We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: novelty knits are prairie dresses for men. They are a complete outfit in one garment—a blessing for the man who loves the #fit but hates the #struggle. By way of explanation: the loopy and wild printed dress, seemingly plucked from a century-old postcard of the Great Plains of Nebraska and plopped down in Soho, has taken over women’s wardrobes because it allows you to do something weird without having to combine garments. Until this fall, it had no equivalent in menswear. And then designers—and now, you!—realized the sweater was a menswear opportunity opportunity of a lifetime. Put on the novelty knit with a pair of jean and loafers and you’re the coolest guy at any party. It is the statement outfit without the effort—a witticism rather than a wisecrack.
The novelty knit works under exactly the same principle. The novelty knit is a sweater between the classic—cableknit, v-neck, I would list a few more examples but I’m falling asleep just thinking about them—and the crazy and horrible Christmas sweater phenomenon that drives grown men to wear plastic-y sweaters with dull Santas saying something like, “JINGLE ALL THE BAE.” The novelty knit expends great quality, talent, and time on knitting a bizarre concept into life. It has shades of silliness—or quirkiness!—but it’s beautifully made.
Prada’s Fall 2019 collection was a gift to novelty knits. Inspired by the vulnerability of monsters, by “romance and fear,” as Mrs. Prada said, there were simply cut, well-made knits…in funky colors…with wild tufts of hair on the shoulders. (GQ has also featured these sweaters in our stories on Lil Uzi Vert and Pharrell. If we have an agenda…it is this sweater.) If covering yourself in fur is simply too far in the kooky Christmas knit direction, Prada also created an entire haunted forest entirely out of Shetland wool. That kind of commitment to a subtle narrative is what the novelty knitwear movement is all about. You can practically hear the werewolves howling. Warren Zevon is somewhere in the afterlife cheering it on while wearing one of them.
Prada isn’t the only big brand playing the novelty knit game, of course. (Nor did is it their invention—the Duke of Windsor popularized them, followed by Andrew Cavendish, the 11th Duke of Devonshire, who had a thing for inscribing inside jokes like “NEVER MARRY A MITFORD” on his knits. Gucci, you may recall, paid homage to this sweater in its Spring 2018 collection. But if I spend more than a parenthetical explaining how some old British people invented something I’m going to LOSE IT. I should add that Italian surrealist designer Elsa Schiaparelli was also a major player here, with her Tromp-l’oeil knits.) Loewe has some webby cable knits covered in stones and beads, kind of like those wooden mazes you give your toddler to make them a genius. What’s special about Loewe is that you can always see the hand, or the craft, in what Jonathan Anderson does. (And he’s Irish, so he knows a good sweater.) It doesn’t look like a machine ever touched this. This sweater also looks like a folk art interpretation of a beautiful river by which a fairy tale takes place. The prince is you…and the princess…is the sweater.
Speaking of princesses, Princess Diana knew her way around a novelty knit. She knew that the wrong sweater could send the right message—like the time she wore a knit covered in white sheep with a single black one. (It’s the novelty knit version of “it me.”) But her other knits, geometric rather than narrative, are perhaps more wearable. With that in mind, we get ourselves to perhaps the holy grail of knits: sweaters made by brands that only make sweaters. Like Survival of the Fashionest, a newish Dutch brand obsessed with the craftsmanship of knitwear, evident in this beautiful patchwork of colored shapes. Weird—but not distractingly so. Another emerging brand is Leorosa, founded just this year, which produces just six styles of simple sweater in the kinds of funky-snobby colorways you might find in a midcentury Milanese home.
And then there is Judy Turner, perhaps the queen of artfully made novelty knits. Her merino wool red sweater has leg of mutton sleeves and a drop shoulder. What other sweater can lay claim to an innovative silhouette? This is the ultimate in cerebral knitwear.