As the grey, cold, dark days of winter begin to take hold, the time for warm sweaters, scarves, and hats is drawing near.
For fashion-conscious New Yorkers eager to look hot even when the weather is cool, the Swiss company Ikou Tschüss has an unconventional solution – high fashion hand knitted by Swiss Omas.
“We work with Swiss grandmothers because they know how to knit really well. I can't knit the way a grandmother can,” Carmen D'Apollonio, a co-founder of Ikou Tschüss, told swissinfo.ch.
D'Apollonio has just set up shop in the trendy Nolita section of New York City with hopes of cracking the American market. The store, designed by the Swiss artist Urs Fischer, is as colourful as the yarns that D’Apollonio quickly knits together as she speaks.
She started the fashion label Ikou Tschüss, which specialises in handmade knitwear and crochet, as well as hand-printed garments, with her longtime friend Guya Marini in 2007.
For the duo, stitching together the unlikely combination of avant garde fashion and Swiss Omas was entirely design: “Swiss grandmothers know exactly how a pattern works and their quality is the best,” D'Apollonio said.
Ikou Tschüss' unique designs grace the pages of fashion magazines such as Vogue, Elle and GQ and can be found in 25 boutiques in countries including Japan, China, Britain and Spain.
D'Apollonio and Marini both learned knitting and crocheting at school when they were children. For both, it developed into a hobby and the two women would meet up in Zurich to knit together and talk Merino wool, cross stitches and new patterns.
They knitted for themselves or as gifts for loved ones until four years ago when a friend, who worked for the Paris-based fashion public relations company Public Image, saw commercial potential in their work.
“He thought it would be cool if we hung some pieces in the press office to see how people responded to it,” D'Apollonio said.
Within weeks, the top Parisian fashion boutique Collette was calling in orders. Shortly thereafter Ikou Tschüss – “Ikou” means “let’s go” in Japanese and “Tschüss” means goodbye in German – came to life, as did the need for a team of knitters.
“Working with Ikou Tschüss has created a project that spans several generations. These two young women [Carmen D'Apollonio and Guya Marini], who don’t fit into a certain pattern, follow their own fashion path,” Doris Helmsteiger, a Swiss grandmother who knits for Ikou Tschüss, told swissinfo.ch.
Helmsteiger adds that working for D'Apollonio and Marini is inspirational in part because the team gives her a creative licence, encouraging her to come up with original designs.
Ikou Tschüss' production is staffed exclusively by a team of ten grandmothers who retain the old crafts-womanly approach to handwork. In Helmsteiger's case it was a skill first taught to her by an aunt, and later, it was given out as a form of punishment in school for misbehaving. Today, it's anything but punishment.
“The grandmothers like to work with us and I think they like it because it's a different, more unconventional kind of knitting than they're used to,” D'Apollonio said. “We like working with all these grandmothers and it's like a little family.”
Eugene Tasi, a customer in the New York store and a friend of D'Apollonio's, buys an Ikou Tschüss signature silk print and crochet scarf for $390 (SFr389).
“I don't really like fashion that much… but this scarf I like the colours, they don't match in a traditional conventional way,” Tasi said. “Then of course I love the handmade with love way. I think you can see that – even if you didn’t know how Ikou Tschüss is made.”
And note to grandmothers in New York: If you have some love and a passion for knitting, Carmen D'Apollonio wants to hear from you.
“The cold winter is in front of the door, so I think I will sell some more sweaters. I ran out of hats already, so I had to knit today.” she said.
About Ikou Tschüss
The yarn that Ikou Tschüss uses is hand-dyed and sourced from developing countries. Presently the wool they are using is from Uruguay.
Before opening the New York shop, Carmen D'Apollonio worked as an assistant to Swiss artist Urs Fischer in New York for six years. Marini worked in Paris styling for fashion designers Andre Walker and Beat Bolliger.
Guya Marini runs Ikou Tschüss’ other retail shop in Zurich.
Ikou Tschüss also design their own prints for use on scarves, dresses, tops and pillows, applied by a proprietary oil printing method.end of infobox