x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Love knitwear? There's much more to choose from now

Knitwear used to be something of an acquired taste, but it's now getting the attention it deserves.

My wardrobe and I have both been nursing broken hearts ever since my beloved, multitasking, Zadig Voltaire asymmetrical angora knitted jacket, which has travelled everywhere with me this summer (to a posh literary festival in the drizzling UK, camping in Ibiza, on a long-haul flight to LA), found its way into my washing machine.

Even on the lowest temperature, it shrank to a doll's clothing size and is now the cat's blanket.

This once most treasured piece of kit was in the style of the great knitwear guru, Kaffe Fassett, the designer who created tapestry-like knits in the 1970s. Although cosy on chilly nights or when the air-conditioning was on full blast, it was never hot.

Being fine and airy as a cobweb, it had the knack of slipping over anything formal to make it look funky. I wore it on fashion shoots the way a nutty professor might wear a white lab coat. Creativity surged through every stitch. It became the icebreaker on interviews with tricky celebrities and most importantly, worked for any occasion, whether family or business.

If it could speak, I feel my wardrobe would tell me to replace it. Instantly. At least that is what I am telling myself. Only this season, weirdly enough, that is not as easy as it sounds - and not because of lack of choice. Rather, the reverse.

Knitwear used to be something of an acquired taste. Ignored by most designers with the exception of Missoni, seasons went by where it simply wouldn't figure on the fashion radar. Besides cashmere - which has become very dull - knitwear seemed confined to costume history. Until now.

The imminent 1970s revival has welcomed it back. Last seen in the era of Halston maxis when fashion became saturated with all things jersey, from flares to furniture, many of the show-off autumn/winter 2011/2012 catwalk pieces are knitted.

From YSL's white marabou jacket to Balmain's gold Aztec second-skin dresses to the fluid tunics featured on the catwalks of Richard Nicoll, Michael Kors, Armani and Balenciaga, jersey in its many guises suddenly seems very "new" indeed.

It's certainly the season of the sweater and its relatives - which I'm calling "new jersey" - from the curvy sweater dress, the slinky sweatshirt, stirrup pants (don't call them ski pants) to the trendy, sports luxe, poncho hoodie.

And living in a country with a hot climate such as the UAE doesn't give you a licence to opt out of a trend embraced by trailblazing designers, many of whom rarely work with knitwear but who have subsequently breathed new life into the old girl.

I'm certainly going to have fun looking at possible options from Vanessa Bruno, The Row and quirky Markus Lupfer (who daubs his knits with slogans) to replace what I thought was irreplaceable.

Statement floor-sweeping and blanket caped knits, championed by Rodarte, Chanel and Chloé, bear no resemblance to the cute and fluffy boleros of the 1950s or neat granny-style twinset and pearls that were the former image of knitwear. These are hot in every sense of the word.

Which is why the jersey revival, unseen since the early 1980s when the "king of cling" Azzedine Alaia was all the rage, will strike more of a chord with Middle East-dwelling fashion aficionados.

The soft feel of jersey, with its curvature of line, pinpoints the current fashion silhouette. This comes in wonderful cooler weights appropriate for sizzling weather.

The good news is that just by adding a piece of knitwear - be it an hourglass dress in a jewel colour or asymmetric, tailored leggings by Phillip Lim or Haider Ackermann - it's possible to update your wardrobe. A word of caution, however; don't ever become complacent about ever-so-comfy jersey knits which, once worn, become friends for life. And if my poor, shrunken jacket can be a lesson, remember: dry clean only.

Crêpe jersey, the stretchy fabric once used only for eveningwear, is also currently enjoying a daywear renaissance. Championed by Kate Middleton and her Issa wrap dress, its designer, the Brazilian-born Daniella Helayel, can't claim to have patented this idea. Nor Diane von Furstenberg with her jersey wrap. Thank/blame Coco Chanel.

Along with inventing the little black dress, Chanel scandalised the clothing industry in 1916 when she came up with the idea of running up an LBD in jersey. This was formerly a fabric associated with underwear.

Back to those serious knit pieces, though. I predict these will be the favoured gear of fashionistas attending New York spring/summer 2012 Fashion Week... especially in the wake of Hurricane Irene.

So, what will we see front row? The Chloé and Vanessa Bruno poncho or the Missoni or Chanel woolly coat? Only a few more days to go before we find out.