Thread Forum:
Julia Rodowicz
Edition 90
Julia Rodowicz: the secret language of fibers

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.

Born in Warsaw but French by adoption, she studied design at Studio Berçot in Paris, where she has lived since 2001. She later worked for nine years as a knitwear designer for Balenciaga, before moving on to become a consultant for luxury and mass-market brands including Lanvin, Lemaire, Nehera, Calvin Klein and Uniqlo U. Now she is making her debut as design director at Goldwin, a Japanese sportswear line.
How did you start in knitwear?

Already as a student I realized that I was very interested in knitwear because you get to design the textile as well as the garment. So you can express yourself on multiple levels while also having more control over the finished product. I started my knitwear career at Balenciaga. As knitwear designer, I maintained relationships with knitting factories, spinners and trade fairs such as Pitti Filati.

Didn't you feel a little diminished in your creativity, working for mass-market brands?

Absolutely not. Designers, after all, are not artists. We have to take technical requirements, practical considerations, and consumer demand into account. In particular, conversations with technicians and knitting-machine programmers have always been very stimulating for me. Knowing the language of yarns, textures, and stitches is fundamental to the process of designing new garments. Being in physical contact with the material and discovering new technical solutions continues to be an exciting experience for me.

Would you recommend getting to know the technical side of design to fashion school students?

Are you kidding?! Of course! I would say: «Before looking for a job as a fashion designer, go and visit the factories that make your clothes, maybe do an internship to understand the possibilities of knitting machines, for example». In many schools, unfortunately, there is not yet an emphasis on the manufacturing side as worthy of interest, but it should be studied alongside subjects such as the history of fashion or design. It is technological progress that makes innovations in the final product possible.

Do yarns also influence your creative process?

It all starts there. Or rather: sometimes it starts with an idea I have in mind and then I go in search of the most suitable yarn to give form to that idea. Other times the opposite happens. It's a two-way street.

Where else do you find your inspiration?

I begin by studying the target audience of my creations: who they are, what needs they have, what their clothing budget is, and so on. This allows me to design clothes that will suit the wearer. Don't think that working for a "democratic" fashion brand like Uniqlo limits your imagination. For example, with Uniqlo I developed entirely seamless garments using the cutting-edge WholeGarment technology devised by Shima Seiki, a Japanese innovator in knitting machines.

Do you find knitwear a suitable material for our times?

I believe that, psychologically and technically, knitwear is absolutely what humans need now. It is comforting yet always elegant, perfect for any situation. Years ago I gave my sister, my sister, who is a reporter and activist, a cashmere pullover. At first she didn't want it, then some time later she phoned me saying that, living so far away, every time she wore it she felt like I was hugging her.

Will sustainability be a major theme in the fashion industry in the future?

More than a theme, it’s a necessity. We all know that true sustainability would be to stop producing, but our continuous search for beauty and novelty leads us to create new objects. For this reason, garments must have the least possible impact on the environment. And knitwear is the sustainable product par excellence – because it’s fully fashioned, the waste is kept to a minimum. In the past, pullovers were commonly disassembled and yarns reworked for blankets or scarves. Today, I try to use sustainable and recycled fibers. The recipe is always the same: consume less, consume better, use what you already have for longer.

You are one of many woman knitwear designers I’ve met: why are there so many women in this sector of the fashion industry?

(Laughs). I believe that it is part of women’s nature to multitask, and when you deal with knitwear, you have to keep in mind many different elements: the type of yarn, the capacities of the knitting machines, economic and logistical factors, aesthetics and brand identity... I believe that balancing many different needs - practical and stylistic - is something women excel at.

Portrait by Agnieszka Rodowicz