The London-based knitwear designer’s debut show was a lesson in “how to stay warm” during the colder months, with woollen skirts, hats and tops underpinned by a sense of quiet pragmatism
- Who is it? Ilana Blumberg is a London-based knitwear designer and consultant with her own eponymous label
- Why do I want it? Softly structured and beautifully pragmatic knitwear that champions an uncommon functionality
- Where can I find it? Ilana Blumberg is available via the designer’s own website
Who is it? Knitwear designer Ilana Blumberg’s first foray into the realm of rational design was as an architect, via a brief stint studying engineering. “I didn’t really know that there was anything else you could do apart from being an engineer or a teacher or a doctor,” she says, with a laugh. “Who is this angel telling people that they can study things like textile design?” But after three years spent stuck in front of a computer, the designer decided that architecture was not for her. “I just really liked the mathematics of it. So, I started figuring out what I liked doing and I’ve ended up here” – as a knitwear consultant for some of London’s top emerging brands as well as at the helm of her own expressive yet quietly pragmatic label.
Knitting is not all that sideways of a venture for Blumberg: “I was knitting as a child and I was actually knitting in my spare time at architecture school,” recalls the designer, “And then someone lent me a knitting machine and I was like ‘this is the best thing that has ever happened to me. This is the most beautiful thing in the world’.” With its binary rationale and finite combinations – there are only so many things you can do with a set number of needles – knitting appealed to the mathematician in Blumberg. “It’s true, it’s exact, and you can do cool things with that.”
Without a formal fashion design education under her belt, the designer felt motivated “to prove to others that they can trust me and my work.” At the same time, she followed a quieter path, away from the pressures of the fashion game, that allowed her to minutely master the ins and outs of her craft, on her own terms and within her own personal framework of understanding. “I feel it’s cool because no-one is watching me while I am figuring out how to do this,” she says. So, when stylist Harry Lambert reached out to commission a – now iconic – house-motif mohair knit for Harry Styles, the designer was ready and more than capable.
In many ways, it’s this logical and inquiring self-taught approach to knitwear that enables Blumberg to perfectly translate other designers’ woolly ideas into functional textiles and garments – even if it means pushing herself outside her tightly-cast comfort zone. “This season I made lace for Dilara (Findikoglu),” she explains. “When they said that they wanted lace, I initially thought ‘oh dear,’ but it actually meant that I was able to do all this fascinating and difficult stuff that I’d probably shy away from in my own practice because I like things to be comfortable.” And the past year alone has been flush with diverse opportunities to be “uncomfortable”: she’s consulted for labels such as Elliss, Dilara, Sinead O’Dwyer, Eftychia, and Mimi Wade, amongst others.
Why do I want it? Blumberg’s latest collection, Never Be Cold, is the perfect paragon of her quirky rationale as brought to life by her deft manipulation of knitting techniques and materials. Each garment, from the snood tops and ear-strapped hats to the ankle-length robes and skirts, is thoughtful and precise and functional; the whole collection is seamed together with a harmonious and pragmatic elegance. They are, quite simply, her “propositions on how to stay warm.” Blumberg debuted her collection earlier this month at an intimate presentation in north London’s Swiss Cottage Library, and shot her models splayed out on the venue’s fuzzy red carpet afterwards.
Although the designer says that she “likes to keep it simple because I want things to be incredibly wearable,” the consideration that Blumberg puts into every design is complex and intelligent. Take, for example, the snood knitted tops which are filled out with excess fabric on the neck, sleeves, and waistband to keep you “extremely warm,” but are also luxurious and reassuring in their gentle form and draping. Elsewhere, woollen skirts are pressed and pleated like fine origami and a wide-ribbed gown is sensibly continued down to the ankles – “you have your outfit, then your gown, then your coat. It’s really warm.” Her signature hats are continued in this collection, though some are now without straps which Blumberg agrees “looks great” but, very sweetly, worries “might upset people if their ears aren’t warm.”
Materials, and their relative alchemy, are inherent to Blumberg’s meticulous design process. Working predominantly with wool, cotton, and, sometimes, mohair, the designer has trusted suppliers of high-quality product that she returns to year after year. She has spun her own alpaca wool before and, in her latest collection, she experimented with felted waistcoats: “you knit them and they’re down to your knees and then you shrink them. And then you have to shave them because they go fuzzy. It’s really fun.”
Eventually Blumberg dreams of using knitwear outside of fashion, perhaps exploring its intersection with architecture. “There are people looking for a PhD candidate in knitted architecture. And every six months I email them asking if they’ve found someone yet because I’d love to chat with them,” she laughs. “They just keep replying saying ‘no, but would you like to apply?’” But for now, she’s content doing lots of different things, “working with loads of other people and just keep doing this basically.” And we’re happy that she’s here to keep us – and our ears – warm with her beautifully precise and elegant designs.
Where can I find it? Ilana Blumberg is available via the designer’s own website.