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The Knitwear Brand to Know Now

Apr 20, 2018

As the fashion industry has evolved and expanded, so has the knitwear category. Originally a blanket term for sweaters, it has since unfolded to include a diverse mix of tops that range anywhere from woven sweatshirts to cable-knit cardigans.

Since 2013, Tabula Rasa, the brainchild of designer Emily Diamandis, has sidestepped the noise in this particular market to create collections that bring knitwear back to its textile-inspired roots. With Tabula Rasa, Diamandis has created a line where each piece is born out of a textile she and her team create from scratch. From there, they decide what shape it should take, whether it be a dress, sweater or even a cushion for the label’s home collections.

Just as textiles tell stories from various regions across the world, so does the Tabula Rasa customer. Comfortable, beautiful and versatile, the collections reflect the life of a journeywoman, yet remain functional enough to accompany her on day-to-day and global adventures. 

Delving further into Diamandis’ process, we asked the designer to reveal her insider view on the textile industry, the country that inspired Tabula Rasa’s latest collection and the vibrant locations worth visiting if you’re a self-proclaimed fabric fiend.

How did you develop your passion for textiles?

I grew up in a house full of textiles, and my father is from Bangladesh. Back in the day, Bangladesh was a huge place for textiles. Less so now, but it used to be home to a successful, exuberant textile industry. I also traveled a lot during my childhood. I was always in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Even as a young child, I would visit a place and closely look at its textiles. I also really enjoyed seeing a city’s weavers in action. I was one of those crafty kids that wanted to make stuff, so I loved seeing how it was done. As I became older, I developed an interest in fashion and particularly, how textiles play a part. My fascination with how they’re interrelated encouraged my decision to study pure knitwear. 

How did you decide on the name Tabula Rasa?

Tabula Rasa means blank slate in Latin. It took a lot of searching to actually find a name that connected to the brand’s mission and story. When we style ourselves and our homes, we begin with a blank space and build our personal identities and environments on top of it. I’ve always liked the idea that you can put your own imprint on any blank slate. I think that’s a great thing in life; there are always those chances to start again, reimagine and reinvent.

Tell us about the inspiration behind Tabula Rasa’s SS18 collection. What is it about Mali and the photography of Malick Sidibé that particularly spoke to you?

I’ve always been interested in textiles. My passion is discovering textiles from all over the world and seeing how varied they are. They say so much about the culture, people and history of each region. Mali has a really incredible textile industry; it’s very vibrant, very colorful, very bold. Malick’s photography really captures the essence of its textiles. He’s all about mixing big floral prints, bold stripes and polka dots into his photographs. He gives you so much to look at.

How did you decide to design handcrafted pieces for the home in addition to your RTW and Resort collections?

The way we dress and live are interrelated. On top of fashion, we’ve become much more interested in travel and our homes. It’s become one extension of yourself, the way you dress, your home and how you travel all interrelate in reflecting who we are as individuals.

What are the major differences between designing knitwear and designing pieces for the home?

There are definitely different scales to the design process. A stitch or a technique that works for a  sweater might not look as impactful on a piece for the home. Home items need to be more durable and functional. Despite this, a lot of the knit techniques I use can cross over. Quite a few people don’t know how to dress their homes, but with Tabula Rasa, you can approach it just as you would dress yourself.

You’ve described a two-step process for creating your knitwear. What does this process entail?

The great thing about knitwear is you have the luxury of making your fabric from scratch. With a woven, you go into a shop, buy fabric and make something. With knitwear, you get yarns and combine them using different stitches – whether it be macramé or crochet or jacquard or cable – and create your own original textile. In this way, there are two different stages to the knitwear process. I love and prefer this process because you can experiment until you find the coolest combination of yarn and technique. The next step is asking yourself what shape the fabric should take. Is it best for a jacket, dress or even a rug?

What type of woman inspires Tabula Rasa?

Definitely the modern journeywoman. She is busy, on-the-go and enjoys traveling. The great thing about Tabula Rasa knitwear is that it’s very versatile and comfortable with an easy bohemian vibe that the woman who wears it readily embraces. I see our woman as someone who enjoys and understands things that are slightly different and might have more depth to them.

You’ve said that travel is largely an inspiration for each collection. Can you elaborate?

Travel inspires our designs in that, wherever I go, I research the textiles of the region. In terms of the customer, the modern woman is always on the move. For me, I wanted to create items that are easy for travel yet still make a statement, whether it be loungewear, swimwear or even a plush towel.

What places in particular have played a part in shaping the brand?

India is my favorite place. I’ve traveled extensively, and it’s one of those countries where you discover new things with each visit. It’s just full-on inspiration wherever you go.

You launched Rag & Bone’s extensive knitwear department. How did the experience inform your next move in creating your own label?

When I started at Rag & Bone, it was a small company that hadn’t yet made its entry into knitwear. It was a great, go and get-it-done experience. I did everything from sourcing to pricing to playing a part in production and design. I covered the entire process from start to finish, which you need to immerse yourself in when starting your own brand.

You’ve traveled extensively and call New York City your home base. Are there certain spots that inspire you in your neighborhood?

Where I live is my favorite area. I’m in a part of the Lower East Side where there are many galleries and cool spots, like Kiki’s and Forget Me Not. It’s busy, but there’s still a really great community with interesting people.