James Millar's kaleidoscope of knits wakes up the season. By Meredith Fisher
While New York Fashion Week was abuzz with Jonathan Saunders' first Big Apple showing, we couldn't help but get excited about another Scottish designer who was also crossing the pond—James Millar. Unfortunately, you won't get invited to his presentation, or see his clothes at Barneys, because the young Celt was here working with Saunders, not showing his radical collection of knits…yet. "I have learned so much from working with Jonathan," says Millar. "I've learned that talent is not enough, and that fashion is always seeking something new…it takes great resilience to achieve longevity."
These are fighting words for the 25-year-old designer who grew up outside of Glasgow, knitting with his mother. "I remember my mum teaching me to hand knit when I was nine—just squares to make a patchwork quilt," recalls Millar. "But I only really embraced the medium during my MA; that's also when I started playing with the fair-isle genre." That "play" is what eventually led to his riotously wild 2008 collection, inspired by seemingly disparate elements, whose only relation is their contagious energy and hedonistic bias. Obvious references to Ziggy Stardust and glam rock are evident in the androgynous quality of his sweaters, though the unisex element isn't always intentional. "It was more an evolution of my ideas," explains Millar. "Some I know are for one particular sex, but others become assigned to a sex when they're complete depending on what looks best." This outlook is also a result of his time spent in the fashion department of Dazed & Confused magazine. "I'm very style 'led' and don't view myself as a true designer, more a hybrid designer-stylist."
Similar to a stylist, his process, which he describes as "eclectic, almost crazy," starts with color and research. His current collection took a page from the graphic collages of Jean Paul-Goude, especially his Grace Jones-worthy boxing robes and plasticized parkas. But despite these references, the designer is still very hands-on. "I need to play directly with yarns and patterns on the knitting machine," says Millar. "It's a very immediate process for me rather than endlessly drawing ideas."
In addition to the focus on pattern, evident in the multicolored striped sweaters, or the puzzle piece-esque pattern that adorns a "hoodie," he takes a refreshing approach to over-sizing, balancing super long sleeves with skinny silhouettes—"volume is interplayed with control," is the goal. Intricate embellishment on a thin scarf or a sheer, stretchy dress makes each piece almost a collage unto itself. "Embellishment is something I'm keen to explore further in future collections," he says. "And I feel going forward collections will be a bit more feminine in the traditional sense." But it's unlikely the young designer will go too traditional on us. "My personal style is colorful, though my work is a more exaggerated and extreme version of this. [It's] like my personality: outgoing, youthful, eclectic, and fun!"
James Millar's kaleidoscope of knits wakes up the season.