If the 1990s set the bar for clean-cut minimalism, then knitwear – cool, elegant and understated – was surely the decade’s crowning jewel. When Patrick Demarchelier shot model Maggie Rizer in a floor-length sweater dress, her nonchalant pose spoke for an era defined by glamour and grunge. Knits were no longer the garishly patterned woollies made popular in the ’80s, but a new way to showcase sleek lines, svelte shapes and laid-back pairings.

It’s a mood that’s captured in the AW21 collections. Chloé’s ready-to-wear recalls more feminine styles, with full-skirted maxi dresses in chunky cream wool. The delicate designs were the perfect foil for creative director Gabriela Hearst’s own offering, where calf-skimming merino gowns took on grungy ladder stitches. At Fendi, Kim Jones opted for fuzzy mohair separates, his slinky cutaway tops adding edge to more practical knitted pencil skirts. “There’s a usefulness to the collection,” Jones wrote in his show notes. “I’m taking the amazing, strong women I know and work with, and listening to their needs.”

Michael Kors cropped wool top, £140, and merino wool skirt, £185. Navel ring, model’s own
Michael Kors cropped wool top, £140, and merino wool skirt, £185. Navel ring, model’s own © Marc Hibbert

These “needs” are changing, says Heather Gramston, head of womenswear at Browns Fashion, who attributes the increased focus on knitwear to the rise of hybrid working. “Comfort has been a key factor in our transition from working from home to a new, in-between lifestyle,” she says. “Our customer is trying to weave in dressed-up with understated but rich, softer pieces.”

Above: Fendi mohair top, £650, and mohair skirt, £980
Above: Fendi mohair top, £650, and mohair skirt, £980 © Marc Hibbert

For easy elegance, Gramston suggests a knitted dress, particularly the cut-out styles by New York label Khaite. A softer approach comes from Michael Kors, who uses charcoal merino wool for a turtleneck tank and skirt combination, while Loro Piana has created rich colour-coordinated separates in spongy ribbed cashmere. (Those who still lust after Rachel Green’s fictional wardrobe will appreciate the matching knee-high boots.)

According to Liane Wiggins, head of womenswear buying at MatchesFashion, knitwear is up by nearly 150 per cent compared to last year, with dresses one of the highest-growing categories. Winter months, of course, will always prompt a preference for warmer styles, but, as Wiggins points out, the new vogue for knitwear boils down to more than just comfort. “We’ve seen knitted dresses take on a new form with super-feminine, modern silhouettes that evoke a subtle sexiness,” she says. She also notes an uplift in knitted crop tops and matching skirts; particularly popular are those fabricated in mohair.

Chloé chunky wool mix Papyrus dress, £1,453. Aeyde leather sandals, £225
Chloé chunky wool mix Papyrus dress, £1,453. Aeyde leather sandals, £225 © Marc Hibbert. Model, Karishma Purohit at Elite Model Management London. Casting, Keva Legault. Hair, Alfie Sackett at LGA. Make-up, Mel Arter at Julian Watson Agency using YSL Beauty. Manicure, Edyta Betka at Of Substance using CHANEL Le Vernis in Ballerina and CHANEL La Crème Main. Photographer’s assistants, Conor Clarke, Daniel Jackont, Robert Palmer. Fashion assistant, Andreea Radoi. Make-up assistant, Aimee Joyce Production, Kit Pak-Poy at ArtWorld Agency. Special thanks to Hand of God for post-production

Kyiv-based designer Svetlana Bevza has riffed on the tropes of ’90s minimalism since she founded her label in 2006. This season her primary inspiration was her Ukrainian heritage, specifically Olga of Kyiv, who ruled in the 10th century. Much of the knitwear is inspired by hustka, a traditional headdress. “This particular cut of balaclava is special because it symbolises our women’s significance,” concludes Bevza. “For me, it’s important to share Ukrainian cultural heritage.”

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