In October 2021, design duo Vereja unleashed a five-storey, multi-coloured web of yarn in the upscale Tsvetnoy department store in central Moscow. Strands of yarn hung from the ceiling, supporting three giant, lime green creatures — hybrids between spiders and chihuahua dogs. The art installation proved that modern knitwear is much more than cosy sweaters — evolving into a truly creative language without boundaries.
In recent years, knitwear has been repeatedly labeled as the future of fashion. It varies hugely in style, lends itself easily to the latest 3D printing tech, and can use off-cuts and deadstock textiles to be increasingly sustainable. Innovative knitwear designers have emerged all over the world: Rui Zhou in Shanghai, Lukhanyo Mdingi in Cape Town, or Ellis Jaz in London, just to name a few. But for the new generation of Russian designers, knitwear is a way of creative expression which has always been close to home.
During the Soviet era, knitting was an integral part of life: a scarcity of consumer choice meant that women often relied on colourful yarn to make children’s clothes, warm sweaters and scarfs. Knitting magazines and handcrafted mittens conjure nostalgic memories and family histories for Russian creatives of all ages, but this sentimental attachment doesn’t mean that creatives aren’t keen to push against the boundaries of knitwear’s materials and techniques.
The Calvert Journal is rounding up three Russian designers using yarn as a cornerstone in their creative worlds: proving that knitwear can be radical, sexy and contemporary.
Created by Moscow-based duo Igor Andreev and Masha Komarova, Vereja fuses childhood memories, fairytales and Russian folklore with a contemporary playful attitude. The label started when Andreev quit his job in fashion media and revived his childhood passion for knitting during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown. Growing up in the small village of Ustye in the Moscow region, Andreev learnt to knit through craft workshops at a local school — although the skill was never far away in his day-to-day life. His childhood home was decorated by doilies, while his mother would make knitted sweaters adorned with cartoon characters.
London-based Katya Zelentsova is a graduate of influential fashion school Central Saint Martins, specialising in knitwear. Despite being based in the UK for several years, Zelentsova hasn’t lost interest in creatively reinterpreting her roots. The designer was born and raised in the southern Russian city of Volgograd, and the region’s knitting traditions have influenced her as much as 2000s pop culture and provincial glamour. Among her references are lo-fi visuals from knitting magazine Burda, and the style of Russian pop icon Alla Pugacheva — and however garish they can sometimes be, Zelentsova treats them with both care and inventiveness. Combining various knitting textures and patterns and playing with proportions, Zelentsova creates truly unique pieces which have recently been stocked at the influential global retailer SSENSE. Her garments are perfect for a fun, in-your-face, daring expression of contemporary glamour, all uniquely informed by her own childhood experiences.
Knitwear is a key touchstone of emerging avant-garde label Nastyamasha, named after the two twin sisters who founded it. The brand’s crochet tops and socks, asymmetric knitted dresses, and semi-transparent bras and bustiers have an aura of effortless coolness, while also being satisfyingly tactile. Nastyamasha is a young Russian brand with international potential: their collage-like approach, reinterpreted easy-wear femininity, and sophisticated details are already drawing attention worldwide.