Degen: Knit Witty

September 18, 2013

Lindsay Degen stitches sweaters with scientific skill

From the magazine: ISSUE 87, August/September 2013

If some of the squiggly interlocking polymers of fabric in Lindsay Degen’s line of knits, DEGEN, look a bit like the products of a high school biology experiment, it’s no mistake. The offspring of two geneticists, Degen found inspiration for this season’s collection while looking through some of her parents’ microscope slides. Fascinated by the strange, organic structures that weave together deep inside the walls of molds and plant cells, she began to see a correlation between the way these tiny building blocks of life make up a much larger, living whole and how her own garments are constructed. “I liked the contrast I saw between these micro and macro worlds, and I thought it related to knitwear really well,” she says. “Each stitch is tiny, and then you create a massive surface from them.” Degen works with the precision of a scientist, plotting out her approach in centimeters, then in stitches. Her sketchbooks resemble pages of advanced geometry homework, peppered with doodles of leggings and sweaters in colorful shapes and patterns. Working from a shared studio space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Degen produces every piece using a collection of hulking, hand-powered knitting machines, unsuccessfully marketed to grandmothers in the early ’80s as a way to help churn out holiday sweaters at an industrial pace. “The grandmas didn’t want to learn how to use them,” she says. “So instead they were adopted by DIY people like me.”

While Degen maps out her collections with academic rigor, the results are anything but stuffy. Her designs radiate a fantastically bonkers energy, from bra tops whose triangles look like clip art pizza slices to a sweater scrawled with the brattiest of four-letter-words, YUCK, in slime green block letters. With a background in performance art and time spent studying at both RISD and Central Saint Martins, Degen sees her garments as wearable conversation starters, and she’s happy to let her aesthetic choices remain open to interpretation. Contemplating the series of twisty green appendages appliqued onto one oversized cream sweater, Degen explains that there are no definitive pass/fail answers here. “Everyone sees something different. My boyfriend calls them Grinch fingers. My mom thought it looked like semen rushing towards an egg.” If she didn’t have that kind of playful attitude, all her hard work would feel more like detention than the experience she hopes to unlock for herself: irreverent creativity from the vast recesses of her mind. “In the end,” she says, “I have to sit there and knit that. So it better be fun.”

Models Taja, Christian and Shelly. All tops Degen, Christian's jeans PRPS, Shelly's backpack Jansport.

Degen: Knit Witty