Seductive knitwear is playing muse to many fashion designers right now. From Nensi Dojaka’s deconstructed dresses to Ravid Haken’s crocheted underwear, the proliferation of the barely-there fine-knit is owed to fashion’s need to dismantle archetypes surrounding gender and sex.
And if there’s anyone to rewrite the codes of sweater-dressing, it’s Veldon Salim. For the Central Saint Martins MA fashion designer, joyously pastel dyes and hybrid designs are a statement sprung from a myriad of influences; from his Indonesian heritage to his muse, Agnes Martin. Here, Salim speaks to Fräulein about encouraging fluidity through his clothing, nurturing creativity, and where the future of the knit lies.
Fräulein: I read that your MA collection was inspired by the “sarong.” How has your Indonesian upbringing informed your work?
Veldon Salim: I wouldn’t necessarily say my Indonesian heritage is the most prevalent influence in my work – but a lot of it comes from playing around a lot with fabrics when I was younger. At home, we have this cloth called a “sarong,” which is a long piece of fabric with gorgeous embroidery, and I used to knot it and shape it into a dress. A lot of my work really comes from that, and a lot of it is drape-based. I try to work smart and not hard! I’m not the best pattern-cutter, or knitter – even though it’s my specialty – but I think the way I drape makes it a little bit different because I don’t know how to do it the proper way, so I just try to work my way around it.
Your knitwear looks so complex to create though!
A lot of people say that, but it’s really the simplest thing ever. I mean, there are certain complexities in the fabric and the dyeing process, but the actual knitting and the pieces are quite simple – a lot of the pieces are very geometric and I work very fluidly. I don’t work much with a design idea in my head.
You use a lot of pastel gradients. What draws you to those colours?
It’s partially aesthetic and partially down to seasonal research. Project by project, I do usually go for a pastel colour – I wouldn’t call myself a story-teller, but I feel like I’m very emotionally engaged in each of my projects. It might look pastelly, but it could represent a heavy and dark emotional state. It’s an indescribable meaning, of what I’m feeling at the time.
Are there any artists or designers who inspire you the most?
I usually research a lot about artists; I work with colour before silhouette. For my latest project, I focused on my favourite artist of all time, Agnes Martin. I’m heavily influenced by a lot of her work; it’s very geometric – it’s simple and precise yet complex when she works with pastel. I used to watch her documentaries, where she would paint and draw with washed-out colour – even though it was perfect, she would go over and over it. She would say this comes from an emotional and spiritual meaning, and paints from the state of the moment she’s in.
Since completing your BA, has your work changed and developed a lot? When did you find your style in your designs?
In my BA, I wasn’t sure what my aesthetic was, and who I was as a designer. I used to try and make jackets and think “I don’t even like making jackets!” As much as it’s been intense, the MA has been a huge milestone and brought the best out of me. It’s really shaped me.
Fräulein: Has there been any advice – albeit at Central Saint Martins or within the industry – which has really stuck with you?
Every time I messed something up or had a bad tutorial, I would run down to my knitwear technicians – who I love to death – and they would say, “At the end of the day, it’s your work, and you get to make the decision. You just need to follow your gut and do what you feel is right.” I think I’ve held onto that advice and pushed through.
I’ve spoke to a few designers from the course who received advice from either the current tutors or even Louise Wilson OBE, and they would always say that the main thing they were told was “to always keep it simple.”
Exactly. You don’t know until you feel it – about sticking to your vision and following your gut. It just makes you you.
What’s going to happen next for you, beyond the MA?
A lot of things seemed to have changed already for me – I wouldn’t want to start a brand yet – as I’m less focused on calling it that, and would rather call my work “my personal projects.” I’m going in that direction at the moment, and slowly building it up. I just want to figure things out logistically, and to learn all of the things I didn’t learn at CSM – factory work, PR work, finance work, accounting work, dealing with taxes – like the tax thing is important! I just want to be able to say that two years down the road, I can do custom orders and small collections, and see where it takes me! I have an upcoming capsule collection on its way, which I’ll be teasing in early October, and will start selling not long after.
How do you think knitwear will continue to change in the next few years?
Honestly, I don’t feel like I’m the right person to predict, but I’ve spoken to lots of the MA students and others in the industry, who have said in the past few years that knitwear has been so forward and lots of knitwear designers have become big. It’s become more than just a sweater – look at when Harry Styles wore that granny jumper and broke the Internet! There’s so much to push, and two years down the road, I hope that progression continues.
Words Grace Sowerby
Images: Veldon Salim