While watching the KNWLS models stomp down the runway at London Fashion Week on Sunday night, I thought: “I want to be one of those women.” And I’m not the only one who wants a slice of what KNWLS is serving. In the five years since the label was founded by Brit Charlotte Knowles and her partner, Montreal-born Alexandre Arsenault, the brand has amassed quite a following–and earned an LVMH prize nomination Renowned for its gritty, high-femme reinterpretation of 1990s and Y2K fashion, Bella Hadid, Kylie Jenner, Dua Lipa, Julia Fox – and even Beyonce – can be counted as fans.
The designers, who met while studying at Central Saint Martins, are taking advantage of their momentum. Just a week ago, the label released a collaboration with Jean Paul Gaultier: a 42-piece collection marked by a buzzy party with SSENSE in New York, attended by inhabitants of the KNWLS universe like Doja Cat (who took to the the Grammys red carpet earlier this year in a custom leather gown hand-crafted by Knowles and Arsenault), Ice Spice, and Paramore’s Hayley Williams. “It was an amazing party,” says Knowles over Zoom, speaking to me a few days ahead of the Spring 2024 show. Of their collaboration, she adds, “it just felt like a very natural thing for us. [Jean Paul Gaultier’s] always been such a huge inspiration for us, so we already had a bunch of references ready to go.” The pair are close friends with JPG’s creative director, Florence Tétier, who echoed the seamlessness of the partnership in a statement: “Their world is really connected to the legacy of Jean Paul Gaultier and it made total sense to give birth to this collection inspired by the very specific vision of the women’s body both brands have,” she said.
Meanwhile, the brand’s mainline collection, presented at the end of London Fashion Week, was an ultra-refined presentation of what KNWLS does best. Closing the show was porn-actor-turned-social-media-superstar Mia Khalifa and model Lily McMenamy (her mother, supermodel Kristen McMenamy, was an OG Gaultier muse), wearing a bespoke piece from the collaboration: a mint leather corset with crochet trims, complete with swirl bustier details in a nod to the conical bra. “Seafoam and mint green are colors we’re exploring this season, alongside zingy shades like coral. It feels fresh and unpredictable, a slight departure from earthier tones,” says Knowles. This palette extended to updated brand favorites, such as the Claw moto jacket, Fang and Razr bags, and new iterations of footwear in the form of slouchy, over-the-knee boots that no doubt will be splashed all over Instagram and TikTok come spring next year. “We wanted to think of a way of maturing what we've been doing; make it feel more elevated whilst retaining the energy and the style of what we do,” continues Arsenault. “It was about exploring what we know best, but taking it to the next stage.”
The design duo’s love of painstaking couture techniques, a là Doja Cat’s Grammy’s ensemble, came through in the intricately beaded fringed dresses and a cobwebby, full-length dress rendered in finely beaded thread. “To us, making these pieces is the ultimate creative expression,” says Knowles. “It’s like an art piece. We want to do more of this but we just need to find the resources to do it!” Having recently hired a bigger team, including a production coordinator and someone to take care of the business and revenue side of things, they’re certainly moving in the right direction. So, what’s next on the KNWLS agenda? A new collection, of course. “We’re working on next season already, because we moved our sales schedule,” says Knowles. “We also have some more exciting collaborations coming up in 2024 but that’s a secret…” One thing’s for sure, the brand's cult following will continue to grow.
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