Big Apple Dreamin’

Neos Kosmos speaks to Sydney-based knitwear designer Katherine Mavridis about her upcoming venture to the Big Apple

Two months ago, Katherine Mavridis faced a difficult decision: to complete her master’s degree at London’s prestigious Royal College of Art or Parsons’ New School for Design in New York?
“I just want to go and experience New York,” she tells Neos Kosmos.
“I think it’s going to open my mind as a designer so much.”
The young and ambitious knitwear designer, who was awarded a half scholarship at Parsons, is preparing to depart her hometown of Sydney next month for a two year stint in Lower Manhattan.
Despite the change, she won’t be short of creative stimuli. Trendy Manhattan is a hub of the eclectic, the beautiful and the fashionable. That is helping her adjust to the change.
“I’m very comfortable right now in Sydney. Two years is a long time, but it’ll be really great,” she says of her endeavour.
Katherine, an Australian of Greek and Russian heritage, had a humble upbringing in Mona Vale, in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Working from a little studio at her grandmother’s home, she makes garments to order, with plenty of beanies and jumpers for family and friends during the cooler months.
It’s not hard to see where the designer’s creative ability stems from, with both parents being musicians. She fondly recalls them travelling around the world on cruise ships, taking little Katherine along for the ride.
Growing up, Katherine showed early signs of a creative gift. She would dabble in drawings and always played music – she’s actually formally trained in the cello, flute and piano. But she never settled on anything, and on a whim, she picked up knitting.
“I decided to try and get into knitwear, they don’t teach it at UTS, so I just kind of went out on a limb and bought myself a second-hand machine off Gumtree and taught myself how to use it,” she says.
When the time came to decide what would follow high school, Katherine chose to pursue a Bachelor of Design in Fashion and Textiles at Sydney’s University of Technology. Without a final destination in mind, she didn’t quite take to it.
“I wasn’t really clicking with it from the start. I was just kind of floating through and not doing that well.”
It was her sewing machine that kept her distracted.
“All of a sudden I was creating knitted garments and pieces. I found that it was just such a great outlet for me, it fit my creative outlet really well – going from nothing and building something, just with one strand of yarn,” she tells Neos Kosmos.
The designer is motivated and inspired by the people and things she values most, with music being at the top of her list. She often describes her design aesthetic as “rhythmic… this idea of a pulsating rhythm that moves around the body”. If you look closely, the knits can overwhelm but also hug the wearer. Under weaving layers, the knits take on a life of their own, almost animalistic in their drapery.
It’s a unique style that you can’t find in the Australian knitwear market.
When asked whether she considers her designs more Australian or international, she confidently responds, “I definitely place my designs in an international market. They’re a little bit out there. I find the Australian market a little bit, I don’t know…” she hesitates a little.
“Conservative?” I ask.
“Yeah, conservative! That’s the word I was looking for.”
Her desire to learn from those she admired most in the industry would lead her to working with the renowned Australian fashion designer Dion Lee. She suddenly found herself knitting samples for the designer’s collection to be shown in the ready-to-wear component of the international Woolmark Prizes Competition. This would be a pivotal turning point in the emerging designer’s career, as it would reinforce her technical skills as a knitwear designer.
“I wanted to get some experience interning for designers I looked up to. I just sent him an email, and hoped to get a reply,” she recalls. “He was struggling with his knits. It was kind of perfect timing.”
In just a short time in the fashion industry, Katherine has been recognised on numerous occasions for her work in knitwear. Most recently, she was selected as a finalist in the iD International Emerging Designer Awards and received the Australian Wool Innovation ‘Award for Craftsmanship and Innovation’ for her graduate collection Metempsychosis. The designer was commissioned as part of a select few from tertiary design courses around the country, to create an outfit to be displayed at the iconic Strand Arcade in Sydney.
“It’s a really great opportunity to get more exposure,” she says.
When Katherine speaks of those she looks up to in knitwear design, most seem to originate from a cooler climate, which makes sense. So it’s somewhat surprising that the Northern Beaches of Sydney gave birth to a knitwear enthusiast.
“I’ve thought about that a little bit actually, because I’m drawn to leaving the body quite open and breathable with my knits,” she says, “I think that’s because I’ve grown up in such a warm climate. I’m really interested to see how the climate around me will change the way I design.”
As a rule, Katherine places an emphasis on quality and making personalised pieces. Although she views her work more as art than a fashion garment you can pick up off a rack in any commercial store, as time passes she is starting to appreciate the ability to make wearable pieces.
“I really love making things and seeing people wear and enjoy them. That’s one thing I’ve come to appreciate with fashion design that I never did before in my first two years,” she says.
Although Australia is continually producing some of the world’s most creative and innovative designers, the local textile industry has been in crisis for quite some time. Despite Australia being the world’s largest producer of wool, almost all of it is exported. As an emerging designer, Katherine is realising the challenges this poses for sourcing materials locally, and finds she has to get most of her materials from Italy.
“I try to get it from Australia… there’s just sadly not as much variety,” she tells Neos Kosmos. “Everything’s offshore… I’d really love to be an advocate for Australian wool.”
With her travels imminent and at the forefront of her mind, the possibility of visiting Greece while abroad comes up in conversation. “I’ve never been. I would really love to go and visit all of my relatives over in Greece. Won’t have to pay for accommodation over there,” she says with a laugh.
Katherine Mavridis has an interesting understanding of design and a deep appreciation for creating beautiful things – whether it be a garment that can be worn, or a sculptural object that can be placed in a room and admired.
“It’s not like I’ve been dreaming of being a fashion designer my whole life in that kind of sense – and I’m still not dreaming to do that. I just want to keep creating beautiful things.”
For further information on knitwear designer Katherine Mavridis visit www.katherinemavridis.com