The Knitwear Brand Drawing From History’s Women of Character

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Ply-Knits S/S18Courtesy of Ply-Knits

Alice Coltrane, Marguerite Duras and Joan Didion all inspired Carolyn Yim’s latest collection for Ply-Knits, a brand born from the designer’s rich family history of knitwear makers

  1. Who is it? Carolyn Yim’s Ply-Knits, born from a family legacy of knitwear makers
  2. Why do I want it? Classic forms and clever details inject a quiet sophistication into everyday dressing
  3. Where can I buy it? Online at Ply-Knits’ website 

Who is it? Ply-Knits is a brand born out of the desire to create no-nonsense knitwear that is both useful and beautiful. The founder, Carolyn Yim, is a third generation knitwear maker whose aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents were all in the knitwear business. Her grandmother, who started in both knitwear and embroidery, notably worked with John Galliano on his first collection at Dior, titled Shanghai Pin-ups, a show which addressed the 1997 handover of British colonial Hong Kong to China.

Based in both New York and Hong Kong, the brand is influenced greatly by its respective home cities and the varying cultures of each. “When I consider quintessential American clothing, I think of Ralph Lauren, a Gatsby-esque projection of an American Dream, a bigger self, an aspiration to ‘have a chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage’,” Yim says. “On the other hand, when I consider Chinese clothing, Confucian concepts come to mind: Maoist uniforms and Imperial clothing codes reduce the self to create social order and harmony. Loose-fitting garments de-emphasise the body. My design process is thus informed by both cultures and can be a paradox. How do you create knitwear that at once quietly differentiates but does not loudly deviate?”

Why do I want it? Combining updated traditional silhouettes with high-quality fabrics, some of which are even sourced from her family’s own deadstock collection, Ply-Knits’s pieces are both subtle yet unforgettable; its palettes are rich and its designs hold a quiet sophistication. Herringbone details are found on peachy cotton sweaters, cornflower yellow yarn tops with mandarin collars named after Shanghainese writer and playwright Eileen Chang and creamy cashmeres aptly set the tone.

In order to integrate that feeling of relaxed elegance and intention, Carolyn went through archives of how noted women writers, philosophers, painters, photographers and filmmakers dressed. She soon discovered that their style was all woven together by a common thread – a simple white shirt and a great sweater. “I am inspired by women of character,” she adds, “For this Spring, I issued three recreations of knitted garments I saw on three women I admire – Alice Coltrane, Marguerite Duras, and Joan Didion. Their style reveals character; their clothing does not overshadow their personality.”

This level of sophistication can also be found in Ply-Knits’ campaign photos – a woman lounging gracefully, part of her face obscured by a floral arrangement, another girl interacting with a group of white doves. Carolyn shares that one of the main inspirations for the S/S18 collection campaign has been photographers’ self-portraits, including those of Irving Penn, Lee Miller and Dora Maar, from the 1930s through 1950s, and the photographer’s ability to shape how images of glamour, elegance and beauty were perceived. “This perception is entirely the photographers’ creation and manipulation,” Carolyn says, “And as their self-portraits reveal, it is quite different to how those behind the lens themselves dressed. They often present themselves simply and directly, but always with a twist that shows their strength of character. Most of all, they actively gazed back into the lens.”

Where can I buy it? The full S/S18 collection is available this month on the Ply-Knits website.