In a male-dominated industry, few female designers manage to stand out. It might take extra guts for them to make it to the top of the fashion pyramid, though you could argue that having a strong personality and plenty of confidence always helps, regardless of gender. Born in Munich but based in Brussels, Alice Knackfuss has her own point of view when it comes to clothes and aesthetics. Her menswear-inspired line, a.KNACKFUSS, was presented by the FFI in London last month. She also took part in the Parisian edition of Showroom Belgium at the beginning of March. She sat down with us to discuss feminism, the beauty of menswear and why she doesn’t believe in fast fashion.
How old are you?
I’m 29 and will turn 30 this year.
Are there any items of clothing you couldn’t live without?
I love jackets, shirts and trousers. I also like the idea of items that can morph into something else, like a shirt turning into a dress, for instance. I haven’t designed any skirts this time, though I presented some last season.
Would you wear everything in your own collection?
Yes, I would. I think my clothes are realistic that way.
I was looking at the selection at Showroom Belgium and was surprised to see that female designers were in the majority this time. How do you explain that?
I think it’s a fairly recent phenomenon, to be honest. As we all know, the fashion industry is populated by men and most designers are actually guys, but I think this is about to change. What’s weird is that 80% of fashion school graduates worldwide are girls, while 80% of the best designers are men. There’s something I’m not following here.
Is it time for girls to get their voices heard?
I wouldn’t really say that, but we all know that the fashion scene is mostly gay and that gay men have a lot of power in the industry. That makes it more difficult for girls.
Why do you like menswear so much?
I think I enjoy the freedom it gives you. When a guy wears a suit, he doesn’t have to think about what clothes he’s got on or whether or not he is appropriate. In a way, it’s almost like a uniform. In our culture, women tend to show more skin and it can make them feel self-conscious. When I go to a party, I don’t want to have to think about my cleavage 6 times a night, or readjust some strap every 5 minutes. That’s the appeal of menswear for me.
Is comfort a key aspect, too?
Definitely. There’s something noble and reliable about menswear, which I can fully relate to. I’m trying to design clothes for women that would have the same features. They should be elegant, but easy at the same time.
And how do you give your clothes a feminine spin?
I use sheer fabrics, pleat details or re-adapt classic menswear staples to the female form. My aim is not to shock or provoke anyone, but to make clothes that are durable, substantial and timeless. I like to think that you don’t have be whippet-thin to wear my pieces. They’re made for women with real bodies.
I like to think that you don’t have be whippet-thin to wear my pieces. They’re made for women with real bodies.
Is that important for you?
Yes, it is. Not everyone is a size 34, even though some designers only seem to be interested in one specific body type. You have to be more inclusive than that if you want to grow your own business. I always think about different kinds of bodies when I design.
Is the fashion world misogynistic?
It can be. When I launched my own line last year, people told me it’d be tougher to succeed as a girl. Of course, most people who said that to me were men.
Who are your female fashion icons?
Chanel is a true role model. She liberated women from corsets and found inspiration in menswear pieces and fabrics, which was very new and revolutionary. She made her clients look elegant, while giving them extra comfort. We’re living in a different time now and women obviously have many more options to dress the way they want. I’d say everything goes, more or less. I just don’t like seeing body parts exposed if it’s not necessary. I don’t find bodies encased within super tight clothes sexy either. There has to be some kind of balance.
What are your very first fashion memories?
I remember the way my mother used to dress. She was a gifted seamstress in the 1960s and went to Paris twice a year to order Haute Couture patterns for her clients. She always wore stylish items that had intrinsic value. She taught me about beautiful clothes and why they should be respected.
What’s your take on high street chains and faddish trends?
I have one basic principle: instead of buying five cheaper pieces, only buy one with the highest quality you can afford. That’s the way I approach clothing and don’t think this will ever change.
Is that the way your mum used to buy clothing as well?
Yes, that’s how she used to shop in general. She bought one piece each season and that was enough to keep her happy. For instance, I don’t really understand H&M‘s collaborations with high-end designers. Is this really the right way to go about fashion? I’m not entirely sure, even though I have nothing against democratisation.
Do you think we’re going through a transitional period in fashion?
I guess we are. There are two extremes right now: fast fashion and hyper luxury. The thing is, there’s got to be something in the middle, otherwise there won’t be space for young designers anymore.