KNITWEAR Chanel to Westwood exhibition

Katy Evans

Katy Evans

8 October 2014


I was lucky enough, when I was up in London last week, to be invited to visit the KNITWEAR Chanel to Westwood exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum. Now like any sane, fabulous-fashion loving knitter I have been looking forward to this exhibition, a major respective of 20th century vintage knitwear from the incredible personal archives of Mark and Cleo Butterfield, vintage collectors extraordinaire (think any vintage high fashion shoot or TV programme featuring original garments, it was theirs). I wasn't expecting to have Celia Joicey, Head of the FTM to show me around and tell me about the vision behind the exhibition though!

When I visited, the FTM was hosting art students from Newham College, which now runs the Museum, so that explains the many bodies on the floor, fervently sketching!

Before you even enter the exhibition proper there is a room off to the left hosting a mini exhibition, Visionary Knitwear, that is curated by Professor Sandy Black. I was particularly interested to see this bit, not only because the amazing leopard print Fairsle of ubercool British knitwear brand Sibling pretty much leapt out and grabbed me, but because Sandy is a fellow Brightonian and judge of the Knitted Textile Awards, co-sponored by us so having met her few times I was curious to see what she would include.


The knitwear was pretty out there and I was pleased to see a former finalist of the KTAs included as well as well-known designers like Mark Fast and even the 2012 Nike Flyknits running shoes. (I'm looking forward to Sandy's talk with KNITWEAR curator Dennis Nothdruft at the Knitting & Stitiching Show on Friday too!)

The entrance to the exhibition is brilliant. I loved the use of the giant crates to display chronologically the eras, progressing from 1920s Chanel-style twinsets, through 1930s swim and activewear, 1940s 'Make do and mend' and 1950s glam, the popularisation of Fairisle and folk knits. The wonderful thing about displaying the knits this way is that the crates gave a certain air of having just been opened to reveal a moment frozen in time. It was wonderfully nostalgic and very clever. 


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Up the stairs and on the next floor was another mini exhibition-within-the exhibtion, Knitwear in Fashion Photography, displaying some gorgeous prints from the Norman Parkinson archive and by Terence Donovan for Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Queen magazines. Damn, knitwear looks cool!

The second floor housed the more contemporary knits from '80s novelty knitwear to 90s innovation, showing off just how versatile knitting can be.




The Julien MacDonald garments were stunning, reminding me that pre-Debenhams and Strictly, MacDonald actually created daring knitwear for Alexander McQueen, eventually taking over from him as creative director of Givenchy.


I have to adimt, this was my favourite piEce in the exhibition as I was very tempted to pluck it off it's mannequin and put it on. I'd totally wear this!


All in all, I was really pleased at the emphasis this exhibition put on the innovation and progression in bold and daring designs knitwear allows, really pushing the boundaries of functionality as well as fashion. I loved the vintage aspect of it and the knits are in incredible condition (how are they stored, I'm dying to know!) but it never rested on its laurels of just looking great, it showcased at every turn how knitwear has expanded both technically and fahionably in every decade of the 20th century.

Don't miss our full article on the exhibition in our December issue, on sale 20 November.

The Fashion and Textile Museum is at 83, Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XF. Find out more at