Time to cast on a new British look

You probably hated those hand-knitted cardies you wore as a kid, but your granny knew a thing or two about style.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The British are good at many things. We know how to write a song; we know how to cut a frock; we can spawn shockingly good artists; our architects are in demand the world over, and we can make a corking jam roly-poly and custard. But what the British are really, really good at is knitting.

Far from knitting and purling being dismissed as a traditional old granny craft, designers are increasingly taking up the challenge of making brighter, stronger and more modern knits.

British design team Clements Ribeiro have made their mark with stripy cashmere twinsets and jumpers that have scored points with shop buyers, customers, and their factory in Scotland. The designers know a good thing when they see one and they travel up to Hawick four times a year to the Barrie factory to oversee production of their knits. "When we started the cashmere market was a disgrace," says Suzanne Clements. "If it was cashmere, it was big, baggy and frumpy. We've seen the market changing quite rapidly. Cashmere is now seen as much more of a fashion thing while a cashmere T-shirt is a basic wardrobe staple." For cashmere production, Scotland really has the cachet over, say, Italy. It's something to do with the quality of the water used to wash the wool - it makes the yarn fluffier and bouncier.

Clements Ribeiro aren't the first designers to see the potential of Barrie's quality knits. Chanel knitwear is produced there, too. While morale was low in Hawick at the beginning of the Nineties because the cashmere market was seen to be dying, young workers now take pride in pinning cuttings from Vogue of Clements Ribeiro's bright and refreshing stripes on their workplaces. The best morale booster of all has been the designers' Union Jack jumpers which, of course, have been a huge hit in America and Japan.

Another fan of the Scottish knitwear industry is Martin Kidman, the 38- year-old designer who spent nine years as design director at Joseph before starting his own label three years ago. "The collection is a very quiet thing," he says. "It's about being sweet and charming and not over the top in any way - an English version of Agnes b or APC." Kidman now has quite a following of women who love his style and tailoring, but who cannot get enough of his utterly charming knitwear. His knits are low key and classic, simple jumpers in muted shades of grey or pale lemon with an unexpected piece of detail like an inside out seam, or a scarf with pockets at each end. Kidman specialised in knitwear during his degree at Brighton, then went on to study for an MA at St Martin's in London. He left in 1985 when British designers were in demand the first time round.

Knitwear is having a fashion moment right now - it somehow seems more appropriate than structured tailoring. Kidman is keen on the whole knitted outfit look - jersey trousers or knitted skirt, with a prim jumper - as championed by Sonia Rykiel in the Seventies. And for those who can't afford over pounds 100 for a jumper, you need not be deprived of a little Martin Kidman magic: he consults for Jigsaw and you will notice top-to-toe knitwear in their range over the next few seasons.

Edina Ronay is a designer who has made traditional knitwear off and on since the Seventies. Her collection for this autumn/winter has gone full circle, to the days when Ms Ronay ran her business from a market stall, to include sweet, hand-knitted Fair Isle sweaters with a Thirties look. Her pieces, shown to press and buyers from the comfort of her own Chelsea home, are hand-knitted and have the charm and nostalgia of home-made knits that might have been made specially for you by a thoughtful relative. "I've always kept a huge following for handknits," says Ms Ronay whose knits are so popular she is working on developing a diffusion line to be made by machine. "Handknitting is a dying craft; knitters are an ageing community; in fact they should be a much more expensive and rare commodity than they are."

And if all of this still seems to be a little too tame for your taste, take a look at the collection by Fake London. Desiree Mejer, the label's designer, has been in business since 1993. Mejer's great idea is to patchwork together the best parts of worn-out old cashmere sweaters. The collection ranges from harlequin patchwork sweater dresses like the one pictured here, to jumpers bearing patchwork Union Jacks in bright or muted shades; what better way to fly the flag for British knitwear?

Left: Fine 3-ply Merino wool rust sweater, pounds 215, by Edina Ronay, from a selection at Mimi, 309 Kings Road, London SW3 and Sam Brown, Fulham Road SW10. Inquiries 0181 789 8557

Right: Cashmere sweater, pounds 338, and camel skirt, pounds 333, both by Clements Ribeiro at Hervia, Royal Exchange, Manchester; Liberty, Regent Street, W1 and Selfridges, Oxford Street, W1. Inquiries 0171 409 7719.

Above: Yellow sweater, pounds 115; long scarf, pounds 75; grey light wool trousers, pounds 145, all by Martin Kidman, Tokio, 309, Brompton Road, London, SW3; Liberty, as before; grey satin embroidered shoes, pounds 155, by Patrick Cox, 8 Symons Street, SW3. Inquires 0171 730 6504.

Left: Harlequin dress, pounds 750, by Fake, from Browns, 24 South Molton Street, London W1. Inquiries 0171 491 7833.

Stylist: Charlie Harrington Hair and Make up: Helen Bannon for Bannons Hair and Beauty Model: Michelle Gontier

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