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Designer knit sweaters that are chic and luxurious

Three Southern California knitwear designers use interesting yarns and patterns to fashion sweaters, ponchos and wraps that stand apart.

January 23, 2011|By Steffie Nelson, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Knit wear by Anita Arze.
Knit wear by Anita Arze. (Anita Arze, Anita Arze )

So far this year, much of the nation has been hunkered down dealing with ice, snow, sleet, closed airports and all the other facets of a particularly cold winter. And despite our local heat wave this last week, forget what envious people elsewhere may believe about Southern California being the land of "endless summer." Angelenos know that it's always best to heed Grandma's advice and bring a sweater — especially given the record lows we too experienced in early January. For cozy and fashionable alternatives, meet three local knitwear designers who have ditched the twin sets in favor of styles that are uniquely chic.


Cashmere is a constant in Soyun Shin's Soyer line. "It's the essential yarn," says Shin, who debuted her first collection of luxurious knitwear in fall 2009. Sensing an opening in the market for "a new vibe of sweater dressing," the 1993 Otis College of Art & Design grad began creating basics with a twist, elongating and widening silhouettes or using techniques of jacket construction so that her sweaters drape and wrap in unique ways. Shin sources her yarn and hardware in Italy and manufactures her designs in Shanghai and Hong Kong, where, she explains, the finest gauge machinery is available. Soyer's first spring collection, scheduled to be in stores in late February, will feature linen-cashmere and cotton-cashmere blends with the same nontraditional design ethos.

"Every piece has something that's novel," says Shin, noting the zippers inserted into the shoulders of one sweater, the brass buttons weighting the bottom of another, the crisscrossed bands across the back of a third. "When it's hanging you might not recognize the twist," she adds, "but once you put it on the body you go, aha!"

Soyer is available at Des Kohan and Mohawk General Store. Prices range from $300 to $600.

Anita Arze

Anita Arze grew up in Los Feliz but spent summers with her grandparents and cousins in Bolivia, and both influences are felt in her cozy, sensuous line of wraps, ponchos and sweaters hand-knit from sustainable baby alpaca by Bolivian artisans. Arze says she knew she would eventually tap into her roots. Having already designed contemporary sportswear for a decade, she was looking for something deeper when she launched Anita Arze in late 2008. "I needed more inspiration than just the creative," she says. "I wanted it to be conscious where it could be."

While most traditional Bolivian textiles are colorful and patterned, Arze has taken a typical native garment like the poncho and rendered it in modern, body-hugging shapes, in neutral creams, browns and grays — the natural colors of the wool. Spring and summer collections will include silk-blend and hand-loomed Pima cotton basics. One thing will stay constant: aiming for a line with broad appeal, one that works both sophisticated older women and young trendy girls.

Anita Arze is sold at Diavolina, Minnie T's and at Prices range from $175 to $450.


"I like the idea of glamorous nature," says Coryn Madley, a Topanga dweller whose deconstructed lace knits are inspired by things like spider webs and tree bark.

Madley is the owner of an eclectic boutique on Abbott Kinney Boulevard that's closing this month so she can focus on design work. Madley studied knitwear design at London's prestigious Central St. Martins College of Art & Design, graduating in 2001 with the collection that helped launch her line. "When I discovered the knitting machine it was like I found my instrument," she recalls. "I had always wanted to be a rock star, and I realized I could just make clothes for rock stars."

Recently, her "shattered" sweaters caught the eye of none other than Ozzy Osbourne, who commissioned Madley to design a floor-length sweater coat and mike-stand embellishments for his recent video and tour. With another project involving the estate of Janis Joplin, it looks like the spotlight is shining her way.

Madley knits are available at Curve and Church boutiques. More information at Prices range from $100 to $400. Custom designs can run up to $600.

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