Thu 4th February

AGR’s Alicia Robinson is Crafting a New Generation of Knitwear

Text   Dino Bonacic

Born out of a love for colour and a good party, AGR is the kind of brand that contradicts the traditional idea of knitwear while respecting the craftsmanship behind it.

There’s only a few elements of life that have had a good start to the new decade. American democracy, wellbeing apps and, of course, knitwear. This category of clothing best-known for their appearances in your grandma’s closet and being eaten by moths have had a true revival over the last couple of years. Gone are the days of dowdy cardis that are only there to cover you up – modern-day knits are all about making you feel sexy while maintaining the sense of comfort the fabric is best known for. One of the brands that is leading this revolution is AGR, a South-London based label founded in 2018 by Alicia Robinson. Making the visual impact of an Instagram brand, but working with high craftsmanship of a heritage fashion house, AGR is a brand of a new generation that brings the best of both worlds. 

AGR’s latest collection, for AW20, is a celebration of bold colours and different techniques, allowing for individual personalities to shine over trends or narratives. “I’m not really concept based, but think of colours and fabrics I want to work with. It’s a rolling process where everything is constantly changing – a lot of development, swatches and colour cards,” Alicia explains. Instead of strictly going by seasons, she has worked on her own schedule, dropping collections in a see-now, buy-now way. This current one, which you can shop on Browns and SSENSE, added new woven pieces and non-knit categories to her offering, while still keeping in with the brand origin story. The campaign, shot by Britt Lloyd, pays homage to old Benetton ads which embody the love of community, which is also at the core of AGR.

AGR AW20 Campaign; photo by Britt Lloyd

Growing up with her mum as a knitwear designer, Alicia learned the craft very early on in her life before going to study knitwear at Chelsea College of Arts. “I just find it interesting that you make the whole thing from scratch – you basically make something out of nothing. The funny thing is, there’s so much mathematics involved in it, and I’m not very good at maths. I always need a calculator, there’s no doubt about it,” she laughs. After graduating, Alicia honed in her skill set while freelancing with brands like A-Cold-Wall, James LongMissoni as well as Kanye West’s notorious label Yeezy

It was her experience with Kanye that made her feel confident as a creative soul and not just a knitwear expert. “I was freelancing for them so they used to send me patterns or specific directions and then I decided in which yarn to do it. But then two days before the [Yeezy Season 4] show, they asked me for another piece. I said I can make it but that they just had to trust me. So I made and sent it, and [Kanye] loved it and opened the show with it. Then Kim [Kardashian] posted it. It made me feel great about myself as a designer and like I really tuned in to what he wanted. That’s probably why I’m still working with him now,” Alicia remembers. “It’s also nice because he really likes the weight of things I make. I like my knitwear to be quite heavy, and a bit more dense. Because if you’re paying £700 for a jumper, you want it to feel like £700 – not just a bit of air.”

Another partnership that was pretty formative to launching AGR was her work with London designer James Long. In 2014, James was one of the hottest emerging designers on the scene and Alicia was trusted with coming up with knitwear designs for his SS15, which stood out for their textured motifs that resembled 3D animal prints. “ There are so many different elements of what you can do to it. For me, it’s all about adding the colour and pattern – it changes it completely from a boring grey Debenhams jumper to something really exciting. You can always add so many different processes to it, which I’m always trying to explore. Whether you dye on top of it or bleach it or embroider into it,” Alicia shares.

James Long SS15, with knitwear by Alicia Robinson

This constant interaction of textures and textiles is something that catapulted AGR into stardom as soon as it launched. In a now notorious tale of destiny, Alicia created custom knitted pieces for 15 of her friends to wear to Notting Hill Carnival in 2018. The party vibes and vibrant patterns of her designs were captured in an impromptu photoshoot and the Canadian retailer SSENSE expressed their interest instantly. Soon after, she officially launched the brand with them. As Alicia puts it herself: “This really set pace for the brand in terms of being wild and crazy, and also related to big events. It started with the Carnival, then we did a EU/ Brexit jumper last year… My brand rolled with different things that were happening which I think is quite exciting.

After skipping the SS21 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Alicia is gearing up for teasing the AW21 collection in the coming weeks. For the first time, she’s showing the collection in advance in order to extend its reach, with some pretty major new additions coming into the mix. “We’re bringing puffer jackets and jerseys for tracksuits… We’re trying to explore different avenues which will make the collection easier on the production side, so we’re not always waiting eight weeks.”

One of the biggest additions to the AGR universe, though, is slightly less sexy. This year, Alicia upgraded to a bigger studio and acquired an industrial knitting machine which will allow her brand to grow at an even greater pace. In her bid to focus solely on AGR, this new acquisition will not only allow for a smoother, less time-consuming production process but also more improvisation and creative freedom. “When performers ask for custom stuff, it will be amazing to be able to make something in two days instead of six weeks. But I also want to do way more projects with artists in painting or graphic design where we can just whip up a small run of 20 and let them sell out on my own website,” the founder says, explaining how this could potentially work as a second branch of AGR. “We’ll have the super high-end things in the stores, and then the more graphic madness for my own e-com. There’s a different vibe – some of my customers want things that are mad, and then Browns and SSENSE customers want it a bit more sophisticated and calm.”

AGR's development for AW20

With some grand plans for the future and great potential to excel them, AGR is becoming one of the most exciting emerging brands of the 2020s. Alicia’s clear, contemporary vision of design that goes beyond size or gender emerges the kind of sex appeal that celebrates individuality. “I’ve always looked at using elastic and cotton, which means that a lot of my pieces can be worn on a size 8 but can also stretch to a size 14. What a lot of girls have said is that those pieces make them feel super sexy. They have ruching at all the places that you feel a little self-conscious about but then it sucks you in at the same time. I also love adding elastic straps you can have them tied or wear however you want to. That’s the element that really brings it into being sexy.”

Shop AGR’s latest collection at Browns and SSENSE.

@agrknit

AGR AW20 Campaign; photographs by Britt Lloyd