By Bee Beardsworth
One of the most elusive and ephemeral yet vital qualities for maintaining the most beautiful things in life is balance. There is a delicate tension that must be observed, understood and maintained in order to hold the tightrope - precariously yet purposefully walking the line between freedom and discipline, pleasure and pain, showing and telling. A subtle, sublime balance is the underpinning of cult brand KNWLS.
KNWLS is a South London-based fashion house formed in 2017 by Charlotte Knowles (who the brand was previously named after) and her partner Alexandre Arsenault, following Knowles’ studies at London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins. The brand followed in the footsteps of many fledgling designers before it and was launched into the spotlight by Fashion East, a non-profit talent incubator led by Lulu Kennedy MBE.
Since departing the safety of Fashion East in 2019, KNWLS has continued to transform and flourish. Despite remaining a cult favourite of every young celebrity and it-girl you can think of, including appearances on Hunter Schafer’s Jules in Euphoria, Dua Lipa, Caroline Polachek and Julia Fox, the brand has maintained its loyal following whilst expanding and strengthening a vision encompassing a revolutionary take on the sex positive femininty that many womxn are seeking today. The brand has also maintained a steady flow of arresting creative collaborations with models, makeup artists and photographers (such as Harley Weir) that have woven it into the epochal fashion DNA of modern London.
The brand emulates a tension that is indicative of the modern experience of femininity in a way that few others successfully do. Textures scale between aggressive leathers and stiff canvas to gossamer silks and airy chiffon. Girly, floating drapery is anchored by fitted, angular corsets and sexy utilitarian straps. There is always a sort of catch, something unexpected that balances out an element of sensibility or reservedness - a long sleeved top with an exposed back, a near-naked silhouette draped in diaphanous layers of sheer fabrics. A simple leotard and flared trousers (one of KNWLS’s staple looks) offset by a distressed leather cowboy hat and exaggerated, pointed lace up boots. Underwear-as-outerwear-as-shield-as-rave-clothes. In 2020, Charlotte described the brand as I would now: “Powerful, sexy and dangerous.”
For spring/summer ‘22 KNWLS has worked alongside a creative team including photographer Carlijn Jacobs, makeup artist Thomas de Kluyver and stylist Georgia Pendlebury to launch a smudgy, prismatic campaign for ‘Adrenaline’. With dip dyed hair, oversized hoops and belt-like miniskirts, the collection echoes a 90s nightclub aesthetic, marrying this with eternal style of a cowboy hat, oversized glasses and python skin clutch. With cherry blossom trees, bioluminescent backdrops and glitter-beaded blue eyelashes, ‘Adrenaline’ is looking forward to a summer intoxicated by the sensual, the unexpected and the hallucinatory.