At Home With… KNWLS
Running a brand today is no mean feat, especially if its rise has been as stratospheric as that of KNWLS, the London label run by British-Canadian duo Charlotte Knowles and Alexandre Arsenault. After three standout seasons at Fashion East, the pair quickly became the label beloved by stylists and celebrities alike (fans include Dua Lipa Caroline Polachek, Megan Thee Stallion, Julia Fox, Kaia Gerber and the Kardashians, to name but a few.) With an aesthetic that blends futurism, sex appeal and nostalgia to intoxicating effect, we visited the pair in their South London home to discuss art, interiors, and their forever muses - their cats.
Where do you live and how long have you lived here?
Charlotte: So we live in Waterloo - kind of between Waterloo and Southwark. We’ve lived here for three-and-a-half years.
Alex: More than that! Four-and-a-half (Charlotte laughs). Maybe since we started the brand… ish?
Is it just you? Any pets?
Alex: We have Izzy and Yumi, our cats.
Charlotte: Our little babies. We kind of share them with my sister because she lives across the courtyard, so we pass them between us.
Can you tell us a bit about your respective upbringings - where did you grow up and what influence did it have on you?
Charlotte: I grew up in Hampshire, in a little village called Brownshot.
Alex: I grew up in Mascouche, on the outskirts of Montreal in a tiny, suburban town.
And you both met at Central St Martins, is that right?
Charlotte: Yeah, we met on the MA. Alex was in the year above me doing menswear, and I was doing womenswear. For one of our first year projects we had to assist a second year with their graduate collection. Then we ended up dating, and then when Alex graduated, he helped me with my collection. From there we decided to start the brand.
I love it, it’s like the apprentice becomes the boss.
Alex: Yeah, I mean she was never really the apprentice! I was a complete mess on the MA - she was more like emotional support.
Charlotte: (Laughing) We went through a lot together in that first year. We were both a bit traumatised after the MA.
Alex: We were like - if we can work together at our worst, then we can definitely do a brand together!
Charlotte: If we can get through the MA together then we can get through anything.
What would you say your respective skillsets?
Charlotte: I think Alex is definitely a Virgo. He’s very organised, loves a structure; loves having a path that’s a bit planned out. I’m kind of the opposite - I’m pretty sporadic and a bit all over the place. I think that’s how I like to design and work. But we complement each other in that way - we meet in the middle.
Alex: Charlotte’s way more intuitive and if she has an idea, she’s gonna see it through. Whilst I’m like: “We should do that.” And then kind of expect that it’s going to get done… Instead of actually doing it! The more we grow as a business, the easier it becomes for me and the more difficult it becomes for her. Because there’s more structure that needs to be built around things.
Are there any areas where you clash?
Charlotte: We clash quite a lot, but usually about creative stuff. It’s usually if I’m going a bit off the plan.
Alex: Or if I’ve spent two weeks, sorting something out or exploring all the things we could possibly do - for example, choosing fabrics. And then Charlotte says she wants a fabric that’s completely different. I’m like: “No. I’ve spent two weeks on this, you’re choosing one of those two!”
Charlotte: Or I’ll suddenly just get an idea for something I’m really passionate about and do it, and Alex will be like: “Why are you doing that when we talked about this?” So that’s the kind of thing we fight about. But I feel like we fight less now - we used to fight quite a lot, when we didn’t have employees and it was just me and Alex in the studio. We’d literally be screaming and throwing fabric at each other. But now we have to behave, because there are other people around!
How would you describe your home?
Charlotte: Fresh and calming and quite eclectic.
Alex: Charlotte likes everything that’s really small and close to the ground.
Charlotte: I wanted it to feel cosy and homely. I feel like all the things I’ve chosen are quite homely.
Alex: Like the tiny chair (Alex points to a miniature chair in the corner) that doesn’t fit anyone!
Charlotte: I sit in it sometimes… The cats love it.
Alex: And then we love having lots of plants around.
Do you have one aesthetic for your collections and another for your domestic space?
Charlotte: I think the aesthetics definitely do cross over, both aesthetically and in terms of colour schemes and texture.
Do you have a favourite item in your home?
Charlotte: I think my favourite thing in this room is probably the lamps. They’re vintage 1960s and they’re quite rare. Lighting, for me, is quite a big thing - it can make you feel really relaxed. They give off this really warm red hue, so I love them. Also (Charlotte gestures to the painting behind her) this is one of my best friend Shaan Bevan’s artworks. It’s nice living around stuff that your friends have done.
Alex: Yeah, we have Anousha [Payne]’s as well, and then one by Charlotte’s cousin, Charlie Billingham.
Charlotte: And because they’re friends, I do trades. So it’s not like I have to spend loads of money! So yes, it’s probably the artworks and those lamps.
How do your home and your surroundings influence your work?
Charlotte: I think living so centrally in London is quite amazing for us, because we can just walk out the front door and be on the river. The Tate is just round the corner, as is the Old Vic.
Alex: A lot of the things that inspire us are either nostalgic, or interests that exist in the digital world, so the house becomes like an escape from that. Obviously we work all day, every day, so it’s nice to have this place which doesn’t remind you completely of everything you do all day.
What are your feelings about digital fashion? Or is it more about looking for inspiration in the digital world to translate into your collections?
Charlotte: I think it’s more that way round.
Alex: I think that people are really interested in the Metaverse and yes, there’s potential for it in the future, but I don’t think we’re at the point where it’s immersive enough for people to actually want to live in the digital world. So I think it’s more about people who find escapism in video games and movies. I think that’s how we’re interested in it as well - I grew up with video games, and it’s really part of my upbringing and my escapism. I love cartoons and animé and all these things, and we try to inject them in a subtle way into the brand.
Charlotte: I think the fantasy aspect of the digital world definitely inspires our woman, especially with this new season that’s coming out. She’s this futuristic, animé character.
You mention the KNWLS woman - what’s been her evolution since you started?
Alex: When we started the brand, one thing that we said is that we don’t have people associate it with just one thing. We wanted to create this world for this new digital woman. We saw that Instagram was really picking up and that there was this new demand for clothes that wasn’t there before. It was kind of at the tail end of #MeToo and everyone was kind of scared to be sexy. Then Instagram came out and it created this layer where it gave back women control of how they wanted to present themselves.
Charlotte: I think the KNWLS woman has also become more multifaceted over the seasons. She’s definitely matured and gained more and more confidence and reassurance of who she is. I feel like every season it’s become more of an exploration of all of the sides of her, which for me is the really exciting thing about doing a new collection. It’s like: “Oh, what’s she going to be like this season?”
Alex: That’s the thing - we just went and created the world for this new kind of digital woman, and each season is an exploration of that world. We never do a “theme” - it’s much more emotional and about how we feel about the Zeitgeist, that we then interpret in that little world. So we discover a bit more every season. We like to change things up as well.
Charlotte: Which makes things more complicated for us! But it wouldn’t be fun otherwise.
In your opinion, what makes a house a home?
Alex: Living there for long enough! And filling it with things that are important to you. Also, our cats.
Charlotte: For me, it’s filling it with items that you’re genuinely in love with. When we moved in, it took us quite a long time to fill this room because I didn’t want to just go and buy stuff. I really wanted to make sure each thing I bought was something that I loved.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and who would design it?
Charlotte: I feel like my answer is really boring - there was this one house on Grand Designs that I was really obsessed with called The Flint House. The whole of the outside was clad in flint stone that was carved by hand. In the sun it reflects - it looks like it’s covered in jewels. I can’t remember the name of the architect but she would definitely do my house. Somewhere in the countryside - maybe the south of France.
Who would be your dream dinner party guest and why?
Alex: Mine would be my grandma, because I haven’t seen her in seven years and she dreams of coming here. (To Charlotte) You’ve never met my grandmother, so it would be nice.
Charlotte: I would love to have dinner with Munroe Bergdorf. I think she’s such an icon - she’s so strong and she’s just done so much.
What books do you have in your home?
Alex: My favourite book is a fantasy series that I’ve been reading called Wheel Of Time. It’s a bit cheesy but kind of amazing.
Charlotte: Isn’t it a 12 book series? And each book is so thick and the writing is really tiny?
Alex: Yes… We also have a lot of picture books. We have this amazing Dior gigantic book that basically covers the whole of Dior’s history, and one on metal and hardcore punk culture.
Charlotte: I really want to read the Andy Warhol diaries. Our friend Jake [Burt, of Stefan Cooke] read it and said it was just amazing - so bitchy and sassy, but kind of fabulous. I also often read “mum books” - like A Thousand Splendid Suns, or Life Of Pi. I love a journey book when I’m on holiday.
Photography: Jonathan Middleton
Styling: Sally Bottomley
Interview: Georgia Graham
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