Design

Here and Now: Pearle Knits Revisited

Kat Herriman

Photography by Conor Rechtschaffner

Photo Nov 21, 6 07 35 PM
Designer Michaela Rechtschaffner and Root Wilton, her daughter.

I saw the genius of fashion designer Michaela Rechtschaffner’s knitted tube tops unfold in real time, on a 2019 beach vacation with girlfriends, where garments circulated like microphones passed drunkenly at a karaoke bar. Completely unassuming on the floor of a suitcase it looked like a piece of calamari with a pearl belly button, and yet her pieces became the week’s favorite, pinning up the group’s confidence no matter the cup size. It literally looked good on everyone, a shapeshifter conforming to its wearer. I kicked myself for not jumping aboard earlier.

Pearle Knits had first appeared on my radar in 2016, about the time it hit the shelves of the now defunct Opening Ceremony. That was the brand’s first wholesale account—as it was for many emerging labels—the one that made the designer polish a side hustle into a purposeful business. But sitting amongst the other up-and-coming offerings at OC, Pearle Knits had limited rack appeal when I first saw it. To be honest, I was suspicious, in the way I often am when a debut seems to dovetail with a meteoric rise of social media applause. While I like to think that this prejudice doesn’t hamper me, I had to contend with the fact, when I found myself wearing one three years later, that I’d passed over Pearle Knits without any evidence. The sting of the thought of what else I might be missing was only deepened by the joy I found in luxuriating in Rechtschaffner’s tops knowing that others could too. Like Issey Miyake’s iconic and eminently packable pleats, Pearle Knits has invented a new staple, one that offers a blueprint for a more inclusive—an easily travelled with—sexiness.

Michaela’s sister Soleé Darrel.

This week, Pearle Knits launches its first collection since its founder gave birth and moved back home to Canada to be closer to family. A testament to the metronomic rhythm of production that the designer has set for herself, the new collection is a discrete fall-winter capsule with five new colorways and a two-sided tank top pattern which she spent the summer developing. “I work when the baby is napping and when they go to sleep,” Rechtschaffner says. “I go at my own pace. I’ve found that customers who are interested in my work tend to stay around.”

An almost one-woman show from its inception, Pearle Knits has evolved alongside its founder—her loom her only and ever-present colleague. “My poor old knitting machine,” she coos. “It’s been so good to me.” Motherhood has profoundly impacted all parts of Pearle’s business, including its offerings, which now include babywear. I like the idea of a brand expanding as Rechtschaffner’s child ages. “Honestly for me the pandemic hasn’t been the biggest change in my life, it was becoming a mother. My daughter was born just before it broke out in North America. Becoming a parent is conducive to this moment, so I almost got into a pandemic state of mind before I went into lockdown,” she says by phone. “Before I had a baby, I always was tempted to go bigger, because even if you aren’t necessarily looking for it, people are always approaching you to grow. When I had my baby, I reexamined it all and asked myself, ‘Do I want to create this big brand that becomes hard to maintain, or should I just carry on with what I’m capable of personally?’ If the customers aren’t willing to do that with me maybe they aren’t the right clients for me. I need to hone in on what I can do, and hold myself accountable to the boundaries I set for myself.”

Michaela’s grandmother, Patricia Smith, and mother, Renee Rechtschaffner.

The campaign for this season exemplifies this attitude. Its stars, Rechtschaffner and her family, pose together in a backyard—three generations clustered together, dressed in various nudes, showcasing once again the breadth of the brand’s body flattery. Rechtschaffner’s first idea for the campaign had been to cast a mother-daughter series, but she was happy to change course and even happier that her family members all acquiesced. “Quick and dirty” has always been the name of the game when it comes to Pearle Knits imagery, so consequently the content you’ll find on the Pearle Knits Instagram feed and website radiate with the personal warmth and urgency of a Mark Borthwick zine. “I’m not into really produced work. I want things to feel easy and that extends to what I want when I’m looking at a photograph,” Rechtschaffner says.

One of the things the designer is most excited about with this collection is not just the color palette, which is inspired by skin enhancing neutrals, but the introduction of XL and XXL, which will open up the brand sizes in the 12–18 range. This is the kind of expansion Pearle is seeking. A true designer, Rechtschaffner’s vision for fashion is about meeting her customers where they are and asking for the same respect in return.