Soft Sell

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by Gabriel Bell
With recouping costs spiraling, creative leaders plunging their fingers into every conceivable pie, and globalization fueling the fire, the pressures of fashion's maddening pace are more closely informing what we wear. Pants and jackets are tight and binding. Massive sunglasses mask the eyes. Dresses are either half assembled or unforgivably structured. To be sure, bondage, velocity, decay, and tension are right now highly relevant motifs. We have to wonder, though, why fashion remains so fierce when comfort and ease are what our tender selves crave the most.
Thankfully, not every designer has given in to the post-millennium tension. Though Swede Filippa Knutsson walks the same tightrope as any other designer with a signature line to maintain, her label, Filippa K, is anything but a high-wire act.
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Filippa K Ease Fall/Winter '06 collection
Unlike those designers who alternate furiously between dictating to their audience and following the more sensational desires of the masses, Knutsson seems to work from a peaceful place. Her spring/summer line is an almost pretension and ego-free collection of easy, flowing, positively comforting gypsy dresses, baggy suits, and wrap skirts. Unlike the creations poking out of many flagship store windows, these don't look like clothes you just have to own. Knutsson's wares look like clothes you already own.
Even from her debut line in 1993, aesthetic appeal served instead of frustrating the comfort of Knutsson's cushy jerseys, knits, and pants. Indeed, her first wide success was a series of flexible, tasteful stretch jeans. Since then, Europe has fallen for her relaxed, open vibe and a men's line and series of airy, atmospheric brand stores have followed. Unlike less ambitious casual lines, however, there is nothing common or "slouchy" about Filippa K. Though she generally eschews ornament, frivolity, or severity, Knutsson's work is, even at its most relaxed, hip and tack sharp.
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Filippa K Fall/Winter '06 womenswear collection
It's of little surprise, then, that Knutsson cites Mies van der Rohe as an inspiration. If van der Rohe's houses were "machines for living," purpose-built from the inside out, then perhaps Knutsson creates "equipment for living." While classic lines, such as high lapels and empire waits are everywhere in Filippa K, they are reinterpreted for active, urban movement. While the materials are sumptuous, patterns are rare, allowing for easy integration with the rest of your wardrobe and protecting the designs from the caprice of seasonal trends. The effect is aristocratic but still accessible—clothes for those who just know better. Consequently, the focus is not on the item, how it colors, restricts, and re-imagines the wearer. The focus is the wearer, how she moves and where she's going.
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Last year, Knutsson introduced her Ease line, a cozy collection of recreational-wear (translation: simple pants and tops). Even though the gear is designed for athletic use, should one want to, it seems more likely that women might simply rather luxuriate around the apartment in this soft series of loose cardis, petal-like camisoles, and demure yoga pants. Again, it is a case of Knutsson creating a total experience of comfort for the wearer—one that is expressed and not repressed by the deconstructed, sensual look of the designs.
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Filippa K Fall/Winter '06 menswear collection
For Fall/Winter '06, Knutsson is keeping her designs in motion. The line's peacoats, laced skirts, diagonal seams and horizontal stripes hearken back to WWI military fashions with a touch of socialist revolution thrown in for good measure. Her method of selecting influences and mixing and matching parts, however, suggest someone living out of a steamer trunk during an intercontinental journey. As said, these are clothes you already own—just better.
Filippa K is available at Oak, 208 North 8th Street, Brooklyn, 718-782-0521, and at Tsubi, 219C Mulberry Street, 212-334-4690, in New York and Scout, 7920 West 3rd Street, 323-658-8684, in Los Angeles. For more information, go to www.filippak.com.
Portrait by Scanpix.
Relax. Swedish-born designer Filippa Knutsson isn't trying to control your life.
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