Byline: Alice Welsh

NEW YORK--Knitwear is part of designer Marina Spadafora's heritage, but she's making a name of her own with an innovative use of yarns treated to look like wovens.
Born into a family that has produced Italian knitwear for two generations, the 35-year-old Spadafora left Italy in 1979 and moved to Los Angeles. After five years there, during which time she went to school and worked as a Hollywood costume designer, she started creating her own line, a collection that was produced by her family's company, Spadafora SpA in Bolzano.
She returned to Italy in 1990, opened a showroom in Milan and took her company to an annual wholesale volume she says is now $10 million.
"I came to Los Angeles to get away from the family business, where it was assumed I would eventually work," recalled Spadafora during a recent visit to New York. She explained that at first she pursued other design interests, "but at the end of the day I realized I wanted to design my own line and work with knits, and I would be stupid not to take advantage of the family opportunities I have."
Spadafora's forte is working with yarns in unusual ways.
"I like to treat knits to make them become almost a woven material," she said. "I boil wool yarns to make coats. Wool panno can be treated to look like felt.
"You have more flexibility and creativity with yarns because you are actually creating the fabric. You can take the same yarn and get several different results--you can cook it, make it cabled, lacy or mix it with other yarns. You can also choose your own colors," said Spadafora.
Although her early collections were all knits, wovens now comprise 35 percent of the line. Her sportswear wholesales from $90 to $250; sweaters average $90, pants are $125, a wool gauze shirt is $180 and her boiled wool yarn jacket is $120.
Sixty percent of Spadafora's business is in the U.S. and Italy. The rest is distributed to Germany, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Kuwait and Belgium. In the U.S., her accounts include Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Toby Lerner in Philadelphia and Shauna Stein in Los Angeles.
Bergdorf's carried Spadafora for the first time this fall and "will absolutely go forward with it," said Joseph Boitano, executive vice president and merchandise manager for the store.
"We were first attracted this season to her Nordic looks and boiled wool. She uses very innovative yarns and treatments," Boitano said. "Knit dressing is so comfortable, but she does it for young people who are body-conscious. Her knitwear is very modern. I think she will develop into a very important knitwear designer."
"Marina always evolves. She doesn't move from one extreme to the next," said Shauna Stein, owner of the boutique bearing her name. "The clothes are wearable, but still progressive. The quality is great, as are her fabrics and color sense. Knits are important to the L.A. lifestyle."
This year, Spadafora was approached by Vinci, a company in the Philippines that operates Trussardi and Stefanal boutiques there, to add her collection to its retail stable. Her first franchised store will open in Manila in March.
Spadafora's plans also include a second line and her own store in Milan.
While living in L.A., Spadafora graduated from the Fashion Institute of Design and began working in costume design. She worked on movies from 1981 to 1984.
"In costume design, you have to be detached from what you like; it's not your personal taste that matters, but what the character is all about," she said.
This movie experience also influenced Spadafora's runway shows, which she started staging in Milan in 1987 while she was still living in Los Angeles.
In 1990, she presented her collection at Milano Collezioni, thereby officially entering the Camera Nazionale della Moda, the organization that schedules the shows in Milan.
For spring 1995, Spadafora's show was based on a market in Kenya and featured her conception of characters who might come through such a place--shoppers, prostitutes in shiny gold styles, accompanied by pimps in pinstripes and officers in twisted military looks.
"I was very influenced by their [Kenya] way of living and dressing. The elder of one tribe had a baseball cap with light bulbs on it. They made jewelry out of Coke cans. They take our leftover Western throwaways and use them for decoration and beautiful things. Our garbage is their treasure."
Consequently, all the jewelry in Spadafora's spring show was made from recycled materials, and the music, composed especially for the show, was played with instruments made from found objects, including gas tanks and sea shells.

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