From field to fashion
PUBLISHED: 11:13 27 October 2014 | UPDATED: 11:15 27 October 2014
Designer Lucy Cox tries to keep it as local as possible.
There are just a few things that make long, cold winters bearable – and top of my list is cosy, beautiful knitwear. If there is one wardrobe item that I covet more than anything else, it is an alpaca jumper from Lucy Cox Knitwear.
An immensely talented 24-year-old, Lucy creates exclusive knitwear garments and accessories specialising in British alpaca yarn.
“Alpaca is an incredibly soft, luxurious fibre, which feels much like cashmere, but it is stronger than wool and has even greater insulation properties,” she explained when I visited her at her studio in West Pennard.
Her technically-minded design collection includes capes, jumpers and cardigans, accessories such as hats, scarves, mittens and snoods, gorgeous future heirloom baby bootees and the softest cot blankets.
But it is the intricate, cleverly-constructed knitwear designs that are catching everyone’s attention. Something that starts as an elegant waterfall cardigan, with just a twist and a twirl, turns into a chic winter shrug.
These versatile pieces come from a fascination with origami.
“I love the idea that something can be altered just by folding it in different ways” Lucy explains. “These pieces are actually very simply constructed – just three or four panels. But it is the way that they are put together that makes the difference.”
Committed to keeping her business British and natural, she has a ‘field to fashion’ ethos. This ensures garments can be traced from where they were designed and made, right back to the herd where the fibre began its life.
“In an ideal world, I would source all my alpaca yarn here in Somerset but unfortunately that isn’t possible at the moment. I need farms that are focused on breeding alpacas for the quality of their fleece. That said, I’m keeping it as local as possible.”
Unlike sheep wool, there isn’t a regulatory board for alpaca fleece so Lucy visits the farms herself in order to grade the fleece and select her own quality yarn. This includes the colours for her knitwear.
There are 22 natural shades of alpaca, from white through to black, eliminating any need to use chemicals and dyes. Instead, Lucy works with the natural tones of the alpaca’s fleece, blending them to her own ‘recipe’ to create an exclusive range of colours. The result is five shades available in her collection: cream, caramel, light grey, charcoal and pebble.
“I have also visited a number of mills across the country. They vary in their spinning technique so I wanted to find the one that gives the best result for my garments. The thickness of the yarn, the weight, ply and twist; it all needs to be checked and sampled. I was delighted that the best mill for my purposes is one that specialises in alpaca fleece in Dorset, The Two Rivers Mill, so pretty local,” she says.
At school Lucy excelled at woodwork and product design, loving the 3D sculptural aspect of the course. This is evident in her designs, all of which feature a sculptural element. “I’m inspired by very simple things, such as a hair plait, to the highly detailed anatomical drawings by Leonardo de Vinci. There is a fascinating beauty to his drawings of arm muscles and ribcages! I don’t like to label my knitwear designs but, if I had to, I’d describe them as ‘classic with a modern twist.”
On graduating from Winchester School of Art, Lucy was selected to participate in the end of degree show held at the Truman Brewery in London. She was spotted by the style bible, Dazed and Confused magazine.
“It was an enormous confidence boost. I was inspired to get out there and gain as much industry experience as possible.”
This culminated in a six-week internship with the luxury knitwear label, Leutton Postle, based in London.
“I was designing and making garments for them in the run up to London Fashion Week. We worked 20 hour days. It was an incredible experience and I learnt so much during my time there, but it reaffirmed in my mind that I didn’t want to be a budding designer in a big pond. I wanted to come back to Somerset and grow a business organically, to create a brand with a conscience.”
Two years on, having shunned the bright lights of London, Lucy has settled back into Somerset, and has built up a network of local people to work with, from her website designer to label maker. “It is the same philosophy as personally visiting the alpaca farms and mills: it is really important to me to actually meet people face to face rather than working by email.”
Her studio is a barn, carefully restored by her father. “Even this was important to me: giving an old building a new lease of life.” With the recent acquisition of two industrial-sized knitting machines, the studio is a snug fit. “I’m already thinking of extending – but I haven’t broken the news to my father yet!”
Her long-term aim is to have an in-house manufacturing team working on the main range whilst she concentrates on bespoke designs.
“I want to be able to offer apprenticeships. I grew up knowing about Morlands and the devastating impact when it closed. I would love to play a small part in rebuilding the manufacturing industry of this amazing part of the country.”