When London-based designer Craig Lawrence launched his line of eccentric knitwear in 2009, his father begged him to get a "proper job." "He wanted me to work at British Telecom. He was just like ‘quit this fashion shit,'" jokes the 27-year-old. But after his pops saw Lady Gaga wearing his fall 2010 shredded metallic column gown on the cover of Grazia, he had second thoughts.
For the past five seasons, Lawrence has been dazzling the London fashion scene with his at once elegant and unkempt high-gloss knitwear. His extreme looks, which have ranged from gold foil gowns to voluminous Gothic dresses to wildly-proportioned shimmering looks, have been worn by Tilda Swinton, who donned his ribbon dress on the spring 2009 cover of Another Magazine, as well as Björk. Naturally, both unconventional beauties are muses.
Hailing from Ipswich, a town in East England, the Central Saint Martins-trained Lawrence had his first run-in with fashion as a small boy, while playing dress-up in his mother's shoes and a tea towel. The precious ensemble is memorialized on a postcard the designer created for the London fashion initiative NEWGEN, who has continually awarded Lawrence sponsorship since 2009.
A self-proclaimed control freak, Lawrence, who's the picture of an English boy with his piercing green eyes, freckle-dusted cheeks, and dry wit, was drawn to knitwear because he found ready-made fabric just wasn't good enough. "I like to make my own fabric. I think it's that extra step that always keeps me interested. It suits me more," he says, fiddling with the sleeves of his gray sweatshirt while sitting behind a knitting machine. In his studio, which is nestled in the back alley of Central London's Somerset House, the bellows of Cher streaming from a laptop are barely audible over the frenetic swoosh swoosh swoosh of an army of knitting machines. Thanks to the Swarovski Collective, who have lent Lawrence their support for the past two seasons, thread garnished with crystals sits in spools on a desk. "I'm always into new yarns and I like to knit with different things. Knitting with the Swarovski yarn is such a luxurious experience. It feels like jewelry," says the designer. His signature, however, is Kyototex, a soft cotton thread coated in metallic foil. "I was drawn to it because it's the pure opposite to wool. I've never been a knitwear designer to make wooly pieces." The combination of threads lends an otherworldly sheen to Lawrence's designs.
During his time at Saint Martins, Lawrence began working with Gareth Pugh and masterminded the designer's knitwear for his first six seasons. "Seeing his collections develop, when I was knitting for him, it was incredible. He can start off with a big square piece of fabric on the floor and then it ends up as something amazing," says Lawrence of his early mentor. However, his work with Pugh forged another essential relationship with Dazed & Confused's fashion editor, Katie Shillingford, who has worked on Lawrence's collections since his he was a student. "She's been amazing. She's styled all my shows," says Lawrence, who knitted the black bridesmaids' dresses for Shillingford's recent wedding (her gown was designed by Pugh).
Shillingford is also a key collaborator on Lawrence's high-concept fashion films, a platform he cites as essential to his creative vision. Set to debut in a few weeks, Lawrence's latest short film was shot by photographer and filmmaker Zoë Hitchen and stars his spring 2012 collection. Inspired by the English seaside, the collection's airy dresses and leggings in glistening blush, foamy mint and earthy cream are fit for any siren. "The film is really warm, overexposed and bright. I wanted it to feel really hot and sticky," says Lawrence of his latest cinematic endeavor.
For fall, however, Lawrence pulls away from last season's ethereal essence for a collection he describes as being "more accessible." Focusing on rich brown tones and separates, rather than his signature loop-stitched frocks, the designer pulls inspiration from travel, specifically the Golden Age of Flying and the grimy mega busses he's encountered during road trips. Playing off '50s conservatism, he notes that collection will be quite "covered up."
In addition to finishing his fall collection, which he will present during London Fashion Week, Lawrence is crafting a gown out of sandstorm cables for Dixons, an electronics company in the UK. A veritable sculpture of netted white wires, the dress serves to promote the brand's high-quality stock. "They're really amazing cables," says Lawrence, surveying his work-in-progress. He laughs. "See, Dad! I have got a proper job. I'm doin' stuff with cables!"