The Real Christmas Jumper | The Aran Jumper

Word to the wise: no one feels fun and festive in an itchy acrylic sweater with 3D felt antlers.

The Christmas sweater of 2015 is an altogether more appealing proposition: the Aran knit. That deliciously cosy, creamy coloured cable-knitted sweater that whispers good taste – and this season no cold-winter wardrobe should be without one. “It has stood the test of time because it’s chic and practical,” says Michael Kors, who included  an Aran with elbow-length sleeves and a sweet Peter Pan collar on  his autumn catwalk. “When the temperature dips, everyone wants a knit that looks good and feels amazing. The Aran is a lasting  design of beautiful craftsmanship and texture; it’s universally flattering and is incredibly versatile, too; it works well with almost anything.”

Michael Kors

Michael Kors

A brief history: the Aran sweater dates back to 1892 and takes its  name from the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. Traditionally knitted by the wives of fishermen to keep their husbands warm and dry at sea (they are usually made from 100 per cent wool that retains its natural lanolin, making it water resistant), the various patterns signified the village where the fishermen came from. Also, every weave relates to the fishing world: the cable indicates a fisherman’s ropes; the honeycomb knit symbolises the hard-working bee; the basket weave represents a basket brimming with a bountiful catch; the zigzag stitch recalls the twisting pathways along the cliffs; and the diamond design is a sign of wealth and prosperity. Years later, the style crossed the Atlantic to Hollywood, where Aran sweaters soared in popularity during the Fifties and Sixties, endorsed by Steve McQueen and Grace Kelly.

The knitting needles went into overdrive this season. Arans were everywhere: spotted at Valentino, where creamy, slouchy styles boasted a graphic black triangle intarsia; at Altuzarra they took on a shade of dove grey and were tucked into racy pencil skirts; while over at Max Mara, toffee-coloured and oversized styles proved just the ticket under one of the house’s famous camel coats. There were highly worked styles, too, like those at Alexander Wang – the cool girl’s Aran – which were studded and threaded with silver chain; at Delpozo, where Josep Font whipped up a masterpiece bursting with shaggy fringe and woolly coral-like curls; and over at Sacai, where Chitose Abe concocted something entirely new from the humble Aran knit, splicing hers with crisp white cotton shirting and elongating the style into a sweet kick-skirted sweater dress. But if it’s tradition you’re after, look no further than & Daughter, the family-run luxury knitwear label set up by former fashion PR Buffy Reid and her father, which offers several Aran styles, from shrunken to outsize to patchwork, all in 100 per cent British wool yarn  and made in Ireland.

altuzarra valentino

Altuzarra and Valentino

isabel marant sacai

Isabel Marant and Sacai

alexander wang max mara

Alexander Wang and Max Mara

“There are iconic garments such as blue jeans, the white T-shirt and military jacket that are so well achieved you will never tire of them, and the Aran knit belongs to that category,” says Isabel Marant, continuing, “I love its efficiency; it’s warm, comfortable and made out of rough wool that lasts for ages.” Her redux this season takes shape as a shrunken sailor sweater complete with glossy black shoulder buttons. “My mother has always hand-knitted. Since I was a child she knitted me amazing Aran sweaters. I still have some of them and they still inspire me.”

Nostalgia chimes with other designers, too. “During my late teens I would steal my father’s original Aran sweater,” says Louise Trotter, creative director at Joseph. “It was hand-knitted, heavy and slightly scratchy, but it could be styled with everything. Although my father is no longer here, his Aran sweater  is one of my few keepsakes. It’s  still in my wardrobe 20 years later,  a cherished piece waiting to be passed down to my daughter.”

Head to Joseph and you will find Louise’s latest design, which takes shape as a deconstructed layered patchwork piece complete with cables, cardigan stitch (a Joseph original) and stretched-out sleeves for a borrowed-from-the-boyfriend vibe. “Personally I can’t wait to wear it,” she adds. “It will be my winter comfort blanket.”

Felt antlers not included.


Autumn/Winter 2015-16 Sacai

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How do couture-like silhouettes manifest into something essentially urban and city-ready? Ask Sacai’s Chitose Abe who this season looked to haute couture – volume, panniers and Fortuny pleats included – to stir her no-holds-barred imagination.

This collection proved that there is no end to her ambition; it takes gumption to reimagine those exaggerated volumes and ideas and rework them in heavy – often masculine – fabrics, all the while executing something elegant. An M65 parka was puffed up at the back, pannier hips and tulle padding shaped sweaters and skirts, while herringbone tweeds were elasticised to form womanly hourglass silhouettes. It was about something precious and rarefied applied to the familiar and everyday.

Her series of sweater dresses – if you can call them that, the workday term seems almost insulting – were exceptional. They comprised chunky Aran knits which were peeled away at the shoulder line to reveal crisp white shirting underneath, while flippy skirts kicked out in panels of knit and cotton.
As complicated as that all sounds, the cleverest – and most crucial – fact about these hybrids is that they’re very often the simplest of pieces to wear. Take the show-goers for example, so many of whom were touting the hits of previous seasons, from the leather-perfecto biker jackets to military and guipure lace coats, khaki bombers, floral maxi dresses, even, a sighting of a broderie anglaise full skirt.

There’s something about these designs that tug at the heartstrings.

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Autumn/ Winter 2014-15 Sacai

Autumn/ Winter 2014-15 Sacai

CHITOSE ABE must have terrific fun at her Sacai headquarters in Japan. One imagines her sat in her studio, toiling away, cutting and pasting clothes together with all the ease of a Microsoft Word doc. Of course, with clothes this desirable, the process must be a lot more technical than that, but crucially, she never lets on – nor do the girls who wear them so seemingly effortlessly.

This was one of the designer’s best collections yet and Abe said it all began with re-imagining the idea of “wrapping and cocooning”, starting with the familiarity of outerwear. Men’s checked overcoats, leather biker jackets, bomber jackets and puffas – all items she has experimented with before – morphed into entirely new shapes. A biker jacket met head on with a wool blazer boasting the prettiest peplum back, elsewhere a formal wool coat turned around to reveal quilted nylon behind, while other hybrids fused Mongolian fuzzy lapels with biker, with puffa.

It would have been hard to have found two more opposing textures than a flocked Devore velvet and a chunky cable knit and yet here was the happiest of marriages. Abe also played with a scarf print; pleated blouses with long neck ties neatly anchored with polished gold pins were partnered with narrow trousers worn with drop-waist pleated apron skirts over the top. She also continued with blanket dressing, a concept she first explored for pre-autumn/winter.

Such melds and layer-ups ought to equal bulk, but the result is the opposite: silhouettes here were long and languid, everything felt luxurious and refined, grown up but young, street-wear but couture. These clothes are certainly at the forefront of that hyper-street idea trending now, but above all else, one of the cleverest things about these clothes (construction aside) is the surprise, and then in the very next second, wondering why no one has tried it before.

To shop more Sacai visit: www.sacai.com