Jennifer Wells and John Muscat
When I sit down to chat with John Muscat and Jennifer Wells of Line Knitwear, it feels like we should be sinking into a big comfy couch rather than sitting around a serious glass table. Which I lean on and almost topple to the floor. Naturally.
The design duo are so welcoming and so easy to talk to that it feels like a friendly get together rather than an interview. Having been friends for 17 years and business partners for 11, Muscat and Wells tend to finish each other’s thoughts or correct them.
They met in London, ON while Muscat was attending school and Wells was busy running her own store. After moving to Toronto, and waiting until they were both thirty, the two decided to stop what they were doing and start all over again.
“I tricked her into starting the line with me,” said Muscat with a devilish grin. “She made it clear that she never again wanted to own her own company so I told her I just needed a little bit of help with creative. She’s super passionate and obsessive, I knew if I fed her addiction she’d get herself into it.”Line Knitwear Fall 2012
After a rocky start that included a tsunami hitting their fabric factory in Asia, the majority of their shipping happening on 9/11, and a break-in at Wells’ home where all of the stock was kept (“They didn’t even steal one sweater,” said Muscat. “I kept asking ‘not even one?!’”), Line Knitwear began a slow climb up the ranks of Canadian fashion. Deciding to design knitwear after noticing a huge gap in the industry, Muscat and Wells started offshore production in Asia.
“Luckily for us, it’s become the trend movement now,” said Wells about knitwear. “Especially in the last four to five years, it’s been an upward moving trend. And we just happen to be in the right place.”
With a wildly popular brand, Muscat decided to launch a diffusion line in 2011 called John & Jenn. In addition to having a lower price point ($125 and under) the line is more youthful, colourful, and riskier than what fans are used to from the duo. When talking about the conception of the new brand, Muscat laughed and said he was able to once again trick Wells into imersing herself into the project. Noticing a need in the market for a sophisticated collection at a lower price point, Muscat and Wells created the brand for “the average girl who won’t spend her entire budget on just one sweater.” With Line Knitwear to fall back on, John & Jenn grew quickly and, after only one year, is already close to the size and account base of Line.
One of the most surprising parts of the new brand was the list of retailers who wanted it in their stores– the same retailers who already carried Line Knitwear and appealed to the luxury crowd above the ‘average’ girl.
“The snobbiness the [fashion] industry used to have is no more,” said Muscat. “I was surprised about a few retailers who wanted John & Jenn, but it’s what the consumer wants. Years ago these stores would never have offered this price point. The Topshops, Zaras, and H&Ms opened the doors for that.”Line Knitwear Fall 2012
It’s because of the new endeavor and added workload that Muscat and Wells no longer show a Line Knitwear spring collection on the runway. A year ago the duo were designing five collections a year, a number that has grown to 14 collections a year. Not wanting to compromise their spring collections (“We end up building this entire collection that’s not part of Line,” said Muscat. “It kind of loses the point. We want our runway collections to reflect what we’re selling in stores”), they’ve taken to only showcasing their fall lines on the catwalk.
Another recent addition to Wells and Muscat’s To-Do List is a collaboration with iconic Canadian powerhouse Roots. Set for release this fall, the designers and Roots teamed up to create a capsule collection featuring a different style of sweater for each chosen city. Included in the list is Toronto, Banff, Vancouver, and Montreal, whose sweaters range from tunic-length cardigans to a modern boxy fit.
“Different cities have different vibes,” said Wells. “We tweaked the sweaters for each city and it was just what felt the most appropriate and what was just right. I’m so honored to design with Roots. The heritage of the brand is so amazing and the people there are wonderful to work with.”
Continuing the collaboration into 2013, Muscat promises a new collection with Roots that will be totally unique and a true departure of what their fans are used to. But of course, he can’t talk about it. Wink.John & Jenn Fall 2012
While we talk about the almost-on-the-shelves collections for Line and John & Jenn, the two get into a hilarious commentary of who’s strengths are what and it appears that choosing colours is not Muscat’s.
“Jenn is the only one who can do colour,” he said. “We all literally sit around her and ask ‘Are you choosing colours yet?’ and she says something like ‘I feel the colours will happen this weekend’. For John & Jenn I said I wanted so much colour, colour this, colour that. The whole first collection was black, white and grey. When in doubt, I do charcoal. I have no opinion when it comes to colour anymore”
Fall 2012 of Line Knitwear was pushed by patterns, Wells tells me. Working with their archivist who can pull inspirational looks from any country from the last 200 years, storyboards contained vintage patterns, Parisian rug patterns, and knitwear as outerwear.
Towards the end of the interview, I commented that translating knitwear into a spring collection must be difficult and was met with “It’s done carefully.” Maintaining that knitwear definitely has a place in the spring, the duo outline that as long as the material and fabric are appropriate for the weather, most fashion conscious women will choose it over the plain white tee.
“As the collection grows and you have a market for it,” said Wells. “You become more aware of who the customer is and what they want and what’s going to sell.”
“We’re so in sync with creative now,” said Muscat. “We still fight over everything but we know what works. If you have a good partnership, there’s no person you trust more, but no person who pushes your buttons faster…in a good way.”
Bianca Teixeira writes about style for Toronto Standard. Follow her on Twitter at @BeeLauraTee.