Designer Spotlight: Angela Chen

I used to think knitting was too crafty, too grandma,” says designer Angela Chen over lunch at Café Nuba in the Waldorf Hotel this past February, “but it can be super modern and give you so much volume to work with. The possibilities are endless.” At Toronto’s LG Fashion Week in April, Chen sent everything from body suits to capelets to oversize collars, to off-the-shoulder sweaters to bustiers to tulle-skirted dresses (in a strict palette of white, black, and grey) down the runway for her fall/winter 2011 knitwear collection. She was inspired by the artwork of Jonathan Lasker—“I love his sporadic, freehand lines and spontaneous use of black and white with contrast colours”—and played with different textures, stitches, and weights of yarn to achieve body-conscious cling and sophisticated movement in each piece. Known for structured minimalism, Chen’s work (celebrated universally in Canadian fashion press and seen on style-savvy celebs like Chloe Sevigny and Kirsten Dunst) had a more playful, easy energy this season. She knit 90 percent of the collection herself, which reveals not only her determination, but her desire to be in total control. “It would be my biggest nightmare, any designer’s biggest nightmare, to cede control of my creative work.”

Born in Taiwan and raised in Vancouver, Chen, 28, studied at Parsons in New York City, and interned with Marc Jacobs, Anna Sui, and Carolina Herrara before returning home last year to focus on building her own fashion label. One might think it counterintuitive to leave a fashion epicentre for the far-flung West Coast, but Chen feels more inspired and focused sitting in a Main Street coffee shop with her laptop and sketchbook than she ever did amid Manhattan’s bustle. “New York makes you tough, but it’s exhausting. Besides, there’s incredible energy and momentum in Vancouver right now, with so many more stores willing to support local designers, more fashion schools, more bloggers, just a bigger community than ever before. Now’s the time to be here, at the start of a movement.”