Upon stepping into Charlotte Knowles’ airy south London studio, I am immediately greeted by the dulcet tones of the Cocteau Twins, and a similarly dreamy moodboard. Amongst the print-outs pinned to it is a look from Romeo Gigli’s S/S96 show: a tailored suit the colour of fresh blood, artfully cut to reveal collarbones, and the erotic slope of a shoulder. Gigli is famous for incorporating a particular kind of sexiness in his design, an antidote to the boxier, androgynous cuts so prominent in the work of his contemporaries during the late-1980s and 1990s.
It’s hardly surprising then that Romeo Gigli’s sensual pieces feature in Knowles’ inspiration; the work of this young designer, who recently graduated from Central Saint Martins’ MA course, stands out from that of her peers for its playful and technical celebration of clothes that draw heavily from lingerie. Knowles began her final collection by, quite literally, unpicking underwear. “I bought these push-up bras from Marks & Spencer, and took them apart,” she explains. “I found the whole three dimensional element quite absurd. I cut across the widest cross-section and found it to be such an interesting silhouette.” As she speaks, Knowles retrieves a stress ball-esque curiosity from a shelf, an object that she had created while experimenting with silicone and two-piece plaster moulds. The resulting forms became inserts for the busts of her designs, riffing on the famous ‘chicken fillet’ – an underwear staple for those wishing to enhance their assests by any means neccessary.
“I’d say the era of fashion that I’m really into is mid-90s, early 00s. Particularly Prada and Helmut Lang. I’ve always been really obsessed with Helmut Lang” – Charlotte Knowles
The origins of her collection may be garnered from the high street, but Knowles’ work cleverly combines these low-key references with the ultra chic. “I’d say the era of fashion that I’m really into is mid-90s and early 00s – particularly Prada and Helmut Lang,” she says. “It’s those two brands that I really affiliate with. The clothes are super well-cut and they’re not really loud. It’s very minimal but sexy.” In her graduate debut, corsetry meets hosiery with this same simplistic edge, an injection of tulle coated in silicone forming neat shirting and trousers. Styling is crucial to the final outcome, too, she explains; the designer often uses herself as a fit model to fully understand the way her garments conform to the body.
As for the Charlotte Knowles woman? “She’s definitely very bold. And there’s also an element of her that’s a bit like trashy – Prada-meets-Love Island. She’s very open with her sexuality and doesn’t give a fuck if people judge her for it. She’s kind of the girl that I aspire to be, but I’m definitely not her,” the designer laughs. Knowles also cites her mother and grandmother as the impetus behind embarking on a business venture in forming her own label. “My mum is such a strong, independent lady, and I think that’s probably partly where the dream of having my own business comes from. It’s was seeing her do it and totally own it. She’s the rock of our family.”
“She’s very open with her sexuality and doesn’t give a fuck if people judge her for it. She’s kind of the girl that I aspire to be, but I’m definitely not her” – Charlotte Knowles
The future looks bright for Charlotte Knowles – she is already collaborating with some of the buzziest names in the industry, including Dazed 100 stylist Akeem Smith, with whom she is working on a new collection that she hopes to present over the course of LFW this September. The designer explains that she aims move away from a lingerie-based aesthetic and into more wearable daytime pieces. “All of the colours and fabrications will be completely different from my graduate work, but these are the main silhouttes,” she says, leafing through some preliminary toiles hanging on a rail. It’s a pivotal moment for Knowles, and while the prospect of the seasonal fashion hamster wheel is “definitely an intimidating thought”, she won’t be dissuaded. “At the same time, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
Hair by Susanne Lichtenegger, using L’Oreal Paris; Make-Up by Dele Olo; Nails by Pebbles Aikens; Model Maj Van Der Ven at Elite Models; All clothing by Charlotte Knowles; Special thanks to Warren Evans, The White Company, Nihao Planet and Gio Stockings.