Thread Forum:
Irene Mueller
Edition 90
Irene Mueller: Knitwear is everyone's language

As in the common thread that connects the various interventions in an online conversation, the Thread Forum project, curated by Antonio Mancinelli, is a survey of the role of knitwear in contemporary aesthetics. Thanks to a series of interviews with the most well-known knitwear designers in the world, selected among Pitti Filati participants, it also intends to take on the questions that retailers and buyers often ask themselves and have no easy answers. Conversations on the "here" and "now" of a material that has always been part of fashion culture.

Senior Manager Product Development Knitwear at Escada Irene Mueller is based in Munich, where the brand she is working for has its headquarters. Russian-born, cosmopolitan, and multilingual, she is one of the biggest supporters of Pitti Filati, Florence, and Italy, where she feels “practically at home.” At the end of the interview, she even revealed she speaks Italian very well.  
Can you tell us something about your beginnings?

I will confess that I came across knitwear by chance in my life. I was a young girl living in Russia, where I was born, and one day, I visited a friend in the hospital. Her roommate was a small knitwear producer who went on a rampage because she had lost her pattern maker. So I, who wanted to study fashion, stepped forward. And it went well. Since then, knitwear has been my world. In 1994 I came to Germany and in 1995 became a Knitwear Fashion Designer for Escada, where I have been working for 27 years.
How do you reconcile your ideas with those of the creative director? What exactly does the process to get to a complete collection look like?

There are long conversations with Ioana de Vilmorin, the current artistic director, in which we discuss our respective ideas. She tells me what the goal of the season would be, where the inspiration lies, and at that point, I express my thoughts so that the collection can come to life. I am fortunate to have a director with such great creativity.
And where do you get your inspiration from?

Everywhere. A flower, a photo, a color, even a mood.

And did it ever come from a yarn?

Of course! A specific thread can often spark a series of resonances that lead me to visualize either the finished garment or the ready-made fabric. To give you a practical example: a bland stripey pattern can be "enlivened" by a fiber of a certain thickness and then, combined with others, transform it into a unique and new motif for the volumes it creates, as in a bas-relief. Sometimes I fall in love with the material, which becomes the starting point for building the line for that season. And Pitti always offers an immense variety of choices.

Do you think that knitwear is the “right” material for an international consumer like the brand you work for?

Escada was born as an international brand, I am an inveterate traveler, and we have always catered to a "global" woman: we work in China, in Italy, where we produce most of the knitting collections. For the rest, what can I tell you? I belong to knitwear; it owns me, in a certain sense. Consider that I have made knitted dresses, trousers, formal jackets, coats, and even evening and wedding gowns. Can you imagine? Everything can be made as knitwear. After all, think of the new wave of sneakers in very elastic "technical" knitwear.
We had tried to make knitted shoes, but they didn't turn out very well at the time.

How important is the technical part of your work?

It is crucial. Apart from the fact that any designer should know every step of what they do and think - from design to finished product- it is even more important for knitwear makers. For example, I came up with solutions that I otherwise would not have found with knitting machine engineers. And when my daughter announced that she wanted to become a knitwear designer, the first thing I did was take her to the factory with me to introduce her to the machines. Just as I studied until I knew everything about modeling and patterns: only in this way is it possible to explain to the members of my team what I would like and how I would like it.

Do you make the prototypes yourself?

Of course. Or rather, maybe it's not me, but I'm standing next to the knitter telling her precisely what she has to do.
Is there a garment you never get tired of designing and redesigning every season?

All of them. However, if you want me to pick, I would say the pullover: it is a staple, but at the same time it can have many different shapes and allures.

Do you believe in the power of colors?

Absolutely. And knitwear is perfect for dressing this belief of mine. I believe that if we put more colors in our wardrobes, we would be a little happier.