November 19, 2010 11:23 pm

The home comforts of a Fair Isle jumper

 
Models wearing Fair Isle jumpers by Marc Jacobs, Jean Paul Gaultier, Max Mara and D&G

Designs, from left, by Marc Jacobs, Jean Paul Gaultier, Max Mara and D&G

What? As the nights draw in, there’s only one thing you really want in your wardrobe: the biggest, most enveloping knit, not just for physical comfort but for psychological comfort too. Enter the Fair Isle jumper, a welcome return to warmth, both in front of the log fire and beyond.

Where? At D&G, where a winter ski trip to the Nordic slopes inspired a collection filled to the brim with Christmas-ready knits (never has Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer enjoyed such a fashion moment); Chanel, where dove grey and white cardigans in soft-as-snowflake cashmere appeared paired with fluffy yeti boots, fluffy yeti shorts and ... an iceberg as backdrop; Mulberry and Missoni, where all was autumnal elegance thanks to knits in plum, leaf-green and chestnut; Jean Paul Gaultier, who injected his Fair Isle gilet with a nomadic mood courtesy of strips of black fur around the arm holes; and Proenza Schouler, where Fair Isles came cropped, V-neck, and thick, teamed with punky paint-splashed jeans. Fierce and functional for the big freeze.

Why? “People keep returning to this retro print because of its nostalgic value,” says Renato Grant, a Fair Isle expert and brand manager of the luxury cashmere brand Clan Douglas Cashmere Studio. “It evokes memories of mulled wine by the fire, skiing seasons and mittens on a string. This season it has been brought back both in bold print and in subtle designs, sometimes worn with a hint of irony and a nod to the 1970s.” So comfort, plus tradition, plus something a little tongue-in-cheek create something that adds up to even more than the sum of its parts. Chunky without being showy, luxurious in knit yet subtle in association, a Fair Isle is the ultimate recession-busting sweater.

Should you invest? Given the prevalence and general good quality of lower-priced wool and cashmere, Fair Isle is a fairly safe bet on the high street. Take, for instance, Gap and Banana Republic, for whom Fair Isle is synonymous with Christmas advertising campaigns, this season being no exception as the latter rocks out its hat, scarf, cardie trio across billboards nationwide. The patterned knit is also something that works well on the eco front (see People Tree’s hand-knitted Fair Isle cardigan, £95, www.asos.com – 100 per cent wool, 100 per cent worth it). If you do want to go high-end, however, you can spread the cost of your purchase over time: there’s a reason the style has been around for decades and, given its track record, will be around for decades more. And should the Val Doonican/Doctor Who/Mark-Darcy-in-a Christmas-sweater fear come over you when faced with the patterned option, go for some more subtle accessories instead. No one will begrudge a snowflake or two on a mitten or scarf, least of all during the season of goodwill.

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The wool monty

In the autumn, a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of ... sweaters, writes David Hayes.

Really? Those wardrobe staples often used to symbolise nerdiness, or grandpa-dom?

Well, yes, if designers have anything to say about it. One of the most ubiquitous items on all catwalks this season was the sweater, from chunky statement knits to luxe varieties in fresh eye-popping hues.

“We are seeing a lot of sweaters in bright colours and geometric patterns coming through from many designers,” says Richard Johnson, men’s wear buying manager at upmarket department store Harvey Nichols (www.harveynichols.com).

Stacey Smith, head of men’s wear at Matches (www.matchesfashion.com), adds: “Chunky knits have certainly become more of a statement category.” She cites Alexander McQueen’s Arran-style skull-embroidered roll neck as particularly outstanding – though it is priced at an equally outstanding £1,285.

There are, however, some more affordable options. There’s Missoni’s patchwork Fair Isle shawl collar-style number (www.missoni.com); Prada’s lilac wool crew neck (www.prada.com); Polo Ralph Lauren’s grey cashmere cable knit and chunky Fair Isle design (www.ralphlauren.co.uk); APC’s postbox-red cashmere crew neck, (www.apc.fr); and Ann Demeulemeester’s alpaca button-hem number, (www.anndemeulemeester.be) – all of which range from £150-£860. Then there’s Gucci’s electric blue lambswool crew neck (www.gucci.com, £339); and Comme des Garçons’ eye-catching navy, grey and red plaid style (£509, (www.doverstreetmarket.com); while at Tommy Hilfiger (£110), cable-knit sweaters in camel, navy or black are as little as £85 (www.tommyhilfiger.com). Many of the best take their cue from classic fisherman’s styles. (Think thick, cable-knit designs with toggles and shawl collars – just the thing for weekends away during what already promises to be another sub-zero winter.)

“But luxury yarns are also important, and elevate what is a casual wardrobe item to something more special,” says Johnson at Harvey Nichols. For this, see Matthew Williamson (www.matthewwilliamson.com), who unveiled cashmere sweaters from bright cerise to emerald green (£395) in his debut men’s wear collection this season.

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