THE ART OF

SERIOUS MEN’S KNITWEAR

 SERIOUS MEN’S KNITWEAR
AN INTERVIEW WITH DESIGNER ALESSANDRO PUNGETTI
NO MATTER HOW MANY SHIMMERING GARMENT DYED NYLON TRENCH COATS, LEATHER FIELD JACKETS, SHEARLING GOGGLE JACKETS OR TINTO TERRA RAIN COATS HE INVENTS, C.P. COMPANY DESIGNER ALESSANDRO PUNGETTI SOMEHOW CONTINUES TO BE HOUNDED BY A REPUTATON FOR BEING THE KNITWEAR GURU OF ITALIAN SPORTSWEAR. WE WENT AND ASKED HIM WHY…
When we finally sat down with him one early winter morning in his studio on the outer limits of Bologna, the city where he has always lived and worked, Pungetti at first – in line with his modest and discrete personality – denied there being any basis for his reputation. But a few hours and quite a few coffees later his explanations left us with, at the very least, a much better idea of what exactly it means to take the art of designing men’s knitwear very seriously… As a knitwear designer, what have been your key points of inspiration, your icons over the years? More than inspirations, I think for every serious men’s knitwear designer there are two, maybe three key reference points which have to be studied closely and learned from in order to be able to innovate… And these are? The first and most historically important is the British knitwear tradition, particularly the North: Faire Isle, Shetland, Aryan. Obviously because this is where wool is from! In this tradition knitwear is conceived of as something very heavy, very protective. There is a highly functional aspect to it, which as a designer of sportswear I’m very interested in: often traditional English knitwear was used as the outer, final layer of an outfit, taking the place of a jacket. Accordingly these pullovers were made with very compact threads. They had a very simple, essential aspect. British mills also developed some really interesting techniques for enhancing the naturally hydrophobic characteristics of wool, things like knitting pullovers with unwashed wool which still had its natural oils in it from when the yarn had been spun, or using Virgin wool, which could absorb much more water than regular wool whilst still maintaining its thermal characteristics, making it perfect for fishermen… I also very much appreciate the traditional stitch patterns of these pullovers: the high level of relief means that they almost become like sculptures and there is a very strong material presence. The texture of the material is amplified. The second reference point? The second reference point is the Italian knitwear tradition, which is far more modern, since the Italian knitwear industry only really began to develop properly after the Second World War, when weaving mills began to buy knitting machines. Unlike the English, Italians did not, with the exception of a few Northern regions in the Dolomites, have a really serious need for heavy knitwear, thanks to our warmer climate. An Italian from the central or southern parts of the country is almost more likely to want to buy a pullover to throw over his shoulders than to keep warm! So from the very beginning Italian knitwear has a more decorative or creative element: the weights are much lighter, Italians, for example, are the first to really use merino in the way it is commonly used today, they are also the first to experiment with non-traditional combinations of fibres such as wool with silk, or with nylon, and the first to develop combed wools… And the third? The third is the American tradition, which is a purely outdoors tradition of knitwear, derived from the British one. Of course they don’t just take British knitwear and reproduce it, just think of the whole world of knitwear they created from cotton, beginning with the athletic sweatshirt. So American knitwear is almost the first “technical” knitwear, in the contemporary sense of the term. And how do the knits you design for C.P. Company reference these traditions? Well first of all it’s important to note that all C.P. Company’s knitwear has always been, and is still today, all made in Italy (and most of it is also garment dyed). And Italy is the last remaining of the “traditional” knitwear producer countries to still domestically possess an entire supply chain: Italy still has its own fabric producers, dyeing facilities and production, whilst obviously the UK and America both abandoned this kind of industrial production long ago. This means that as an industry we are able to buy raw materials and then transform them into exactly what we want, with each stage in the production communicating its needs and desires to the other. So we can make much stranger and more unconventional kinds of pullovers than any other country in the world… How does C.P. Company take advantage of this situation? What is the C.P. Company knitwear signature? In the canon of Italian knitwear C.P. Company has always distinguished itself by taking extremely traditional techniques, particularly that of fully-fashioned pull overs, and combining them with details which have nothing to do with this tradition such as zips, extra pockets, hoods, leather or synthetic inserts, performance body mapping etc. so that the pullover becomes less formal. In addition to this, C.P. has also pushed the use of mixes of different materials (wool-nylon, wool-silk etc.), because of the possibilities which these then offered during the garment dyeing process (which C.P. Company was the first brand in the world to pioneer). How does the garment dyeing process transform a pullover? Well firstly it allows you to produce a large range of really rich and unusual colours which aren’t offered by thread manufacturers, but it also subtly draws your attention – through the way different knit styles or densities or wool treatments or other fabrics all absorb the dye colour differently, creating a subtle range of shades of the same colour - to all these little tweaks and modifications we’ve made to what might at first glance appear to still be a pretty traditional pullover. For example this season we used the “fast-dye” garment dyeing technique. This technique works a little bit like tie-dyeing. In tie-dyeing you create areas of resistance to the colour by tying knots or by binding; the dye cannot penetrate these areas and they remain white. By garment dyeing a pull over quickly the colour is not given time to penetrate evenly throughout the garment, so areas that are more tightly knitted (like the merino wool cuffs) remain lighter, and fibres that are more absorbent (such as a bouclé yarn) become darker. Classic last question: of all the pieces and collections you’ve designed and techniques you’ve developed, is there something that really stands out in your memory as your favourite? I don’t really have a favourite piece but what I find most challenging and exciting in knitwear is the transformation of cut and sewn garments into pieces of fully fashioned knitwear. That is to say: taking a parka or technical jacket as a starting point and re-creating all its various components using the fully-fashioned technique (in which a garment is made from a single piece of knitted fabric). This can be very technically demanding, but also fascinating since the shapes required are outside of the usual knitwear canon and push knitting in new directions. By then mixing these unconventional knitted shapes with other materials such as leather or quilted down, we can create a whole new family of shoulder pieces. A lot of the most distinctive C.P. Company shapes have come out of this game.