Representing the creative future

Khanh Brice Nguyen on knitwear, experimental processes, and freelance work

The young designer pushes the limits of knitwear and questions the process behind the craft

Thanks to our caring nans who would wrap us up in scarves, cardigans, and Aran style jumpers at the slightest sign of a breeze, knitwear has become a synonym for comfort wear. Knitted sweaters and blankets might be known in our collective imagination as cocoons of coziness and consolation, but this is not how Khanh Brice Nguyen sees the craft of knitwear.

Rather than hiding the body with a thick woolen layer, Khanh’s knitwear designs embrace the shape of it and look more like a second skin once put on. He has always celebrated the traits that make each individual unique, going back to when he was a kid, dreaming about becoming a comic book artist. In fact, the first post-secondary course he took was animation. He tried it and quickly realised it wasn’t for him. “I didn’t like working in front of computers that much. To me, it lacked the element of actual craft and, most of all, I missed human contact and connection,” Nguyyen shares.

The foundation year he then pursued in Paris helped him rechannel his creative will into the most multi-faceted medium he could find: fashion design. Asked about what sparked his interest in knitwear over any other pathway, Khanh credits his experience interning at Dior. “To see how they worked from scratch, starting from the yarn to knit custom textiles in the exact colourways they wished, is what really sparked my interest in it,” he says, “and, even though I wasn’t involved in the knitwear department, I just saw so much potential in what they were doing.”

Monofilament graphics series

He then went on to intern for Sonia Rykiel, the label whose founding designer’s legacy is one tied to the “poor boy” sweater she created in the 1960s — a tight, fitted ribbed jumper that hugged, not hid, women’s curves. After this, he reached out to the contacts he’d made at Dior and asked if they could put him in touch with one of the knitwear mills they work with. There, in Italy, he spent a full year knitting all day long. “I’d say I learned everything there is to learn about the craft that is knitting. They worked with machinery, but still, all the textiles were made right there on the spot,” the designer explains.

“[Before attending RCA] I had the technique, but I didn’t know what to do with it.” – Khanh Brice Nguyen

So when he attended the Royal College of Art to do a masters in Fashion Knitwear the following year, the designer knew a thing or two about the matter. “I had the technique, but I didn’t know what to do with it,” he says about why he decided to do an MA. The first thing he did when he settled in London was to enroll in dance classes, which would later go on to change the way he thought about fashion design at large It taught him to sync with what his body was telling him. “That is when I clicked and knew I’d do knitwear that wouldn’t be obstructing to the body, that would let me and others express ourselves through our bodies,” he says.

Much of his work revolves around that conviction, starting with his graduate collection, entitled “Mindful Noise” which was made from start to finish with dancer Meshach Henry who collaborated as a fitting model and performer when the time came to showcase the designer’s pieces. As for Khanh, he says with a smile: “I sort of became a choreographer.”

“I made a mistake, and decided to embrace it.” – Khanh Brice Nguyen

Monofilament structures process
Monofilament structures
Collaroboration with Karoline Vitto

With Meshach he created a performance that managed to break out of knitwear’s usual aesthetic framework — the cosiest, snuggliest thing to wear. “I knew exactly the body I was working with, and I’d basically mold knits around it,” says the designer. Yet as much as the pieces were crafted for a particular body, the making process was guided by a music mix that Khanh prerecorded which included sounds of machinery metallic clanking and other studio noises such as people chatting.

This mindful, sound-driven approach brought about one of Khanh’s most defining design achievements: the drop stitch top. “It happened when I made a mistake, and decided to embrace it,” he says. If he had done things by the book, he would have fixed his knit’s dropped stitch right away before it turned into misaligned stitches. “I applied what I’d learned from the dance classes and let go of any doubts, allowing myself to experiment and have fun,” says Khanh. Another piece that came out of this “no rules” method is a top that’s got several tight rib knit and puffy vertical panels, that according to the designer resemble a jellyfish.

“Everything I knit is meant to embrace the body, its beauty as much as its imperfections.” – Khanh Brice Nguyen

Drop Stich series

Such pieces aligned with Khanh’s intent to help others become one with their outer selves, a desire that has defined his work ever since. The collection he released after graduation, called OULÍ, which means “scars” in Greek. “Everything I knit is meant to embrace the body, its beauty as much as its imperfections,” the designer says.

As Khanh’s body of work grew beyond the “proper” approach to knitting, he started linking up with other graduates and emerging designers whose work he respected. Besides his own namesake collections, drops, and design commissions for a range of projects like music videos and performance art, he opened a design studio, KBN Knitwear, to take on freelance work. Designers he has worked with so far include, but are not limited to, Ronan McKenzie (who is also a photographer), Karoline Vitto, Ludovic de Saint Sernin, Vejas Kruszewski, Charlotte Knowles, all of whom he admires and align with his views on personal identity, body positivity, sensuality and the lot.

“When I work with someone that’s on the same wavelength I am, then we get to feed each other’s creative drive.” – Khanh Brice Nguyen

The OULÍ series

He admits that financially speaking, this freelance path is the only way to keep his design career going. Still, when the time comes to collaborate, the purpose that a designer stands for prevails overall. “If they’re purveying a message we believe in, we’re likely to work with them,” he says.

Whether it is under his own namesake label or freelance work, Khanh’s statement knitwear celebrates — not hides — the body beautiful. “When I work with someone that’s on the same wavelength I am, then we get to feed each other’s creative drive,” he says, before adding: “I’m all about community.”