Knitwear has had many associations throughout the many years of its usage, none being sultry. Yet, Manchester-based fashion designer Lily Picchioni disregards these traditional values tied to knit through her brand Liky Florence, which subverts the conventional gender ideologies and explores a world in which women – or anyone – can be liberated of the negative connotations that come with owning their promiscuity.
Could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your brand? How did you come up with the name Liky Florence?
I’m a 20-year-old student currently living in Manchester. My brand was born naturally out of a project on my Foundation program when I was studying fashion which led me to explore perceptions of what ‘good taste’ means and what it means to be vulgar in your way of dress. I mainly wanted to subvert ideas surrounding baring skin and distressed, seemingly ‘broken’ clothing. Liky Florence comes from my first name, Lily, which my friends would often mistype as Liky, and Florence which is my middle name.
Splitting your time between Manchester and London, have you found that these two cities influence your design aesthetic?
Where I am living will always influence my design aesthetic as a lot of my inspiration comes from my friends and surroundings, people I see on nights out or just walking around town. I want to make clothes that people can style for every day and nights out, as something that I’ve noticed in both Manchester and London among fashion communities is a tendency towards versatile clothing.
Where else do you pull inspiration from?
As I am studying English Literature and History I actually take a lot of inspiration from novels and history. For example, pieces from my recent collection were inspired by the European Witch Trials. One common marker of a ‘witch’ during this time was a woman deemed to be promiscuous or lustful, so in this collection, I worked again to subvert ideas of appearing promiscuous through clothing.
Obviously, you mainly work with knitwear. What about this medium is appealing to you? Could you see yourself expanding to other mediums?
Knitwear was always something I wanted to explore more from a young age. During secondary school, I was taught basic pattern-cutting and manufacturing techniques however we never had access to domestic knitting machines. In my foundation course, however, I was taught to use a knitting machine which revealed endless possibilities for the creation of intricate patterns and textures. I think it’s just such a beautiful medium for garment production – creating something from nothing.
Through your distressed garments, we can see knitwear’s traditional associations – the clean, full coverage, winterwear aesthetic – being subverted to create a seductive and provocative look. Where does this opposition stem from?
Gender politics has always been something that heavily influences my work. I think I originally focused on the associations of knitting with domestic work and then went on from there to investigate ideas of female domesticity and associated ways of dressing. I wanted to challenge constructions of the ‘domestic sphere,’ to create something sexy out of what would previously have been a job performed by women confined within their gender roles.
The sexualisation of the female body is a running theme you’ve explored through your garments, notably due to the false narrative that women should ‘cover up’ to avoid ‘unwanted attention.’ Am I right to assume your garments serve as a reclamation of power over one’s body?
Your designs are mainly modelled by women but have been spotted on some male models, and British actor and singer Olly Alexander. Is keeping your garments genderless something you try to stay conscious of or does it happen naturally?
In my design process, I don’t think I ever designed for a ‘male’ or ‘female’ body. Gender neutrality in garments production, design and manufacture is something I believe every designer should strive for.
After having your design worn by Olly Alexander and being featured in Vogue Italia after only one year of starting your brand, which moment over the past year has left you most starstruck and proud of your accomplishments?
Obviously seeing the garments you’ve made by hand being worn by people like Olly Alexander and featured in such reputable magazines is amazing, and I’m still actually processing that these moments weren’t something I dreamed up. However, the moments when I’ve been most proud of myself are when I’ve spotted people wearing my garments out and about. It’s such a nice feeling to know that the garments you’ve created from scratch make people feel confident.
Not only did you start your business and still take care of it alone – from knitting to packaging – but you are also enrolled in university. How do you manage to split your time between the two?
I actually completed my Foundation studies last year and am now studying in Manchester. I definitely found it easier to balance my time last year as the Covid-19 pandemic meant that I could focus all my time on my brand. This year time management has definitely been something I’ve struggled more with so I’ve focused more on producing one-of-one pieces which allow me to continue to be more experimental and maintain motivation.
You have a strong dedication to ensuring your brand is as sustainable as possible, not only through the use of secondhand fabrics but also by avoiding overproduction. How do you balance your high customer demand with keeping your stock to a minimum?
All of my collections are limited run to prevent wastage and previously I was working on a commission basis which meant that garments were made in response to demand using customers' exact measurements and colour specifications. Overall though I would say that knitting is a far more ethical way of production as there is no wastage by way of fabric cut-offs as all fabric pieces are knitted to shape and joined perfectly.
Being so outspoken on the implementation of sustainable actions within your practice, do you think there is a certain duty for those wishing to start their own fashion brand to ethically source and produce new products?
I would say so — fashion communities worldwide definitely seem to be supporting independent designers more readily now and with social media, from the perspective of the buyer, it’s definitely easier to find sustainable businesses to support. I also believe that especially for me, when sourcing yarn, finding old cones in charity shops or deadstock yarns is so much more exciting than purchasing mass-produced ones online.
Do you think small-scale production could be the fashion industry’s saving grace from its enormous sustainability issue?
Yes definitely. From a buyer’s perspective, I personally feel so much more confident wearing a garment which I know is of a limited run and manufactured by a small team of practitioners who love what they do.
Your latest collection, titled Evelina, recently dropped. What was the inspiration behind this collection?
I touched on this earlier but the Evelina collection was actually inspired by the European Witch Trials and the persecution of women. I worked really hard to reflect this in the creative direction of the promotional photos too which I’m extremely proud of.
This new line saw the addition of mohair to your designs. What made you want to work with this material?
I just love the texture and volume of mohair yarns. I also think moving into the future with my brand I am moving towards a more delicate and soft aesthetic which contrasts the colourful and bold designs I created originally.
What can we expect in the future for Liky Florence?
Definitely more mohair and lots more one-of-one experimental pieces. I would also love to expand into non-knitted clothing production and even to collaborate with jewellers and milliners as millinery was something I really enjoyed exploring on my Foundation.