Layering just may be the most enduring fashion "trend" of all time. While other trends come and go, layering is seen on the runways and streets season after season, year after year. What makes layering so appealing? For one, layering transcends categories. It can be classic - note the prepster in his oxford shirts under pastel crewneck sweaters; but it can also be rebellious and avant-garde - think Alexander Wang or Gareth Pugh. From a financial perspective, layering is good for business: consumers are more likely to buy a piece if they can use it in multiple ways to build different looks. Layering is also psychologically satisfying - it's the clothing equivalent of comfort food. There's something protective about wrapping oneself up in multiple layers of soft fabrics, like a clothing cocoon. One feels safe, nurtured and ready to face the elements.
Prepare then, for the latest layering innovation: wool.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Michelle Kim, Design Director at With&Wessel (pronounced "Vitt and Vessel"). With&Wessel was originally established in Norway at the turn of the 20th century by co-founder Cathrine Wessel's grandparents, creating products for the sport and boating industries. Wessel, along with co-founder Stian Tolnaes, have redeveloped the brand into their new and innovative fashion line, premised on the undeniable stylistic and practical advantages of layering.
Wearing wool while growing up in Norway, Wessel and Tolnaes understand wool's ability to regulate body temperatures. More recently, they discovered that wool could be made to feel very light and soft, sitting comfortably next to the skin - sans itch. They were inspired to design a line of fashion basics that would change people's perception of wool, and to demonstrate that wool can be used to layer with just as much success as cotton and modal jerseys. Pieces from the line come in varying fabric weights: semi-sheer ultra lightweight jersey, lightweight, mid-weight (which Kim notes, is "great for men"), ribbed and French terry. Despite the many ways in which wool is superior to cotton, one would not normally think to take the bulky wool items in their closet and, from them, assemble a layered outfit. But due to their thinness, With&Wessel's woolens are eminently layerable, right down to one's undergarments. By flipping through the brand’s online lookbook for its inaugural collection, one would be amazed at how light and airy wool garments can be. From tank tops to skirts to jumpsuits, the pieces have a wispy, ephemeral quality, not previously associated with wool.
There's something protective about wrapping oneself up in multiple layers of soft fabrics, like a clothing cocoon.
As Design Director, Kim designs the collections for With&Wessel, working closely with Wessel, the Creative Director, to brainstorm ideas and bring them to life. A large portion of Kim's day is devoted to research, and she is regularly seeking out inspiration, both in the media and streets, to guide her design sensibilities for the line. But it's Kim's attention to the details of each piece that sets the line apart. In many ways, Kim is designing with herself in mind. As a consumer, she wants the pieces in her (personal) collection to fit exquisitely and look and feel effortless, and she brings such practical considerations to the design of With&Wessel's pieces. For example, Kim paid significant attention to creating a soft, yet durable, elastic waistband on the line's leggings and skirts, as she is regularly bothered by pinched skin from poorly designed waistbands. No doubt, most men and women can relate. Kim is especially enthusiastic about the line's 100% wool French terry fabric, which initially, the textile factories told her was impossible to produce. Nevertheless, she stuck to her vision and now With&Wessel is the only fashion line that offers the extremely soft wool.
The notion of wool garments and warmer climates is not a common association, especially in New York City, where With&Wessel is headquartered. Kim is not conforming to the status quo of how and when wool should be worn. She maintains that traditionally, bathing suits used to be made out of wool. If the wool is thin enough, it is possible to wear it in warm weather as well as cold. In addition to being warming or cooling as needed, wool is more odour absorbent than cotton and doesn't need to be washed as often. The With&Wessel line of wool does not need to be dry-cleaned; one only needs to wash and hang dry. Moreover, wool is more affordable than cashmere, so consumers won't break the bank trying to assemble a multi-piece, layered outfit.
Kim believes that the brand will keep evolving. For With&Wessel, this will mean experimenting with different wool weights, exploring different fabric base lines and options, and making sure each item is "always as soft as possible." So far, the brand is enjoying its "new kid on the block" status. "We just had our store opening party on Elizabeth Street in Nolita on Fashion's Night Out, which was exciting for us to be apart of. We had a great turn out of guests, from friends, family, to fellow fashionistas who were trying on the clothes, buying them and mingling out in front of the store on a night of perfect weather," said Kim. Guests snacked on Norwegian salmon and sipped the Scandinavian liquor provided by their hosts. In handling the soft fashion basics, guests savored the thin, diaphanous pieces in their hands with wide-eyed amazement: "they couldn't believe that it was wool!"
Photographs courtesy of With&Wessel.
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