Your grandmother’s knitwear, Isobel & Chloe is not. Run by Nantucket designer, anthropologist, and knitter Charlotte Hess—her motto is “knit fast, die warm”—the label taps into hand-crafting’s raw, primeval side. Each piece is painstakingly knitted by Hess herself, who sources her all-natural fibers from ethically and sustainably minded suppliers, including a friend of hers who owns a flock of sheep. Hesse draws her inspiration from multiple cultures and traditions, a result of an itinerant past that took her across the globe to France, New Zealand, and Scotland. Ecouterre recently sat down with the designer, fresh off the runway at Charleston Fashion Week, to talk about her yen for texture and textiles, the difference between American and European designers, and how Isobel & Cleo fits into the burgeoning slow-fashion movement.
MADE BY HAND
What first attracted you about textiles?
I believe I’ve always been interested in textiles and fashion because I was surrounded by it at a young age. My mother worked as a model and a photographer’s assistant before I was born and was always associated with fashionable and creative people as I was growing up.
I’ve always been interested in textiles and fashion because I was surrounded by it at a young age.
I think that interaction with the artistic community really influenced my interest in fashion. My early Montessori education, an approach that bases itself on learning by exploration, eventually fostered my love of textiles.
Having developed a hands-on and exploratory style of learning, it seemed only natural that I would eventually be passionate about making clothing from the very beginning of the process. I get to start at the actual fiber or yarn and sculpt clothing from its most basic form, as opposed to working with existing fabrics, where much of the characteristics of the cloth have already been determined.
What does crafting by hand—and knitting, in particular—mean to you?
I’ve always been attracted to people who work with their hands and bodies. Many of my friends are carpenters, builders, sculptors, painters, dancers. I myself am attracted to knitting because it combines my interest in fashion with my own desire to create with my hands.
I enjoy doing my part to preserve traditions that are constantly threatened by machines and cheap production costs.
I also enjoy doing my part to preserve handmade traditions that are constantly threatened by factories, machines, and cheap production costs.