It’s interesting how differently (and wisely) you can choose to spend your little spare time when you don’t know when your next ten-minute break will come. These days I spend so little time online and instead look for inspiration somewhere else, mostly the everyday life, films and books. And it feels right. It’s fashion month, yet I haven’t viewed any collection whatsoever. I don’t miss that kind of information either. I would rather do myself a favour and watch a style-heavy movie – that, I can relate to much easier. So that’s the kind of fashion story I gravitate to lately – more personal, more practical, more real, more pointful. Right now this is about the only way I can write about fashion (I still like the discipline of sitting down, distilling my creative thoughts, while trying to make a sense of them visually, too) and find it relevant.
Photographer Bill Doyle’s The Aran Islands: Another World and this book are what started it all. This blog post, that is. Only recently have I learned in detail about all the craft that goes into the making of an original Aran sweater. I am fascinated with style pieces that have their own storied past, that are pieces of menswear (in the generic sense) history – that’s often the case when fashion is born of utility, and that’s usually when you can put an equal mark between fashion and style. The history of the Aran sweater is just as beautiful and intricate as the rich array of stich techniques that goes into its hand-knitting.
The garment has been worn by the fishermen of the Aran Islands (its birth place), off the western coast of Ireland, for hundreds of years. Not only has it kept generations of Irish fishermen warm trough their harsh and unforgiving winters, but it is a distinctive item, a work of local art and a reflection of the islanders’ lives and families. Each region and clan developed its own knitting pattern, carefully constructed (and guarded – rather memorised than written down, passed from generation to generation) and which can contain any combination of stitches, none of them incidental. They carried important information and had seafaring connections. The sweater was a badge of belonging to specific fishing communities and could be used to identify a specific member of a crew drowned at sea. The stich designs are inspired by Celtic art, architecture and design, and each stich conveys a unique meaning. The cable stich is a symbol of the fisherman’s ropes and represents luck and safety at sea, the diamond depicts, some say, the small stonewalled fields of the island or, according to others, the fishing net mesh, and is a wish of success and wealth, the zig zag stich represents the twisting cliff paths, while the tree of life is one of the original stitches of the fisherman sweater and it symbolises the importance of the clan and unity within. As for the traditional cream hue, it comes from the undyed, 100 percent virgin wool the authentic Aran sweater is made of. Indeed, every single design detail represents a story in itself. Designers only have to know where to look in order to draw plenty of inspiration from.
photos (edited by me, from left to right, from top row): first row: Bill Doyle / Michael Kors Fall/Winter 2012, via Vogue.com / Flickr / second row: Giles & Brother / Bill Doyle / Jean Seberg on the set of Breathless, 1960 (Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie, Les Productions Georges de Beauregard, Les Films Impéria) / third row: Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair, 1968 (The Mirisch Corporation) / Marko MacPherson for Vogue.com / source unknown (my mistake, forgot to bookmark it) / fourth row: Bill Doyle / George Pickow-Three Lions-Getty Images (Peter Faherty of the Aran Islands, c.1955) / Vanessa Jackman