The New KnitSHARE
A large pair of antlers worn on top of a striped mustard, blue-and-white beanie; brown tassel loafers worn with knee-high black socks and a thick knit coat; a model almost fading into the background in a cream jumper but for a thick grey scarf and beanie. This hinted at something very interesting lurking beneath the tag of the “the newest knitwear label”.
Knitwear. It couldn’t be any more general in that description but it’s apt: this brand, not quite two years old, is an honest-to-goodness exploration in knits, stitches and yarns. Laurence Zaoui – who, with Giulia Soche and Alberto Ferretto, make up the Maison Olga trio – explains the L in their name is for Laurence, the G for Giulia and the A Alberto.
“The ‘O’ isn’t another person; it just puts all the three of us together,” she says. They fell together in Paris when Ferretto and Zaoui met through a mutual friend and started dating. Zaoui was soon introduced to Ferretto’s family-owned knitting factory and to Soche, who knew Ferretto. From there, the three decided to start a journey in yarns.
“I saw all of the things in knitting and I realised it is really incredible. It is a very rich thing, all of the things you can do.” She thought about this, she says, for two to three years “because it takes time to quit your job, move countries” and then made sure those knits were something she could make a career – among other things – out of. “It started as something very small, it was more like a game for the first collection, done very fast.” So: Zaoui moved from France to Italy and Maison Olga was born.
Maison Olga are far from restricted by their material: each collection, she says, brings a new surprise; a transparent pattern on a barely-there knit top, exploring changing wools in the one garment. And, while knitwear might be a broad term, quality knitwear still proves hard to come by. “My friends said when they wanted to buy something in the store, it was either very cheap and awful quality, or good quality but huge amounts of money!”
Says The New Guard’s Anna Sergiou (it was here where we first discovered the lookbook): “I was instantly drawn to the impeccable quality and I knew it would work well with our existing brand repertoire as it perfectly hits the mark of a modern take on knitwear design.” Sergiou is one of over 40 stockists of the brand internationally. Having a knitwear brand catering for both hemispheres can’t be easy. “Yes, each collection we try to balance between the countries.” With all collections so far, the three have managed to walk the fine line between heavy wool coats with fur trim and those finer knits which see the Southern hemisphere through their winter.
This quality betrays Zaoui and Soche’s varied past – between them, they have done time at Jean Paul Gaultier, Louis Vuitton and Prada among others. Maison Olga, still though, proves a challenge for the designers. “When you have a very small label, you have to do everything from design to communication, whereas in a big company, you have one job which is very specific and you do your job which is more structured. Here, we do everything!” Zaoui laughs. After working at large luxury companies there was a desire to try something new and small, they have no rush to build a Maison Olga empire as yet. “I like the idea of being more confidential … Something I hate is people wearing all the same thing.”
Now based full-time in Italy (more specifically, 80km outside of Venice near their factory), ties with France still remain. Travel, she says, is a great influence; it creates “a surprise and tells a story season after season”. “I go back to Paris for research. It is important to travel.”
Living so far from a capital appears to force a more global viewpoint – the homepage of the brand’s website offers a choice of English, French or Italian to proceed in.
True to this international mindset, their spring summer 12 collection theme is Kenya and Africa – in it, fine transparent knits, colourful striped pieces, thicker mustard cardigans and small details such as surprising colour changes featured in the last collection. “I travelled in Africa … We saw great fabrics and succeeded to reproduce the design of the fabric in knitting which is amazing.” A version of leopard print, a bright geometric print, flashes of yellow and a go-with-everything nude cardigan. Being a start-up label in this economic climate isn’t easy but as Zaoui says, “There is always a place for novelty and if it works in a crisis context then it could be so great after! For a brand that’s not very well-known at the moment, we are very happy. It is very encouraging!”