Fresh out of school and enrolled in the Fashion East programme, Charlotte Knowles and her partner Alexandre Arsenault never got time to fully formulate their brand’s identity before its stratospheric rise.
The pandemic allowed the pair, who split their time between Devon and south London, to hit pause, reevaluate the business and to strategise.
The original brand name, which suggests a solo project and caused issues in the US, no longer felt representative of their growing pool of collaborators, and mission to become a fully-fledged luxury house.
“[The name] needed to be concise and cryptic, while embodying the whole studio practice,” Arsenault tells British Vogue of the decision to become KNWLS.
The redesigned compact logo, which Knowles says is “sharp, futuristic and sexy”, is better suited to product labelling and gives the autumn/winter 2021 collection a slick sense of precision and purpose.
The starting point for the edit was born out of a more diverting kind of self-confidence, however.
“We have two cats and we’re really obsessed with them,” shares Knowles.
“We thought their energy – and this untouchable kind of vibe – would be really cool to instil in a collection.”
Forget naff kitty prints, the pair found subtle ways of channelling feline spirit through the KNWLS lens.
The offbeat, sassy pieces in conceal-and-reveal ’90s silhouettes are, they say: “Streetwise, yet elegant; rough but bourgeois.”
Last season’s bootcut jeans are replaced with acid-wash corduroy – a product of much bleach experimentation in their factory in Italy – and a new loose, louche trouser shape has been added to the repertoire.
This is not the brand bending to our current reliance on loungewear, but because the creative double act don’t want to be pigeon-holed by their nostalgic, MTV-esque vibe.
“We want to challenge ourselves and explore what new categories mean within the KNWLS world,” notes the designer.
Dramatic shaved shearling gloves join the brand’s accessories line-up, along with chunky twisted iron jewellery that juxtaposes the wispiness of the classic KNWLS mesh pieces.
The introduction of a new bag manufacturer – one that produces leather goods for Chloé and Dior – has not been totally smooth sailing, owing to the current climate, but with influencer seeding and a new campaign, the pair is hopeful the market will pick up.
“The price point is a little higher for a young brand, but it corresponds with the quality,” explains Arsenault, before adding that KNWLS is still predominantly known as a clothing brand.
“It takes a while to get into people’s psyches [as something different].”
For now, there’s reimagined versions of the KNWLS signatures – which have won over Kylie Jenner and Bella Hadid – to keep fans happy.
Bustiers, strappy,second-skin tops, low-slung trousers and visible underwear give a “slightly bondage feel that’s also a bit combative”, enthuses Knowles.
But the sassy confidence of the lookbook and video belies the painstaking precision with which each angular neckline and tantalising piece of midriff-floss is realised.
Self-professed perfectionists, it will be this attention to detail that carries the brand, not its shiny new logo.
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