Snugly stylish sweaters are the most wanted items in a wardrobe. Without them, you may as well spend the winter in bed. That’s why I dream not of sparkly jewels or wads of cash but of owning an army of grannies who send me a steady supply of gorgeous handmade knits from November through March (yes, it’s that cold in Paris).
Turns out my fantasy isn’t all my own. Sylvia Toth, a Columbian designer who moved to Paris eight years ago, dreamed up a way to battle the bitter winter months by hiring a gang of knitters from her homeland. Lucky for us, she shares the handcrafted gems through WARMI, her artisanal fashion label.
Launched in 2008, WARMI is a Franco-Columbian brand that blends contemporary style with indigenous craftsmanship. Each collection is designed by Toth in Paris then produced in a remote mountainous village in Northern Columbia by a cooperative of women weavers. Though you’d think the name was just a funky new diminutive for “warm,” WARMI means “woman” in Quechua, one of the last living indigenous languages of the Andean region.
“The artisanal traditions in Columbia are very rich,” says Toth who discovered her knitting dream team at a native crafts festival during one of her habitual trips home. “Working with these women brings me back to my roots and builds a link between the two cultures,” says Toth who travels to Tausa several times a years to knit with the women and soak up the local color and traditions in order to feed it back into her designs.
Her whimsical animals motifs, for example, pay homage to masks worn during the annual Carnaval de Barranquilla. Inspired by their wild colors and graphics, she invents new species for her women to stitch, infusing her knits with a playful, folklore wonder.
In addition to her meticulously stitched graphics are sculptural works that blend art and fashion. “I think of the designs as objects, not clothes, because my background is in design, not fashion,” says Toth who layers organic forms, like leaves in her Eva Bolera, or waves in her Capeline Pauline, to build irregular shapes and volumes.
From complex stitching and embroidered detailing to intricate assemblage, each woman in the cooperative has her own particular strength. Toth not only designs with each woman in mind, she also encourages them to flaunt their personal style, resulting in a collection ripe with charming irregularities and individual quirks.
In additional to their subtle stylistic signatures, each baby angora, naturally-dyed design is tagged with the knitter’s name and the number of hours she spent making it. So when you get compliments on your one-of-a-kind, handmade knit you know exactly who to thank.
Stocklist: click here for list of boutiques where WARMI is sold
Special Orders/Bespoke: ParisBAO can organize a visit to the WARMI showroom in Paris to commission a bespoke creation. Contact me for more details.