With Vogue.com features, high profile stockists and fans including Susie Bubble and Paloma Faith to her name, it would be easy to assume that knitwear designer Amy Hall came from a strictly fashion background. But, unlike many other designers who knew their calling from the word go and went straight down the art foundation, fashion degree route before either going to work for an established fashion house or setting up on their own, Amy actually studied photography and then went on to work for Magnum Photos in New York. It was only after returning to London several years later that she decided to rekindle her childhood love of knitting, consulting at Rowan Yarns and teaching at Liberty London and Central Saint Martins where she herself had taken a summer course.
In 2010 Amy made the bold decision to launch her own knitwear label and given the success she’s had in just four seasons, I’d say it was a leap of faith that paid off. I caught up with the designer to get the lowdown on her career so far and how she plans to make knitwear sexy again…
LPA: After studying and working in photography, what prompted you to pack it in and turn your hand to knitwear instead?
Amy: When I did my degree it was on the cusp of the start of the digital boom. Some of my fellow students embraced this but I didn’t, as the magic of doing everything yourself from putting the film in to developing prints in the darkroom, was what drew me to it in the first place. After spending a couple of years working in the industry I quickly became disillusioned as digital photography took over. Knitting and crochet had been in the background the whole time and it didn’t take long for me to realize that that was what excited me more.
LPA: While Central Saint Martins’ summer courses are of an extremely high standard, they’re not as in-depth as doing a degree in fashion design. What made you choose this instead of, say, an MA in Fashion Knitwear Design? Have you ever felt it’s put you at a disadvantage compared to your competitors?
Amy: It wasn’t a case of choosing to do the short course instead of a fashion degree, more that I already had one degree and couldn’t really afford the time or money to go and study for another. I took the summer course at CSM to improve my machine knitting skills and just thought I’d try to start the business with what knowledge I had accumulated myself. If it hadn’t worked out, I would probably have gone back to art college. Thankfully it doesn’t look like I’ll need to and I don’t think I am at a disadvantage as a result of that. To have studied fashion or textiles would have been fantastic, but to make a success of this without having done so is a huge achievement in itself.
LPA: After deciding to pursue a career in knitwear, you initially started by teaching knitting. How did you get from there to launching your own highly successful knitwear label?
Amy: I was already teaching knitting as a part-time job before I considered starting the business. It only served to remind me how much I enjoyed working with yarn and needles. I would say it probably helped to give me the boost I needed in order to get the business started.
LPA: What has been the most challenging thing about running your own brand?
Amy: Learning on the job. It’s a cliché, but I literally learn something new every day. I don’t really have a business head, so dealing with the day-to-day issues of actually owning and running a knitwear label alongside the creative element of designing and making the garments is the biggest challenge. I have to be quite structured when I’m planning my time.
LPA: Who, dead or alive, would you most like to see wearing your designs and why?
Amy: I’ve recently stumbled across some beautiful images of a young Talitha Getty in the ‘60s, looking stunning in a very natural, almost slightly unkempt way. I think she’d have slung something on and just make it look fantastic.Right now, I’d love to see someone like Erin Wasson wearing one of my pieces. I love her style – to me she owns that sexy, boyish, insouciant look.
LPA: The fact that it’s “handmade it London” is integral to your work. Why is this so important to you as a designer?
Amy: I think a lot of designers are becoming more aware of the importance of having their pieces manufactured closer to home. But for me, when I set up the label it was always something I felt very strongly about. I knew I didn’t want my pieces churned, en masse, out of a factory in China. How can you possibly have full control over something happening so far away? Every single piece I produce is made by hand, which makes each of them unique. Everything is made by me, or one of my small team, in East London. They’re also made using the best quality yarns I can get my hands on, so if the garments are taken care of, they’ll last a long time. As consumers are becoming more concerned with provenance and spending more on fewer things, it makes sense to offer them more for their money.
LPA: Wool doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being the sexiest or most fashion forward of fabrics. How do you hope or plan on changing this?
Amy: I hope I already am changing that. Wool is an incredibly versatile fibre that is sustainable and long-lasting. It’s tactile and feminine, and can be crafted into everything from a sheer dress to a heavily textured coat. There’s so much you can do with it, there’s no reason for it not to be sexy!
LPA: Could you ever see yourself doing a collection using a completely different material?
Amy: For Autumn/Winter 2012 I have introduced a leather belt to the collection. I found somebody who works in London with the same values as me and we worked together to create something that compliments the knitwear beautifully. I love the contrast of leather with knitwear, so it is possible I will branch out further and do more leather pieces in future.
LPA: What’s your ultimate aim for the Amy Hall brand?
Amy: Ultimately, I aim to continue to push the boundaries of the medium and the perceptions around knitwear within the industry. I’m incredibly fortunate to have the label recognized and stocked by a couple of the most exciting fashion forward stores in the UK, so I’d like to continue to reach out to more women by being stocked by other cutting edge boutiques in London and beyond.
Love Ella. X
Amy Hall is currently stocked at Wolf and Badger.