If you follow Annie Lee Larson’s Instagram — and chances are good that you do, considering the New York knitwear designer’s followers almost tip into the five digits — you might envision that she lives in some Peter Halley-meets-Memphis–inspired fantasyland, all primary colors, geometric patterns, and kitschy throwback accessories (hello Bananagrams!) But the truth is, Larson’s 5th-floor East Village walk-up doesn’t appear all that crazy upon first glance. A pretty but small, light-filled, plant-friendly apartment, the place is largely decorated in black and white, save for a trio of painted shelves where Larson keeps her most prized possessions, and a punch of colorful bedding. It’s only upon closer inspection (and I mean, really close, considering Larson’s love of miniatures) that her oft-photographed influences begin to reveal themselves — dice, Swatch watches, Japanese toys, and ’80s electronics among them.
But perhaps the biggest influence on Larson’s sweater aesthetic has been something that she doesn’t keep in the house at all but rather in her Williamsburg studio: the Brother KH-965i knitting machine that she bought from a woman named Lora back in Minneapolis, where she attended college for fashion design in the mid-2000s. When she bought her first, now-defunct Brother machine, she was working for Target, designing classic men’s knits and sweaters. “I went to see a demo on a knitting machine, and I was kind of romanced by it,” says Larson. “I ended up buying my first one towards the end of 2009, and I practiced for eight or nine months. The first garment I ever made with the machine was a cardigan, and right away I didn’t have the ability to generate my own patterns. But the Brother machines all come with, like, 500 or 600 preprogrammed patterns. There are basic things you can do to manipulate them, like mirroring or flipping upside down, scaling a pattern to be double tall or double wide, or isolating a chunk and deciding where it’s placed. So a lot of the early stuff was an experimentation with that.”
She founded her online shop and eponymous label — called ALL Knitwear — in 2010, and when it began to take off, Larson moved to a machine that’s controlled by computer software rather than the old way, which involved her filling in the pattern on Mylar graph paper with a light-sensitive pencil. But the motifs she creates are still similar in spirit, and that simply patterned, explosively colored aesthetic has clearly struck a chord with her bordering-on-obsessive fan base, which pleases Larson to no end, considering where she started. “The sweater thing just fell into my life, in a way. It introduced itself in a way that was completely unexpected, and it took over. Even when I left my job at Target, I didn’t have anything lined up. I was just like I’m going to be unemployed for a while. I didn’t think ‘I’m going to be a knitwear designer,’ or ‘I’m going to be a small business owner.’ Those thoughts never crossed my mind. They weren’t part of the plan. Now that’s fully my life, and I love it.”
“I grew up going to pow-wows and stuff” isn’t the first thing you expect Annie Lenon to say as she’s puttering around the garden apartment and studio she shares with her boyfriend in a brownstone in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene. But then you recall that the 25-year-old jewelry-maker and Pratt grad hails from Bozeman, a city of 27,000 located in the southwestern corner of Montana — a state that with its prairies and badlands and Indian reservations seems downright exotic to most New Yorkers — and you realize she’s working from an entirely different reference point.
Christian Wijnants attended the fashion program at Antwerp’s prestigious Royal Academy, and upon graduating, won the Hyéres prize, the Dries Van Noten prize, and a coveted assistant spot in Van Noten’s atelier. Then, two years after starting his own line in 2003, he banked 100,000 euros as the winner of the Swiss Textile Award, beating out Giles Deacon and Charles Anastase. “I never thought I would even be nominated,” Wijnants told i-D magazine at the time, before proceeding to watch his collection trickle into all of the world’s most respected boutiques and department stores. He was just being modest, of course — the man has unmistakable talent, especially when it comes to his imaginative textiles and knits — but there is something surprising about his success, when you think about it: In a country whose fashion scene skews towards all things experimental, nonconformist, androgynous, and/or dark, the cherub-faced designer is known for both his colorful, feminine aesthetic and his charming geniality. He’s almost too perfect to be cool.
If style is a sore subject for the up-and-coming interior designer Rafael de Cardenas, who bristles at the suggestion that he might have one, a therapist would likely lay the blame on his mother. A Polish-Swiss former fashion PR agent — who with his Cuban father moved the family to New York City when de Cardenas was six — she was constantly redecorating, stripping the house bare every time her tastes changed. “She’s into one thing carried throughout, she can’t mix and match,” says de Cardenas. “So once it’s something new, everything’s gotta go. There was an Armani Casa phase, and now it’s all Native American, with blankets and sand-covered vases from Taos. It scared me away from design to a degree.” After spending most of his childhood wanting to be a doctor, he eventually went to RISD to study fashion and painting, and ended up heading the menswear department at Calvin Klein for three years. But although he admits that interiors were something he never put any thought into back then, design began exerting its slow pull.