Sandra Backlund Interview
Sandra Backlund is a Swedish fashion designer specialising in sculptural knitwear. Graduating from Beckmans College of Design in Stockholm in 2004, Backlund set up her own eponymous label that same year. Since then she has won many awards and accolades, In 2007 Backlund was the Grand Prix Winner of the Festival International de Monde & Photographie In Hyeres, France. In 2010 she won the Swedish Elle Award and in 2009 won NewGen sponsorship from The British Fashion Council. Backlund also won the admiration of the international fashion community, collaborating with Louis Vuitton (A/W 2007) and Emilio Pucci (A/W 2009) on several knitwear pieces for their collections in addition to being selected as a protege by Italian Vogue's Franca Sozzani on the Protege Project in 2008 and again in 2009 for the Cittadelarte Fashion B.E.S.T. project. In 2010 Backlund launched her first solo collection, her Spring/Summer 2011 collection marks the third collection that has went into production.
Backlund's design aesthetic is sculptural, architectural and dynamic. Striving to exaggerate and accentuate the female form, Backlund fluctuates proportions, producing designs that are simultenously sci-fi and warm, as she works with heavy wool, paper and more recently hair. By fusing futuristic design with tactile and familiar materials Backlund has manged to transform the very meaning of knitwear into a piece of sculpture, a piece of moving art. Backlund approaches her work in a manner akin to an artisan. Instead of creating her garments by using traditional patterns, she designs whilst knitting, producing a more organic and streamlined result. Keen to immerse herself in her work, Backlund knits for unprecedented hours in her Stockholm studio, but has accepted that she can not produce an entire collection by herself and now incorporates machine techniques in addition to looking into focusing on accessories or collaborating with an Italian knitwear specialist to ensure her clothes become more commercially available.
Can you tell us about your background and when you decided to pursue a career in fashion?
I have always felt the need to express myself artistically. Before I decided to go into fashion I studied both Fine Arts, Textile Handicraft, Art History and History of Ideas at the University. I don't know exactly what made me choose fashion, but in the beginning I think it was just the lack of interesting fashion to buy as a teenager in my hometown that made me create my own clothes. For a career I choose fashion eleven years ago when I applied to Beckmans College of Design in Stockholm, I graduated in 2004 and founded my own company the same day.
How did you eventually decide to pursue knitwear, and did you always have radical ideas to pull the image we have of it into the future?
It was never my intention to figure out a thing to do that would make me a profile on something so specific. Actually I don’t feel like I choose knitwear, it just happened that way. I have always been experimenting with different materials and three dimensional shapes and the kind of knitting that I do is just perfect for that. I can't tell you how to work with traditional handicraft techniques without being burdened by a classical mind frame, or if it is even possible to do that. But I guess one way is to use them more as an inspiration and a starting point, then a law.
What inspires your work? Cities? Nature? Culture? Art History?
Except from the handicraft techniques and the materials I work with, I'm really fascinated by all the ways you can highlight, distort and transform the natural silhouette with clothes and accessories and I like to consciously dress and and undress different parts of the body. I'm kind of introvert when working, so I guess I find inspiration from everything that is going on in my own life both private, as a designer and as a founder of my own company.
Your previous collections include a multitude of materials, the properties of which have been re-interpreted, such as hair in your body, skin & hair collection and wooden pegs in your in no time collection. Are you constantly inspired by 'ordinary' materials to use in extraordinary ways?
It depends, sometimes it's the material itself that I find interesting or I think fits the theme of the collection. Sometimes it's just because that specific material somehow seems like a natural choice for the handicraft technique or silhouette I'm working on.
You often use muted colors or nudes in your collections, is this a conscious decision for the viewer to focus upon the cut?
I can't really explain why, but yes, I think it has something to do with the fact that monochromes brings extra attention to the shape and silhouette of the garments.
Can you tell us about the techniques you use to achieve these knitwear pieces?
With the human body as the main starting point I improvise on a tailors dummy or on myself to discover ideas of shapes and silhouettes that I could never come to think about in my head. I don't sketch, instead I work with a three dimensional collage method where I develop some basic bricks that I multiply and attach to each other until they become a garment.
Can you tell us how you arrived at the designs for your current collection and what your inspiration for S/S 11 was?
For the S/S 2011 collection, I continued my journey towards a more complete and balanced collection where the handmade special pieces can stand side by side to more edited styles in a natural way. As always the starting point was the materials and techniques, because they help me find the shapes and silhouettes. The most important for this collection was the metal yarn. I had been looking for that for more than six years, and for this I finally found one made of 100% copper that is both beautiful and wearable.
What in your opinion is the perfect piece of knitwear?
I love all kinds of knitwear dresses.
If you could give advice to aspiring knitwear designers what would it be?
I think that many concentrate too hard on just living up to the image of being a new designer, instead of actually working as one. In the beginning it's important that you try not to think so much about what other people might expect from you and instead spend a lot of time experimenting on your own to find what is special about you and what you're good at. One way to do this is of course learning and exploring the basics of tailoring and traditional handicraft techniques and be aware of any mistakes and ideas along the way that can bring you beyond what you knew before.
INTERVIEW BY LAURA SIMPSON
More info at sandrabacklund.com