NEW YORK — With a bandanna tied around the top of her head, and her neck and hands weighed down by heavy silver jewelry, Suss Cousins looks more like a biker chick than a member of a knitting circle.
But Cousins, dubbed "the Scandinavian Martha Stewart," has built a lifestyle company based on the quaint domestic pursuit. Now she's bringing the knitting lifestyle to New York with an 1,800-square-foot store at 281 Lafayette Street that is to open on Saturday.
Cousins worked with yarn long before knitting became stylish and shops and cafes devoted to the craft began popping up in cities across the U.S. She began knitting at age seven to pass the time during Scandinavia's long winters.
"That's what we do in the dark," she said. "Knitting is an old tradition and a lifestyle. I used to live with all this yarn around me."
Cousins has turned the national hobby into a woolly empire. She anticipates doing $600,000 at retail in the new store, selling exclusive yarns and finished pieces priced from $140 to $300. Her collection may generate $400,000 at wholesale in the next year at stores such as Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Scoop and Intermix.
"I'm launching a Red Label cashmere collection at Suss New York," she said. "It will be very classic pieces, big turtlenecks, long belted sweaters and tunics with scarves."
Some items will be embellished with embroidery, Austrian crystal beads and sequins, with prices from $175 to $400.
Cousins assiduously courts celebrities, who attend knitting classes at her store on Beverly Boulevard.
"I have people who've come for years and people who come and go," she said. "Uma Thurman, Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock come into the store all the time. Rose McGowan and Kirsty Hume knit. Actresses sit around a lot and wait for their turn. With knitting, you can use your hands and brain and Zen out."
The entertainment industry actually launched her career. When Bill Cosby's stylist saw some of her sweaters, she knew "The Cosby Show" had to have them. Cousins made cardigans for the Tom Hanks movie, "The Road to Perdition," designed knitwear for "Scoobie Doo" and produced 250 sweaters for "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."She's written three books, "Hollywood Knits," "Hollywood Knits Style: A Guide to Good Knitting and Good Living" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) and the upcoming "Suss Home," published by Clarkson Potter.
"A whole new generation is interested in knitting," Cousins said. "Sept. 11 definitely had something to do with it."
The store, with Japanese and Scandinavian influences, has a large worktable and bins holding brightly colored yarns. Branches, wooden mannequins and knit hangers show off the finished product. An antique spinning wheel bought online by Cousins hangs from the ceiling. Whether she can spin yarn into gold remains to be seen.
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