Outfit, women's, 'Charlotte', hand-loomed knitwear, top, skirt, wrap, nylon / acrylic, designed by Vivian Chan Shaw, made in the workrooms of Vivian Chan Shaw, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 2002
Vivian Chan Shaw has been an enduring figure in Australian fashion for over 30 years and has, in an industry renowned for its trend driven volatility, an extraordinarily loyal local and international clientele. This collection of outfits were designed by Vivian Chan Shaw and made in her workrooms in Sydney between 1973 and 2002. They reflect the evolution of her distinctive design signature from appliquéd jersey pieces and funky youth orientated knits to the sophisticated hand-loomed knitwear she is best known for.
Chan Shaw has created a signature style which surpasses seasonal trends and uses the knitting medium in an innovative and experimental way to create clothing that fits and flatters a wide range of figure and age groups, is comfortable to wear and easy to wash, and packs small and light for travel. These are attributes not usually associated with contemporary fashion whose prime focus is on production and marketing to a size and age range often limited to the young and slim, and with an economic imperative to constantly reinvent and renew itself. Chan Shaw has provided an empowering and original, fashionable alternative for women, many of whom feel dispossessed by mainstream fashion.
Chan Shaw started her label with a range of hand made one-off jersey garments featuring hand rolled edges and elaborate applique designs. Even at this early stage her outfits were constructed for comfort and designed with drawstrings and wrap and tie closures providing flexibility of fit. They sold through her first retail outlet, Jeunesse, established in 1972 in the Royal Arcade, under the Sydney Hilton Hotel.
By the late 1970s Chan Shaw was including a few hand knitted garments in her production and was increasingly drawn to the potential of this medium. A knitting revival was underway in the 1970s and 1980s with craft practitioners and artists exploring and experimenting with various techniques and forms. Designers like Jenny Kee successfully melded art, craft and fashion in knitwear and this cross fertilisation of the medium was dubbed 'art clothes' or 'wearable art'. Chan Shaw also began to experiment with form, texture and colour in her knitwear, however she wanted to take the raw hand-crafted feel out of the medium, producing instead very refined hand-loomed knits with a high fashion feel.
In 1986 she opened her eponymous retail outlet in the Queen Victoria Building and concentrated exclusively on high quality knitwear, refining her distinctive signature of draped and layered, asymmetric forms and interchangeable pieces.
Designed by Vivian Chan Shaw and made in her workrooms in Sydney in 1973. Chan Shaw's earliest knits were aimed at the youth market with designs such as the chubby jacket reflecting contemporary fashions mix of influences from hippy and ethnic dress.
Chan Shaw's design process is influenced by the physical limitations imposed by the knitting machines size as well as the creative possibilities it offers in terms of manipulating the yarn . She produces what is termed hand-loomed knitwear using domestic flat bed knitting machines, 180-200 needles wide. The size restricts the achievable length of each piece which means Chan Shaw designs her garments as a series of shaped pieces which are then sewn together to complete the garment. Many of the skirts are knitted in the round and hand grafted so that no seams appear.Texture and drape are key components of her work making the way the yarn is fed into the machine a critical component of the design process. Less yarn is used to create fine pleats and undulating surfaces and sheer knitting to create a chiffon-like diaphanous film. By manipulating the tension, the ply of yarn that is fed into the pieces and the degree of increases and decreases she works out the shape of the garment.
Chan Shaw uses a variety of yarns including wool, cotton, silk, mohair, metallic lurex and man-made fibres which are sourced from Italy, Spain, Asia and Australia and are dyed to her specifications. She develops her own seasonal palette of colours which are presented as solid colours or blended. Soft, multi-coloured effects are achieved with space-dyed yarns (yarns dyed in sections using several different colours on the one cone).
Chan Shaw works closely with a team of knitters. She supplies them with sketches of the garment and garment pieces, details the yarns and provides instructions on how each piece is to be made.
Vivian Chan Shaw is a self-taught designer. She designed and made her own clothes from a young age but originally trained as a musician, studying piano at the Conservatorium High School in Sydney and then Arts at Sydney University. In 1965, with an urgent need to support her four young children, Chan Shaw made her first move into the fashion industry, knitting clothing for David Jones baby boutique.
In 1966 she joined René Fabrics as a buyer of fabrics, trimmings and laces. Recognising her design skills they asked her to provide a fashion design service for customers, using the fabrics sold by the store. Chan Shaw then went to Canns, which at the time was Sydney's leading bridal wear department store. Here she worked as fashion co-ordinator, buyer and designer before moving into fashion retail, managing the very hip In Shoppe and Merivale boutiques. This valuable retailing experience gave her the confidence to start her own business.
Chan Shaw's first designs were hand made one-off jersey garments featuring hand rolled edges and elaborate applique designs. These often spectacular garments sold through her first retail outlet, Jeunesse established in 1972 in the Royal Arcade, under the Sydney Hilton Hotel; a position that ensured some of her first customers included international celebrities Dionne Warwick, Bo Derek and Margaux Hemingway. Even at this early stage her outfits were constructed for comfort and designed with drawstrings and wrap and tie closures providing flexibility of fit.
By the early 1970s Chan Shaw was also including a few hand knitted fashion garments in her production and was increasingly drawn to the potential of this medium. A knitting revival was underway in the 1970s and 1980s with craft practitioners and artists exploring and experimenting with various techniques and forms. Designers like Jenny Kee successfully melded art, craft and fashion in knitwear design and this cross fertilisation of the medium was dubbed 'art clothes'. Chan Shaw also began to experiment with knitwear and while her work fitted loosely within the art clothes aesthetic she stood outside it, preferring to take the raw hand-crafted feel out of the medium, producing instead very refined knits with a high fashion feel.
In 1986 Chan Shaw opened her eponymous retail outlet in the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney. By this time she was designing only knitwear and further developed her distinctive signature of draped and layered, assymetrical forms in collections of interchangeable pieces. The garments flexible fit also allowed Chan Shaw to develop a strong local and international mail order service.