Cécile Feilchenfeldt

Cécile Feilchenfeldt, 1973

Textile designer specialised in knitwear, Paris

Cécile Feilchenfeldt crafts experimental textiles that combine luxurious and raw materials, pushing the limits of what knitwear can be. Following her studies in textile design at the Zurich University of the Arts, she was the recipient of the Brunschwig Prize for Applied Arts, which launched her career in Switzerland and abroad. She went on to work for a decade in the theater world and design striking costumes for several productions. Feilchenfeldt then returned to fashion to work with high-profile clients, from haute couture to the car industry. Her creations are the result of her unconventional career path, with unexpected juxtapositions, playful and focused volumes, and surprising movement of materials.
The Confederation grants Feilchenfeldt a Swiss Grand Award for Design in recognition of her expertise as well as her experimental method, which has help forge a new kind of career in knitwear and textile design.


A Soul at the End of a Thread

Her work hangs by a thread - a thread that ends only when and where she herself so decides. A thread that she stitches, twists and knots, until deeming it ready for that decision. Until she deems it ripe as the last word of a story written without ever resorting to a pen: she attaches the words together in a language she alone understands. Its decoding is left up to us.
Cécile Feilchenfeldt is a magician: she knows how to lend volume to something that has none of its own. What is a thread in the eye of common mortals? For Cécile, in the silence of her studio, thread has a voice. It speaks out in a silent language that she deciphers all to herself with her fingertips. She seeks out the slightest noise, the slightest complaint, the slightest suspicious sound preceding the dropping of a stitch. For stitches do drop. Moreover, why, one wonders, do they do so? Could it be because they lack the strength to hold together, to remain united with other stitches for an indefinite time span: the time span required for a created object - be it a jacket, a frill, a hat, or a cable stitch sweater?
Cécile's new life is one she decided to write herself, and this without letting anyone else decide otherwise. That life began with a prize. Sometimes we fail to realize to what extent a prize can change our life: yet this is what happened to Cécile when she won the Brunschwig Award for Applied Arts in 1998. Indeed, the next twenty years of creative activity come as no surprise when one pages through the catalogue of her work for the exhibition held at Geneva's Musée Ariana at the time. That catalogue's images of her creations convinced the jury that they were discovering a talent not so much on its way up as already established, and foreshadowing the twenty creative years lying ahead. The accessories she created in 1998 represent the basis of her language. This designer of fabric and knitted works went on to apply the prize money - 20,000 Swiss Francs - to setting up a sewing workshop in Paris, representing the foundation of her business project.
"I am Swiss," she informs us, "and I grew up in Munich. I studied textile design in Zurich (at the Zurich University of the Arts), and won a major prize in Geneva. I set myself up in Paris in 2000." So much for her various wanderings: the confines may be relatively narrow, but therein she has managed to create an ever-expanding world. Indeed, there is something quite magic about such a capacity for inventing volumes, shapes, moving sculptures ... using a thread and the 380 needles of a knitting machine whose melody she has learned by heart.
How in the world did Cécile ever come up with ... stitches? "In my heart" she explains, "I am more of a weaver. Stitches are a different language, very mathematical, but that also suits me. Weaving is more meditative, with one thread linking up with many other threads. You can see what you're doing, and that's more reassuring. With stitches, a single thread holds everything: the work done disappears between two slits. Along twenty centimeters, nothing is to be seen! And then a little end juts out from the shadow." Since the knitting stretches out between weights, the third dimension only appears once the work is completed ... once the machine frees the knitted object. "That's when," Cécile explains, "I discover what I've made." So there's a marvelous random dimension to her activity. "My days are filled with surprises, both good and bad. Stitches are very alive. Which explains the surprises ..."
"I work in purer fashion with stitching than with weaving. You weave along a warp, which can be likened to a paper on which you draw. Generally, you cannot do a drawing in the air, except for those new pencils for drawing in 3D. A stitch is an abstraction: I draw without paper. That is also a risk: if my thread breaks, the drawing disappears. If a stitch drops, it shows. But sometimes you have to be able to accept beautiful accidents during your researching. Of course, if I'm working on a piece for a fashion house show, there's no room for accidents."
Cécile Feilchenfeldt has never worked under someone else's orders, but she has had to adapt to the desires of the creators and designers who have discovered a missing part of themselves in her - that is, the basic element to tell their story in three dimensions thanks to her experimental stitching.
When asked how long it takes her to create a piece, she gives a singular reply: "It takes several hours or several days." It is a reply only she understands, since she lives in her own space-time, which exists to the rhythm not of clocks but of the to-and-fro of her machines: their pace is determined by the piece she is in the throes of knitting. Hence, it is not surprising that she cannot rely on the time measuring tools that govern the rest of the world. Not to mention counting all the time it has taken her to discover a technique, rendering it altogether senseless to lump together all the hours and days entailed.
Cécile Feichenfeldt now shows us samples of knitted material, including a nylon frill incorporating pearls. I remember seeing those rainbow-colored frills during the Parisian haute couture week: it was while watching Bertrand Guyon's latest haute couture Schiaparelli collection show. It is somewhat gratifying to think of Cécile's work as her signature, even if not all the fashion houses mention her name. Save for Lutz Huelle and Walter van Beirendonck. Personally, I always recognize that knitwear from another world: there are knitted pieces in nylon, raffia and wood; and, too, the commingling of colours, flights of fantasy, sculptures in motion ...
Cécile's telephone images reveal the small but so powerful hands of Azzedine Alaïa: the two met in November 2017, shortly before Alaïa passed away. They had intended to work together for the shop he was to open in London. Life decided otherwise. Yet his hands remain, blurring into the material Cécile knits, and bringing her great pleasure.
And we in turn are left with so many images, so many videos of her creations serving as 3D supports to other creators, other fashion designers. Not to mention all those to come, dangling from the single thread of her passion ...
Isabelle Cerboneschi