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An Interview with Berlin Based Knitwear Designer Lara Womann

Lara Womann is an upcoming knitwear designer, who’s label, Lara Severa, produces unisex pieces made entirely from yarn. Womann also handknits every single garment, highlighting the meticulousness of her craft, all the way from initial idea to final runway. Her pieces are both wearable and editorial, perfectly toeing the line between comfort and expression. Having previously worked behind the scenes for brands like YEEZY, she recently dropped her own inaugural collection, LARA SEVERA 001, signalling a new and exciting chapter for her semi-eponymous brand. The show took place in Berlin, where Lara currently lives, a city rapidly establishing itself as one to watch when it comes to emerging designers. I sat down with Womann to discuss her journey as a designer, the influence of Berlin on her designs and the journey of her recent collection.

When did you first start using yarn to produce pieces?

So I started knitting really young. My mum recently found a video of me at 4 or 5 with my yarn bag ready to go knit. I knew as a teenager I wanted to become a designer but I never really thought I could incorporate knitting into my designs. So, when I was 18, I started a tailoring apprenticeship and knitting at that point was just a hobby on the side, but the company I worked at happened to be Marc Cain. Marc Cain specialised in knitting and did all their production in-house. This meant I was able to learn about all the different machinery such as industrial and hand knitting machines. After I finished my apprenticeship, they let me become part of their knitwear design team and it kind of went from there.

What was the thought process behind choosing yarn as your sole material?

Just every time I used it in a design setting I became more and more in love with it. Once I discovered it, I just wanted to learn everything about it and really specialise in that one area. To me, knitting, and particularly the industrial aspect of it, opens up a whole new world of fashion because there are no limits. With the machinery, you can almost make anything you want, as well as having the more traditional hand-making side of it.

Do you find you are inspired by the qualities of the yarn in regard to the shapes and elements of your designs?

Yes, definitely. I’ve actually always thought that I’m a bad designer because I don’t start all my designs with sketches. I can sketch, but I prefer to see how a material moves and how it feels to then create a piece. Because of this I didn’t think I was going to be a designer at first, but now I see that that is just my particular design language. I start with the yarn, start knitting, then once I’ve knitted a little bit and I see how it moves, I can start to visualise the final piece. The yarn is the most important part for me, the yarn almost designs itself.

You moved to Berlin over the pandemic, has living in a city with such a creative community contributed to your design process?

I don’t necessarily think the city has, but the people here have, for sure. There’s a huge culture of unisex dressing here, especially from the men. Berlin is a really open city in that sense, which I love. I originally only wanted to do male clothing because I saw there being a need to make clothing to compliment this new energy regarding unisex and androgynous dressing that is happening in fashion right now. This collection however is unisex because everything looks equally good on a woman. I think people in general are my main inspiration, I often meet people and think “what would I knit for them”. In fact, a lot of pieces from this collection are based on people I’ve met - sometimes they know it and sometimes they don’t! I love people and they inspire me.

Regarding the unisex aspect of the collection, do you think yarn has a particular advantage in regard to breaking the gender norms associated with clothing, since it is not a material that has traditionally been gendered?

I think knitwear definitely lends itself to being unisex because it shapes to your body so well. I never actually used to do male clothing as, with my apprenticeship for example, it was predominantly focused on female clothing. I realised, however, when I started knitting, that it looks good on all body types, so in that sense, it is very gender neutral.

You recently had your debut show showcasing your collection LARA SEVERA 001, tell us a bit about the process behind getting this show ready.

I decided to do the collection around March. I was in Paris and was trying to apply for jobs, but because what I wanted to do was so specific, I was finding it quite hard to find something I wanted to do. Everyone kept pushing me to do a full collection and one time, when I was walking, it had just been raining and I saw a cobweb with the rain droplets on it and thought, I could knit that, and from that I just decided to do the collection. I then came back to Berlin and had a meeting at Soho House because I knew someone that worked there. I told her about the collection and she asked me if I wanted to do a fashion show there, and I said yes! It was quite a road to get there but I’ve been really lucky with people helping me out along the way. For example, an old friend from Uni found out about it, asked if she could be my assistant and she’s been with me ever since. I also reached out to Marc Cain when I needed more yarn and within two weeks, they sent me 1.7 tonnes of yarn left over from production of their last season. Lana Grossa also sponsored a lot of the metallic yarns that I used. It was really difficult but it all paid off in the end.

So, it ended up being quite a community effort in a way. Was this one of the messages you wanted to convey with the collection? What was the main thing you wanted to communicate?

As it was my debut collection, I really just wanted to show the world what you can do with no money, two hands and yarn. I’ve always been slightly wary of putting my work out in the world, as it takes a lot of effort and once you put it out, people can judge it. However, throughout this project, I’ve really learnt how to just get out there and ask for help. I think you do end up going really far when you ask for help. Like you said, it did end up being a real community effort and there was a lot of teamwork involved. The unisex aspect was also really important to me and just showing a different side of knitting in general.

What can we expect to see from you next?

Next week I’m actually flying to Los Angeles with the collection and, at the SohoHouse there, I’m having a ‘knit couture’ exhibition. I’m trying to open up this genre as it’s quite new. I’m also working on my lookbook right now to send out to buyers and also to figure out how to reproduce some of the pieces, particularly the accessories, so they can be in stores. At the end of the year, I’ll probably start knitting the next collection!

Image Credits: Timotheus Theisen