Fashion

Emerging Designer: Lindsay Degen’s Knitting Factory

Fashion

Emerging Designer: Lindsay Degen’s Knitting Factory

Rising knitwear designer Lindsay Degen’s jubilant publicist invited me to meet for our interview at “Lindsay’s factory” in the Fashion District of Midtown Manhattan. It was the week before New York Fashion Week and we were all frantic, not sleeping, too busy, so when the elevator doors opened at the instructed second floor of the “factory” to a plastic balmed white corridor, I was sure someone had the wrong address. A turn around two corners and my confusion was relieved as I found them, Lindsay and Fallyn, waiting for me. The factory, at this point, was not quite yet completely operational. Though it would soon be, I was told, humming with the sounds of knitting machines.

The streets of Midtown’s so-called Fashion District are more like a fashion graveyard, with storefronts dedicated to wholesale rhinestones and signs advertising 75% off (off what?). Chin Ta Fa Trading Corp, Sophie International Fashion Retailer, Ramin’s Textiles… The District was once, before my and Lindsay’s lifetimes combined, a booming industrial hub, but it now seems to specialize in selling nothing to nobody (#mostlyiPhonecases #alsohairextensions). “Lindsay’s factory”—where she is employed and, not, as the possessive suggests, which she owns—was opened to cater to the resurgent interest in “Made in America” garments. Lindsay was hired by the factory to liaise between brands (like Suno, M. Patmos, and Suzanne Rae) and the factory runners; to adapt their print concepts to machine patterns and other like tasks. She will also be able to produce her knitwear line, DEGEN, there.

Lindsay launched DEGEN four Fashion Weeks ago with a capsule collection of knit bras, underwear, and socks. This season, Lindsay put together sixteen looks, if you count her own, from sock to hat and everything in between. The presentation was held at Industria in the Meatpacking District, another long-from-its-origins part of New York. For the few hours Lindsay and DEGEN were there, the space smiled with the youthful energy of a pajama party. That’s what you’re seeing in the pictures above. Below is mine and Lindsay’s talk at the factory a week prior, when everything was still quiet…

Let’s talk about your FW’13 collection. What’s it about?
This collection is really just a huge shoutout to my parents. It’s about showing how much I respect what they do. They are both geneticists. For the collection, I had them send me slides, of like viruses and molds, and then I worked to replicate those images in textile. FW’13 is also about making the act of knitting look a little less cute. I think most people think of knitting as cute. But it’s really technical and engineering minded.

Was there any thought of you going into the sciences, or were you always more of an art kid?
I never wanted to be a scientist. But I think of knitting as really a good combination between the arts and sciences. Because it’s very mathematical. Like, if you’re designing a garment you have to figure out the exact number of stitches that it’s going to be wide and the number of rows it’s going to be tall. But then you also have to know slopes. So it’s all kinds of geometry.

You studied at Central Saint Martins. How did you find the London fashion scene compared to the one in New York? Before I moved here, I wouldn’t have said New York had an exciting, young, creative fashion community. But now I’m starting to see it. And I don’t know if it’s just because I’m here, on the ground, or if there’s something new happening, something rising…
I think it’s a new thing. I also think that the designers that are “happening” now are more excited about each other than they have been in the past. And they’re all working together: working on each other’s collections, sharing studio spaces. I share a studio with Chromat. We totally share contacts. And buyers. We take sales appointments together. Chromat does these cagey bras. Beyonce actually wore one last night [at the Superbowl]. I was so hyped for her.

I like your tattoo [on her left wrist, the word ‘knit’]. When did you get that?
I actually got it in London. I was knitting for this company called Cooperative Designers, which no longer exists. They shared their studio with Louise Gray. I was doing everything for them, all of their knitting. But I needed to work on my own senior thesis, so I was constantly writing on my hand “Knit, dammit.” I got the tattoo as a reminder. My mom and I my mom have matching tattoos. [Lindsay lifts her sleeve to reveal a small tattoo on her upper arm.] Those are knitting needles knitting DNA. My mom asked me what I wanted for my 21st birthday and I said, “I want us to get matching tattoos,” thinking she would never do it.

Can you name anyone, be it a designer or an artist or whatever, whose careers you admire or would wish to emulate? Do have role models?
There are people who have done things I really like, but they don’t have a knitting path. I don’t know many people with a knitting path. I love Patti Smith—

The reason I ask is because of Patti Smith! In Just Kids, I think it’s there, she talks about how, when you’re young and trying to produce creative work, you have to pick role models. You have to find your artistic lineage. Rimbaud was one for her.
You know, I’d list the programmer here at the factory, Morris. He is so incredible. He ran the knitting department of his parents’s cut-and-sew factory from a really young age. He’s been in the industry something like twenty-eight years. Then the factory closed and he had to stop. But when this opportunity happened, he’s like right back on the horse. And he’s so good. I find that so inspiring.

DEGEN started with underwear. Do you knit your own pantie liners?
Totally. But only in cashmere.