Portraits: Sweater Sculptures


March 13th, 2020

In this current age of anxiety, what is the need for design, and in particular, for fashion? This is a question that continued to plague my mind as I created Series No. 6 for Ply-Knits. 

Series No. 6 is a cashmere capsule for legendary tastemaking boutique Browns London. It exists as familiar sweater silhouettes such as the crewneck, the turtleneck—but made extra loose and languid with oversized sleeves, enveloping turtlenecks, and slippery drop-shoulders. They are in punchy contemporary colors. However, I wanted to differentiate yet another simple cashmere sweater. So, a closer look shows the cuff’s ribs jolting off into zig-zag, a steady march of continuous ZZZ’s. Together with the relaxed silhouettes, I aptly named the collection “Catch Your ZZZ’s”.

In seeking lookbook inspiration, I came across the work of Austrian contemporary artist Erwin Wurm with pleasure. Wurm plays with everyday objects and distorts their shape. He is most notable for his Fat Cars. For instance, the usually sleek red Porsche 911 Carrera sits corpulent, dripping in fat. He also has a fantastic, absurdist series of Clothes Sculptures. He stretches bright, everyday sweaters into uncanny shapes, over oversized canvases, along apartment walls, and under ceilings. Limp knit sweater arms suddenly flail from above in Wall House 2; a familiar crewneck sits puffy and funny while layered over seventeen other crewnecks in 18 Pullovers. But behind the humor of the absurd, Wurm critiques consumer culture and excess. This is particularly prescient in the light of our age of fashion overconsumption and overproduction. 

With this in mind, I created my lookbook Portraits No. 6: Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out! with my long-time art direction collaborators Ania Nowak and Lucie Gris. Ryan Jenq shot and Jocelyn Cabral styled. At first, we prepared googly eyes, glasses, and quilt stuffing to create goofy faces on the sweaters—only to find later on set that these were too corny.  Instead, a few happy accidents with balloons created pleasant anthropomorphic faces that set the tone. Our human psychology is automatically drawn to anthropomorphism, from seeing animal shapes in clouds to projecting human behavior onto animals. Our potential for empathetic imagination excited me most. To me, an image is strong when the viewer pauses to imagine, even if just for one second. While shooting on set, we would already give names to each “character”, excitedly telling each other our imaginary character’s life stories and sharing their personalities. 

In the end, we created nine unique sweater characters. Some are loud! Some are gentle, asking for a dance. Some are well-balanced. Some are maternal, ceaselessly giving. All are absurd. I hope you may find as much pleasure in imagining each one as we did in creating our motley crew. Portraits No. 6 is named after an absurdist novel by Chinese author Mo Yan, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2012.

All my very best,

Carolyn Yim