Michaela Buerger learned the fine art of knitting from her mother and grandmother in the small Austrian village where she grew up. She was later accepted by Raf Simons to attend the University of Applied Arts in Vienna and is now on her way to becoming this generation’s queen of knits. Based in Paris, Buerger’s handmade knits are now selling at Colette and Opening Ceremony, and she has just completed a collaborative range of high-end gloves with Maison Fabre. Buerger chatted with JC Report about her fashion idols, her early design work and the importance of storytelling.
JC Report: How has your childhood influenced your design aesthetic?
Michaela Buerger: My childhood was wonderful, playing a lot in the nature, being outside. To earn a bit of money my mother knitted beautiful traditional landscape cardigans, with little mills, apple trees and people—all very technically demanding work. I was four-years-old when I produced my first scarf, which had a bit of a grunge vibe. At seven I made my first pullover. As a teenager, I wanted to have the same clothes that I saw in high fashion magazines but couldn’t afford them, so I would copy things like the asymmetrical pullover by Yohji Yamamoto—it was very good training. Then I started earning money selling gloves, socks to students and teachers, even the principal at school. I took a knitting break when I left for Vienna to study stage design at the academy of Fine Arts before going on to study with Raf Simons at the University.
RW:How is designing for the stage different from creating a collection?
MB: With the stage, you tell a story using the atmosphere in a theatre. You create a “product” that is seen from a distance, which you develop over months and, during rehearsal weeks, in strong collaboration with the director/choreographer, the dancers and others along the way. In fashion, you wear the product and you look at it very closely and you feel it. What is similar in thinking between ballet/opera/theatre and a fashion collection is that a story must exist behind its creation in order to be successful.
RW: How is designing gloves and accessories for such an esteemed company as Maison Fabre?
MB: It has been very exciting. There is such a history and an archive of glove-making and leather know-how. It is very challenging and a big pleasure to give gloves a breath of a fresh air, which was the goal handed to me by Olivier Fabre.
MB: Sonia began with a few pullovers—a little like my story—which is very encouraging and inspiring for me when you think about where she is now. Of course things are different from 40 years ago when she first began. I’d like to be called “reine de maille” as Sonia is, and, before her, Coco Chanel. I found articles from the ’60s that compared Sonia Rykiel and Coco Chanel saying she was la “nouvelle reine”. I think you have to give yourself big goals and be pleased by each step you reach. I am happy with what I have achieved now, having started with zero budget—I came to Paris with nothing, like really nothing.
RW: Marc Jacobs, who also started with hand-knitted pullovers, said in an interview for Teen Vogue’s Handbook that to make a fashion career you just need one person to believe in you. Do you think this is the case?
MB: This is true: First you need to believe, and then you need a person that believes in what you do, especially nowadays where there is a crowd of young designers emerging every other moment. Valery Demure did this and gave me this chance, also Maria Lemos of Rainbow Wave. Now the next step is to grow simply, in all means. Step by step—or, knit by knit.