section. Everything must go!