Katya Zelentsova, the Designer Proving Knitwear Can Be Sexy

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Katya Zelentsova Spring/Summer 2024 Benedict Brink
Katya Zelentsova Spring/Summer 2024Photography by Benedict Brink

The Russia-born knitwear designer is a rising star in London’s ecstatic creative scene. “It’s all about wearing as much as possible to cover as little as possible,” she says

  1. Who is it? Katya Zelentsova is a Central Saint Martins graduate and the founder of an eponymous knitwear-focused label
  2. Why do I want it? Sentimental, yet skimpy knitwear that draws from the designer’s native Russia, while speaking to the younger generation of London’s pulsating nightlife scene
  3. Where can I find it? Katya Zelentsova is available to pre-order through her own e-commerce site

Who is it? “I chose knitwear as my medium initially out of spite,” Katya Zelentsova wryly says. “I was in knit classes on the foundation [at Central Saint Martins] and it was disastrous; I couldn’t get one thing to stay on the machine. So I’d come in after class, day after day, until I fell in love with the process.” The 29-year-old designer has since graduated with a BA, and eventually an MA in 2020 from the hallowed university – a springboard that landed her squarely into something no degree could have prepared her for: a global pandemic. But it’s no mere miracle the young designer has emerged from the fog. Combined with her singular, subversive approach to knitwear, Zelentsova knows that to get anywhere in this precarious industry, you’ve got to get your hands dirty. “I skipped both my graduations though. The robe isn’t really my colour.”

Zelentsova is at her studio in Hoxton, with her signature bright blue fringe sitting neatly at her brow. “My approach is fueled by the idea of inventiveness, when you don’t really have much to work with,” she says. “It’s about people making dresses out of curtains and tablecloths, and wanting to look fab by any means necessary.” Her make-do attitude finds its roots in her native Russia, which she left when she was 17. “My grandma is just incredible at everything she touches,” she says with the faintest residue of a Russian accent. It was her grandmother who instilled in her a love of textiles from an early age, while an inherent curiosity was fostered in her mother’s home library, which boasted a broad and rousing array of research material. But despite the homespun, family-oriented roots of her vocation steeped in the values of process and craft, Zelentsova’s designs cater for a cult of hyper-feminine, scantily dressed party girls. “It’s all about wearing as much as possible to cover as little as possible.”

Following her MA graduation and an almost-year-long stint on the design team at Burberry under the helm of Riccardo Tisci, in summer of 2021 Zelentsova set out on her own, launching her eponymous brand with a wholesale collection exclusively through Ssense. “I ‘showed’ that first season,” she says, making quotation marks in the air. “I mean, you’re kind of just uploading it into the void, and the void decides what to do with it. Because it’s knitwear and it takes absolutely forever, I’ve been doing a season a year. That was the base that was most comfortable. But now I’m hoping to ramp it up. You know: quick, quick, quick. Quick solutions.” 

Why do I want it? Released with a lookbook earlier this month, Zelentsova’s Spring/Summer 2024 collection offers a more sombre take on the designer’s kaleidoscopic, sensual knitwear. Utilising a vast array of knitwear and crochet techniques, the designer weaves a wardrobe of sheer dresses, finely woven semi-sheer bralettes, holey low-rise skirts and jersey tops that bloom at the sleeve. “I started thinking about this collection this time last year when I had a close personal loss in the family,” she says. “In a way, I was working through some of that grief. I was making, making, making, and then I’d freeze with this kind of memory of something quite insignificant and mundane about that person.” Many of the knits feature a sentimental intarsia that flashes across “like a memory, illuminated”. 

A second inspiration was later stumbled upon, in turn becoming a way to lift the designer from her melancholy. “A friend of mine from school used to do gymnastics, and it’s also something I used to watch with my family. I loved the drama, the ribbon in the air.” Finding solace in the freedom of their graceful physical expression, Zelentsova visualised a fictional time-travelling gymnast back-springing from the 1970s to compete in a Victorian era. Leotard-inspired jersey bodysuits are embellished with medal motifs, and studded handkerchiefs glisten and swish with movement. Taking inspiration from the Victorian bustle, ruffles find their way to the neckline, adding a disco feel to highly structured styles of the era, and unadorned legs remain a prominent feature throughout. 

Zelentsova’s brave colour palette comes both fresh and familiar, drawing upon the eclectic, flashy outfits of the 1970s and 80s, while charged with a contemporary spirit that speaks to today’s younger generation. “Some people wear these colours because they don’t feel as confident, but they feel like if they look this way it gives them a bit more strength,” says Zelentsova, partly speaking from personal experience. “I mean, look: clothing is your most immediate surroundings, and some might think it’s shallow, but I think what you wear influences so much how you feel.” That strength comes in ownership of one’s own body – bralettes only just cover the breasts, shorts are as short as can be – and in this sense, even with the novelty of the daring palettes and provocative silhouettes, clothing becomes self-care.

Zelentsova admits to her “greediness” with techniques, utilising a diverse range through the trials-and-errors of building the collection. Consequently, each garment becomes a labour-intensive feat, yet in an active effort to keep her price point as low as possible, pieces rarely exceed £300. For Zelentsova and her playful and sentimental world she’s building, it’s vital that everyone, and every body, is welcome. “Ultimately, it’s about whatever makes the person wearing it feel good,” she says. “So whether they care as much about what I'm kind of trying to say, or whether they just want to feel nice in like a miniskirt amidst the world on fire, then that’s a good thing.”

Where can I find it? Katya Zelentsova Spring/Summer 2024 is available to pre-order through her own e-shop.