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Knitwear goes sexy

By MARBBIE TAGABUCBA, The Philippine Star Published Feb 25, 2021 4:00 pm

Pandemic dressing is reshaping fashion as we know it.

“There’s a greater sense of self and comfort. You see more people dressing for themselves,” says fashion designer Rod Malanao. “With no audience to see what you’re wearing, you’re more inclined to dress the way that feels best for you.”

And what other textile can deliver both? Knits are the new athleisure. If sweats signify cocooning and hibernation, the new shape of knitwear exudes fluid, effortless allure.

When you slink into a knitted piece, the stretch skims your body. It makes you feel sexy without giving up the creature comforts of what feels good against the skin. When you see your reflection, you look as great as you feel.

 Knitwear designer Rod Malanao

Since graduating from De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde in 2019, Rod has made highlighting the human form with knit as his textile a guiding ethos. He elaborates, “The body goes through a lot of changes, it expands, it shrinks. It has a lot of similarities with knit.

“To see the human figure as a whole, to listen to your feeling self,” he elaborates. “It adapts to change, rather than hiding what makes your body different — to highlight it, that your body is yours."

If I can pinpoint the beginning of knitwear shedding its frumpy, cozy image to suggest the sensuality we now associate with it, it’d be September 2019, when Katie Holmes was spotted hailing a cab in a cashmere bra and matching cardigan.

 Getting warmer: Nadine Lustre in her “Wildest Dreams” visual album wearing Rod Malanao, Harry Styles in Loewe by JW Anderson at a Today Show rehearsal in 2020, Katie Holmes in 2019.

Around the same time, Rod was in his senior year of the Fashion Design and Merchandising program and had completed early studies with the textile using deadstock machine-knit fabric.

 “I was attracted to knit because of its malleability and intricacy that’s involved in creating a piece. Knit is pattern drafting and creating your fabric at the same time. I also like the connotation that knit is like a warm hug — a comforting textile,” Rod writes to us in between developing his upcoming capsule collection — which may or may not include a knit underwire bra in zesty green and orange.

Knits are the new athleisure. If sweats signify cocooning and hibernation, the new shape of knitwear exudes fluid, effortless allure.

The fashion school’s chairperson, Lulu Tan Gan, is the Queen of Knitwear, known for elevating knits, bringing the cool weather essential to the realm of elegant cocktail and formalwear since 1985; her alumna Rod is giving the warming, cozy textile some heat.

His graduate collection was in a palette of red-orange and yellow that ran the gamut of tangy to spicy like peppers, with hand-distressed yarns that, in movement, resembled a burning flame.

 Rod Malanao’s popular shrug: A commissioned piece by Mags Ocampo (leftmost) for Andrea Beldua (second from left), also worn by Nic Concepcion (second from right), and Patricia Prieto

What Rod must’ve been feeling while creating — what with knitting’s intrinsic isolated nature — one can only imagine. “I start with the figure or a feeling, the initial process is always related to my own body and my feelings. A lot of my work is grounded in emotion,” Rod shares.

This informs his creation process, too. Unlike other mediums, his designs do not always begin with a sketch. “It goes both ways. Some days, I knit without any idea of what the outcome would be — moving with the motion. Other days a shape comes to mind and I play with the idea.”

Fast forward to Nadine Lustre’s 33-minute “Wildest Dreams” visual album in November 2020, when the actress/singer wore a dress by Rod — a figure-hugging midi with slivers of skin showing through the black open knit

In the past month, Rod’s shrugs have been showing up as a favorite of some fashion girls, all with distinct style, layering it with swimwear worn as bodysuits or bra tops. First commissioned for creative director Mags Ocampo as a gift for photographer Andrea Beldua, Rod shares: “She liked it enough to have one made for herself, too.” It’s a versatile piece that actually keeps you warm, but not too warm, and without hiding your body.

Right now, Rod uses cotton or cotton blend yarns. He’s studying deadstock or surplus yarn, but for commissions on a tight deadline, it’s a ready available crochet weight cotton yarn for him. A piece can take one to two weeks of production, depending on the intricacy of the design and the logistics of his yarn supply.

He has also reissued his Knit Study collection, composed of long-sleeved and sleeveless knit tops with matching tights in Stabilo-bright neons — literally highlighting the body. When laid out flat as pictured above, they are shapeless, and only come to life on a human body, whether in flux or at rest, as Rod had intended. Sexy comes in all shapes, and Rod Malanao gets it.

Banner and thumbnail caption: Highlighting the body: Rod Malanao’s Knit Study collection in Stabilo-bright neons