THE CALL FOR KNITS
SWEATER KNITS ARE A HUGE CATEGORY FOR FALL, AND IT COULDN’T SUIT THE MIDWEST BETTER.

Byline: Rebecca Kleinman

CHICAGO — Women have a hearty appetite for unique items, and here, that’s translating to sweater knits.
From mixed yarn gauges to colorblocking to utilitarian zipper detail, novelty explodes within the sweater knits market for fall. The trends don’t stop there; the seemingly endless list also includes cut-outs; wild prints; stripes; chunky and extremely lightweight yarns; cable and geometric stitching; bold, rich color; stretch, and so on. Though it had a long run, the twinset has been replaced by just about everything else.
Claude Brown, design director for In the Wash, a New York-based young designer collection, attributes all the newfound bells and whistles to the dressing-down trend.
“Since so much of America dresses down during the work week, I think women are looking for special items to wear on Saturday. They want elevated style,” he said.
Brown and other designers also predict that as more structured bottoms and suits reenter the market, consumers will want a contrast piece to add a personal element, whether it be a cozy, hand-knit look or an eye-catching cut-out.
Even with the return of the blouse, knits makers don’t feel threatened, reporting there’s enough room for everyone.
“We’re also the layering piece that she wears under the jacket,” said Sam Barkin, president of Kevo Collection, a New York-based silk knits firm.
Aggie Mullaney-Straus, merchandiser for Shu + Shu, a contemporary separates company based in New York, agrees that consumers will want variety.
“A woman’s not going to want to wear a jacket and blouse everyday,” she said, adding that many of her line’s fine-gauge pieces complement suits, since they read like cut-and-sew looks.
At the very least, the women who wear suits will look for knits that function as jackets.
“Pullovers used to be more popular, but now people prefer their knits to perform like a jacket with zip-fronts and collars,” said Kelly Shelsky, vice president of Cousin Johnny, a better knits firm based in New York.
But structured knits aren’t fall’s focus. Of all the novelty trends, designers expect chunky knits to dominate, whether they be used for an entire sweater or mixed with fine-gauged knits. They report that consumers wanted to buy chunky looks last year, but may have put off purchases due to memories of past, bulky versions.
To reinterpret the trend, finding yarns that weren’t too itchy or heavy was key. For one of his bestsellers, Brown space-dyed baby lamb’s wool with seven colors that “roam all over” the hand-knit sweater. He describes another in a silk and cashmere blend as “soft and yummy, but weightless.”
“Chunky looks are visually appealing, but they must be soft, light and never overburdening,” he said.
For its chunkies, Cousin Johnny opted for cotton.
“Our goal was to keep the retail price under $100, so they can get the trend of the moment at that magic price point,” said Shelsky. A popular style is a cropped turtleneck with an easy rib stitch in eight colors.
Shu + Shu offers many styles, including a sleeveless turtleneck with a chunky body mixed with two-by-two rib trim on the turtleneck and bottom. The “Miami” sweater, combining a fine-gauge body with chunky trim, gets its name from a hidden zipper across the abs that can be worn open or closed. Colors are bright orange, turquoise and black.
Colorblocking, prints or combinations of the two trends are equally important. Jane Doe, a contemporary junior sportswear line based in Los Angeles, shows one sweater with a printed front, colorblocked sleeves and embellishment. Another features chenille yarn embroidered with animal prints and topped with beads.
Shu + Shu also loads up its sweaters with novelty combinations. Two key patterns, Ghost Face and Flames, layer mixed media prints, contrasting stripes on the body and sleeves, and subtle beading and embroidery.
“It sounds like everything but the kitchen sink, but it’s actually quite understated and sophisticated. Embellishment has definitely waned, but people still want something special. So, it’s about finding that balance,” said Mullaney-Straus.
According to Shelsky, Cousin Johnny has always done colorblocking, but offers some more updated takes this fall. Dip-dyed and tie-dyed versions come in 100 percent acrylic. Some silhouettes are the hoodie, cropped V-neck and slim tunic, while color palettes are cocoa, coral, turquoise and ivory.
Sticking with the tried-and-true classics, Kevo shows a loose-fitting, long-sleeved crewneck with a four-color front combining neutrals and brights. Barkin reports it’s a bestseller.
Although not as pronounced, other novelty trends are scattered throughout collections. For example, Shu + Shu’s “Sid and Nancy” group celebrates a rock ‘n’ roll theme with its asymmetrical, jagged necklines and shoulder and neck cut-outs. The firm also picks up the stripes trend by mixing vintage colors with heathers and brights to create extensive patterns.
Although heavy embellishment is on the decline, Cousin Johnny applies fringe at the bottoms, cuffs or yokes, as well as embroideries, to pieces in color combinations like orange and brown or brights and charcoal. Another sweater features a detachable scarf. “This look will be a big trend because it’s an easy way to accessorize without spending lots of money,” said Shelsky.
Whether cable knits remain strong varies. For its “exploding cable sweater,” In the Wash runs a nine-inch-wide cable down the center. The look also comes in a scarf version. And Barkin reports that cables sell consistently, especially a long-sleeved turtleneck in silk.
“There is always going to be that cable lady regardless of fashion,” he said.
Shelsky thinks they’re coming back, but only in classic Brooks Brothers looks, while Mullaney-Straus considers them over altogether.
“Fair Isles, stripes and mixing yarns are much newer,” she said.
Regarding hot silhouettes, designers report strong reaction from buyers for cropped, blouson, cardigan and even A-line styles. They add that fall’s sweaters continue to have shape, but are looser than in past seasons.
Important sleeves include raglan, pagoda and full length and three-quarter bell, while necklines are cowl, asymmetrical, plunging and turtlenecks or come to the top of the neck.
Color moves forward for at least another year. Though newer fashion colors are moss green and coral or terra-cotta, all palettes are represented from pastels to brights. Many designers show yarns that randomly change in and out of shades, such as In the Wash’s red and melon, lavender and deep purple, or pale blue and aqua combinations.
Other dominant colors are nutmeg, pumpkin, rust, olive, cobalt blue, apple green and chocolate brown.