by Camilla Ridley
We're incredibly excited to launch our first fully customisable, British made knitwear collection in collaboration with Virginia Wool. I caught up with founder Ginny Ramsay to talk about the new collection, her inspiration and inside knowledge on how to spot quality and the best way to care for your favourite pieces.
Our new Ridley London clotted cream Eden polo-neck is pictured here with our new printed floral silk Martha midi skirt. All pieces in the new Ridley London knitwear collection has been designed in collaboration with Virginia Wool and are hand knitted in London and can be made to measure
I hope you are all well and have been enjoying the last few weeks of late summer sunshine before the weather inevitably turns and it really starts to feel like autumn out there. With the temperature set to drop this week and the evenings rapidly closing in, it’s definitely time to think about our wardrobes for the season ahead. The onset of winter can often feel a little depressing, particularly with the prospect of further covid restrictions, but it shouldn’t have to be like this. I’m taking comfort in the idea of bracing walks and snuggling up in front of a fire. And winter shouldn’t have to mean compromising on style. As Elite Pitchers recently pointed out in Vogue “wearing good clothes can lift the spirits immeasurably”.
For me, a good winter wardrobe is encapsulated in a few flattering, versatile essentials and an intelligent approach to styling and layering. Giving one the ability to seamlessly move from a cold, damp climate to centrally heated buildings while consistently maintaining an aura of effortless chic. The right choice of fabric can really help. For example silk is a fabulous winter material, luxuriously soft on the skin with magical insulating properties: learn more here. This winter it's all about the beautifully cut ethereal dress with balloon sleeves. The magically elongating skirt with extra swish. And of course the obligatory boots and biker. Above all catwalks and collections from Armani to Zara have all featured this season's must have ‘box cut’ cardigan. Easy to shrug on and off, sensationally slimming and versatile to style into with a variety of looks.
With a belief in the importance of knitwear as an essential element of the winter wardrobe, we've have teamed up with boutique British label Virginia Wool to create a capsule collection of high quality woollen winter essentials. And like our Ridley London silk and cotton dresses, every piece is individually made to order locally from the highest quality materials in each customers choice of colour and most flattering fit. So you can now perfectly match a cardigan or sweater to a skirt or dress. I caught up with Ginny Ramsay, creative director of Virginia Wool to introduce our exciting new collaboration and her uniquely personal approach to creating high quality, modern pieces.
(from top left) Some of samples from this season's Ridley London Knitwear collection. Camilla and Ginny discussing early prototypes of key pieces. The new two tone Marley jumper in burnt orange and chocolate marino wool paired here with one of our new maxi skirts in the rose gold opera printed silk satin
Hi Ginny, so first of all, do you want to share a little bit about why you set up Virginia Wool?
Hi everyone, and thanks so much for inviting me to be part of this post Camilla. Yes, so I set up Virgina Wool hand knits 2 years ago having been away from the fashion industry being a mum. Like you, I grew up with a real interest in fashion and craft. Originally I learnt to knit with my grandmother and spent a lot of my childhood designing and creating pieces, but instead of dresses for me it was all about scarves, jumpers and hats. In fact I knitted my way through art school, an acting career, and eventually landed a job with Brora’s ‘custom’ knitwear team, which I loved. Having had some time off to bring up a family, I noticed things were changing. Issues like sustainability and ethics were becoming far more important, and there was definitely an emerging interest in craft. Like you, I felt there was an opportunity for fashionable pieces, that were made here in the UK using traditional techniques and high quality materials that would stand the test of time. And most importantly I could indulge my passion!
You're obviously completely passionate about knitwear Ginny, what do you think makes it such a fashion essential?
The thing I love about good quality knitwear, including hand knits, is that they’re great value as they really last. Especially if you look after them properly. I’ve got pieces in my wardrobe which are over 30 years old which I still love and wear regularly. In part this is because most knitwear also tends to be fairly classic in style with subtle nods to the latest trends, so it won’t go out of fashion quickly, which means you can get a lot of wear out of pieces over multiple seasons. For example a great chunky knit is an absolute design classic which will work with a variety of outfits, from long skirts and dresses to skinny jeans. And it can be easily dressed up or down for a variety of occasions. So it’s incredibly versatile, and it’s so easy to grab a jumper or a cardigan that you know really flatters you and just throw it on and suddenly you have an outfit. Finally, I also think there’s a lovely ritualistic quality. As temperatures drop, one can take a lot of comfort in snuggling up and cocooning yourself in a favourite jumper of cardigan. Like an old friend, something you know is incredibly warm, soft and flattering. You just feel great. For me knitwear really gives back, especially if you buy something that’s made to last. So as a designer it means I can really invest in the quality, craft and ethics of each piece. So there’s a real authenticity and integrity there.
Like Ridley you make everything in your collection to order here in the UK. What are the benefits for customers?
That’s right, like you everything is hand knitted to order by myself and my team of craftspeople here in London. Making things locally dramatically reduces the environmental impact associated with shipping stock from factories on the other side of the world. It also means I can ensure the quality of each piece is absolutely right and the process is entirely ethical and everyone is properly looked after. It also enables us to adjust each piece for each individual customer. So they can have something that’s completely unique in the colour of their choice. For example, we’ve matched this season’s Ridley knitwear collection with the colours in your beautiful Liberty print silks and cottons. So customers can have a cardigan or sweater in a colour that absolutely matches their silk skirt or dress to create a distinctive outfit. Finally dimensions like hem and sleeve lengths can be adjusted for a more flattering fit.
(from top left) every piece in the new Ridley London knitwear collection has been hand-knitted in London from the softest, ethically produced marino wool. (Bottom) The new Daisy Cardigan in grape worn here with the new Deborah Maxi skirt in the blue forbidden orchard crepe silk Liberty print
What difference does hand knitting make to the quality of your garments?
Great question. Every hand-knit item is unique and slightly different even if they’re made from the same pattern. So unlike mass produced factory made garments, hand knit pieces all have a unique character and a definite feel of craftsmanship to them. Our skilled knitters use a number of specialist techniques to make each piece which would simply be too time consuming on a production line and very difficult to automate. For example, all of our seams are individually hand stitched using a double mattress stitch which is invisible to the eye. So you end up with something much neater but also far more durable as this join gives greater structure and support to the garment which helps to avoid snagging, stretching and wear and tear, which really helps our garments to stand the test of time. The hand knitted approach also enables each piece to be personalised, in effect made to measure. Again, this just wouldn’t be practical on a large production line where pieces need to be made quickly and shipped in volume.
Why did you choose to make the new Ridley London knitwear collection out of Merino wool?
Merino wool is a pretty amazing natural material, it’s arguably as soft as cashmere but far more hard wearing, incredibly warm and has some pretty unique qualities, like very effectively regulating body temperature in both warm and cold climates as well as being anti-bacterial and therefore repelling odour. So a Ridley London jumper can be washed less which will help it last longer. And any shed particles naturally biodegrade, unlike so many man made fibres. This is why merino wool is often specified in under layers for high performance environments like skiing and cycling. All of the items within the new Ridley London knitwear collection are hand knitted from exceptional quality merino wool supplied by Rowan, one of the most trusted wool brands in the UK. All of their merino wool is ethically farmed using best practice standards for animal welfare and sustainability. For example, Rowan sheep avoid mulesing, an extremely cruel and painful procedure. There is absolutely no child labour within the supply chain, natural dyes are used and the highest environmental standards are adhered to throughout, including waste disposal. Ultimately this means Ridley London customers can shop safe in the knowledge that they’re getting something of made from exceptional quality natural materials, produced to leading ethical and sustainability standards.
Does this mean that a Ridley jumper or cardigan will last longer than other off the shelf / mass produced varieties?
Absolutely. At Virginia Wool we really spend a great deal of time testing our designs and constantly looking for ways to improve their quality and make them last longer. I really believe customers today are far more aware about the sustainability of their clothes and are prepared to pay a little bit more for something they know is unique and locally made to last a lifetime. The alternative is all too frequently a mass produced item shipped from a factory on the other side of the world which is made to be as cheap and profitable as possible. The fabric and finish is generally inferior and will therefore not last as long. There’s also this idea that built in obsolescence ultimately benefits the manufacturer as it forces people to buy more. I can’t express how outdated and wrong this attitude is. I think we’re all now well aware of the terrible price of fast fashion, from both an ethical and environmental perspective. And it’s great to see how many of the major influencers in the fashion world are now fully on board with the idea of buying better, and items that are made to last.
Earthy colours are a key part of the new knitwear collection for this season including (from top left) the Ginny polo neck in olive and oatmeal merino wool worn here with a new Ridley London maxi skirt in the divine painters silk satin Liberty print. (Top Right) The new Lily Jumper in olive and ink merino wool worn here with the popular Ridley London Sammy maxi skirt in green Standen Manor Liberty Print wool is perfect for cooler winter temperatures. Finally (Bottom) The Polly polo neck in olive and ink merino wool is worn here with a new Sammy maxi skirt in the popular Persophone Liberty print in super soft tana lawn cotton
Do you have any tips for prolonging the life of a favourite piece of knitwear?
I like to think, if cared for properly, one of our Ridley London jumpers or cardigans will give the wearer many years of pleasure, warmth and style. As I said previously, I have jumpers in my cupboard that I made 30 years ago that are still in perfect wearable order, if a little lived in! Handknit jumpers should be dry cleaned or gently hand washed and dried flat (I use a towel). It’s generally best to keep them folded rather than hung so as not to pull them out of shape. A sealed bag (even vacuum packed) is a good idea for the summer when they’re not being worn as much, to protect them from the moths. Even well made knitwear can occasionally pill. I would advise never using a cashmere comb which will drag more fibres out. In stead, gently pull them away by hand. To help our customers, we offer a Virginia Wool repair service, so any snags or issues can be invisibly mended and your jumper or cardigan can be kept in pristine condition for years to come.
Are there any designers or things that particularly inspire your collections?
I’m definitely inspired by nature and will often return from a dog walk excited about a new colour combination or keen to experiment with new textures. With the distinct seasons in the U.K there is never a shortage of inspiration. I also love making trips to museums both here and abroad - a visit to the V & A and its' exhibitions of fashion and costume through the ages never fails to get my creative juices going. I wouldn’t be able to pick out one specific designer but always keep an eye on the catwalks and new fashion graduate shows are often particularly exciting and full of new ideas and energy. Finally your collection this season, your beautiful new floral print maxi dresses and skirts have been an enormous inspiration and really the starting point for our new Ridley knitwear collaboration.
What are your favourite pieces in this seasons Ridley collection?
I’ve got my eye on the Octavia Midaxi dress, and the Milly silk shirtdress in that gorgeous new floral paisley print the Liberty print cotton Tara dress is really stunning and I love the new Deborah maxi skirt - in fact I love the whole collection!
I'm really glad you like the new dresses and skirts in the collection Ginny, they look absolutely great with your fabulous jumpers and cardigans. The whole Ridley London collection for autumn winter 2020 including the new knitwear is available to shop on our website and in our Barnes store in a host of fabulous colour combinations. I hope you have a fabulous autumn and do get in touch if you have any questions