More than one hundred years ago, on the outermost reaches of Scotland, fishermen's wives began knitting patterned sweaters for their husbands. For this winter, those same rugged yet colourful knits sailed down the runways of Milan and London. But to describe this as a revival would be wrong, because the Fair Isle has been a menswear classic since the industry was invented, and favoured by men who value tradition, comfort and craft, but with a pop of colour added to the mix.
The circular patterns of Fair Isle knits combine straight lines, geometric shapes, bold stripes and blocks of colour for an effect that is both striking but organic. However, as most of today's patterns are designed with a graphics tablet rather than with knitting needles, simple Fair Isle motifs have been enriched by technical developments.
A fisherman with the day's catch, Essex, England, February 1935
Although woolly warmth is considered a given with a Fair Isle sweater, new, lighter yarns mean lighter garments. As Ms Suzy Menkes, the fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune, noted when she saw a Fair Isle invasion in the menswear collections, "Thickness without weight is the essence of modern style.
"In an era where authenticity is prized over artifice," Ms Menkes continued, traditional knitwear patterns such as the Fair Isle make for "something that looks as though it has grown organically from the past, designed to be incorporated into today's closet." Here are just some examples we believe deserve a place in yours.