This New Jean Paul Gaultier x Knwls Collaboration Is Catnip for Fashion’s It-Girls
Endorsements like these are the hard-won successes of a brand that has taken all the right measures to survive. No longer an emerging designer label and not yet a household name, Knwls occupies a rare (and therefore precarious) position in a hostile fashion landscape. “It’s about survival,” Arsenault says. “Brexit fucked young designers, and then Covid, and then Ukraine. The conglomerates took this as an opportunity to buy factories to try and snuff out the competition, but we challenged ourselves to learn about business. Now we need to compete with brands that are bigger than ours.”
Perhaps the apex of these efforts is a hand-braided corset that took a little less than 12 months to complete. It is almost mournful to look at. “That’s one of the most amazing pieces we’ve ever done,” Knowles says, holding an iPhone to the camera. “I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to work outside of commercial restrictions. I felt like a student again.” The piece is hourglass like a Jean Paul Gaultier perfume bottle, and its leather has been screen-printed to resemble an eroding vert-de-gris statue. It feels like a forgotten piece of arcana, a once-glamorous showgirl, stepping back into the limelight.