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Olivia Fagan’s graduate collection focuses on the intersection of art, history and knitwear

WORDS BY JOSEPH LEW

Who said knitwear’s not cool?

Thanks to her bold approach to design and unconventional silhouettes, it’s no surprise Olivia Fagan has been handpicked as a finalist for Melbourne Fashion Fashion Festival’s National Graduate Showcase. Drawing inspiration from historical and contemporary art, her collection One Row At A Time aims to redefine knitwear.


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Armed with her trusty 1960s vintage knitting machine, her sustainable and experimental pieces play around with notions of colour and form. She describes the collection as a reflection of her creative flow – “a true artistic expression through colour, form, texture and line that results in the creative outcome of the garment on the body.” I spoke to her to find out more about One Row At A Time and her creative process.

Please introduce yourself to our readers.

My name is Olivia Fagan and I’ve just finished the Bachelor of Fashion Design (Honours) program at RMIT University. I specialised in knitwear in my honours year and created a collection on my 1960s knitting machine.

Tell us about your collection.

My collection is inspired by art and fashion and the collaboration when we mix the two. As a designer in the fashion industry, I tend to take an artistic approach to my work; with this collection, I worked quite intuitively. I think my best outcomes come through that free-flowing form. Around 80 per cent of the collection is made out of vintage yarn that I sourced second-hand through eBay and textile designers. A lot of it is also zero waste, as it was all made in one go on the machine.

Tell us about how it all started. Why did you decide to pursue fashion design?

Creativity is something that’s really important to me, and through being brought up in a creative family, I think design is in my genes. I’ve got grandmothers who had boutiques and stores on Collins Street in the city, so I feel like it’s just part of who I am.

 

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You mention your vintage knitting machine a lot, can you tell us the story behind it?

One of my friends had bought a knitting machine and I thought maybe it would be fun to buy one too. I found one on Facebook Marketplace and the lady selling it seemed super genuine. I went and picked it up from her house and everything was so beautifully maintained, and we had this amazing discussion about how she had used the machine for years and years and would use it to make jumpers for her kids. It came with this beautiful collection of vintage ’60s and ’70s books of knitting patterns and instructions on how to use certain carriages on the machine and it was just so iconic for the era and so interesting looking back. It was the tool that really got me through the year.

With a focus on knitwear, how do you ensure your designs remain modern and relevant?

Knitwear has this connotation that you see an old lady sitting on a chair with chunky knitting needles handknitting. It’s so stained by this aesthetic that when I tell people who aren’t in the fashion industry that I made a whole collection of knitwear, they’re just like “Oh right”. To keep my designs relevant, I just try to be myself. I try not to look at what was done in the past, I think it’s such a distraction. I look ahead, and at my inspiration, which comes from art and design and movement. I try to create designs that people wouldn’t expect to see in a knitted garment, like dresses and pants.

How does your personal aesthetic compare to your design aesthetic?

I haven’t worn a lot of knitwear but the way I design is quite different from my own aesthetic. I design not for what I personally like or for what will suit me, but for what I am attracted to within an art and design context.

Tell us about the experience of putting together your graduate collection.

It was really challenging in stage four restrictions in Melbourne. Behind the screen, you literally cannot get that same classroom experience. But it sort of worked in my favour as well as I had long commutes to uni, and I saved so much time in that sense. I was just able to throw myself into becoming an expert at these knitting machines and give all my time to creating a whole collection of knitwear. I had a lot of people saying, “Are you sure you’re going to do that? That’s so crazy, you’re not going to get that done”. It’s such a tedious process compared to just cutting fabric and sewing that on the machine.

How did you stay creatively inspired throughout this period?

I was lucky enough to have gone to the library a week before the lockdown had set in and we had to leave uni. I was writing my thesis last year on the relationship between fashion and art, and how fashion could be art and how art could be fashion, and I had all these incredible vintage modern-art books about the relationship between the two. I was always going back to who was before me in the art and fashion fields and looking at that really kept me inspired.

What’s next for you? 

With COVID-19, the job market has been so strained and ruined so it’s definitely hard. At the moment, I’m working on just learning more about my knitting machines. I’ve just purchased a new machine which is really exciting, which I think will take me to the next level towards becoming an expert in knitwear. I’d love to start a business down the track and gain some experience with a local designer.

Find more of Olivia’s work here.

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