I-Am-Chen AW19 Fashion Scout

For its fifth collection, named 'Unclassifiable', Chinese knitwear label I-Am-Chen focused on classic elements such as grid, line and point to provide an inventive and vibrant take on cold weather dressing. Chen Zhi, founder of the brand, carried out in-depth research on American abstract painter Agnes Martin for her latest collection, and it was with this creative approach she gave classic pieces a new life. The AW collection blurs the lines between fashion and art; classic manufacturing and state-of-the-art techniques. Currently a 2019 finalist for the International Woolmark Prize, I-Am-Chen showcased a capsule Woolmark collection alongside the AW designs.

Chen's abstract inspiration was prominent in her designs. Graphic checkerboard fabrics were layered with stripes, circle cutouts adorned polo neck jumpers, and scribble patterns decorated classic-cut pieces. With her use of bold and bright colours, Chen's designs blended minimalist approaches to fabrication with a maximalist palette. The vibrant collection was an antithesis to most of AW's runways, with its colour pops of sunshine yellow, sky blue, and candyfloss pink. Particularly striking was the pairing of light blue with tangerine. Keeping the look light was the choice of pointed toe mule and strappy sandal footwear.

Chen loves the juxtaposition of simplicity and richness, and this was apparent on the runway. Simple pieces such as chunky cardigans, slouchy trousers and midi skirts were provided with a touch of luxury through unexpected asymmetric cuts and intricate detailing. Scarves on the runway came in two sizes: oversized or very oversized. These were worn sash-like over the shoulder. While the overall look of the collection was slouchy, two bodycon knitted dresses provided a refreshing fitted contrast. The shape and styling of the collection was reminiscent of 1940s war time, with boxy midi skirts worn with oversized cardigans. Hollywood wave hairstyles and red lips complimented the looks.

As a designer whose origins lie in engineering, Chen says she has always felt like a creative outsider, uninterested in strong, concept-driven ideas. Instead, her perspective provides a vision free of fashion norms. Chen is passionate about showing that knitwear isn't just 'fluffy clothes', and while texture remains important, Chen's work pushes the boundaries between textiles and art to create eye-catching designs. This isn't a brand about hand crafting or intricate detailing: I-Am-Chen's pieces focus on the precision and efficiency machine crafted garments can achieve, whilst maintaining a high-end uniqueness.

By Alice Cruickshank. Images shot for us by Hannah Gordon-Smith.