Thursday 18 August 2011

Interview with Verena Hafner

Stylist and blogger Verena Hafner got in touch with me recently, wanting to do a feature on her blog about the AW 11 collection with a short interview. You can see what she's written about the new collection here, but I thought I'd print the interview for your reading pleasure:

What is your first fashion memory?

It would have to be learning to knit with my mother and grandmother. This is probably the case with many girls, but it was a generational thing, as my mother remembers her grandmother knitting with her too – and smoking simultaneously! When the sweaters were finished they used to have to hang them out to air for a week before they could be worn to get rid of the smell.

Any time I wanted something and my mother said no, I’d just go off and make it instead. It mostly applied to toys but I definitely did it with clothing and accessories too, usually things I’d spotted on the pages of glossy fashion magazines which I’ve been hooked on for as long as I can remember. I used to read and re-read issues of the now defunct Clothes Show magazine which I saved up my pocket money to buy. Under their influence, I’d spend hours doing ‘fashion sketches’ (which, if unearthed now, I’d probably be mortified about, they were pretty bad). I was convinced I was going to be a fashion designer, but then ended up doing a photography degree.

When did you decide this was the career you wanted to pursue?

I spent a few years working as a photographer, but craved something more and missed the whole process of knitting, so decided professional photography just wasn’t for me. I changed my career and started to teach knitting, something that I love and still do now. In fact, last week I was at Central Saint Martins speaking to the students there. It was inspiring to see such interest and enthusiasm for knitwear.

In late 2009, while I was teaching, I started creating my own bespoke pieces which, when I wore out, attracted a lot of attention. After the fifth person asked where they could buy one of my pieces, I decided that I’d try launching a collection. It was the right decision!

You mainly use British lambs wool and Peruvian alpaca. What draws you to these materials and how do they influence your designs?

I want to use British yarns as much as possible because I think it’s important to support local yarn producers in the current economic climate. The British yarn industry used to be huge but it’s been dying out, which is a terrible shame. I make an exception for alpaca because it’s such a beautiful, warm, fun yarn to work with. But I’ve recently discovered some British alpaca farms so I intend to pay them a visit before I start work on next season – I feel a collaboration coming on! As well as provenance, another crucial element to my work is the variety of yarn weights. I love the contrast between a super chunky knit and something finer. I expect those differences will become more exaggerated in future collections.

Which themes and ideas are behind your AW11 collection?

The AW11 collection was inspired by Russian fashions and traditions – I found my first collection was very well received in Russia so I looked at traditional cold weather clothing there; capes, furs, Cossack hats, Dr Zhivago style outfits. But I also infused the collection with some simplified shapes influenced by classic Japanese design.

What are the next steps for brand going to be? Any upcoming projects you can speak about?

I’m about to finish working on spring summer, which is a first for me. I found it difficult initially to get into the idea of designing knitwear for summer, as previously my work has been so chunky and cosy. But it’s amazing how quickly you get immersed in an idea and swept along by it. If an idea is exciting, it generates its own momentum and I’m looking forward to seeing how the public will react to it.

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