We meet Anthony Knight in his studio, or more appropriately his atelier, in Marghera, in a former industrial space that has been converted into studios for artists, designers and creatives. The atmosphere here is completely different from Venice: it has the feel of a place that could be in the docklands area of any number of European cities. In a large white space, Anthony flits easily between large tables covered with tissue paper patterns: sketching, cutting out and then pinning his patterns onto the surrounding manikins, his every movement guided by the assurance that comes only from many hours of work and methodical application, the slow acquisition of manual skill, experience, and enormous passion for the kinds of tasks that often go unremarked by people not in the trade.
Anthony is English, born in London to Jamaican parents, and his love of clothes, shapes, fabrics and embroidery dates from childhood, when all he ever wanted to do was to cut and sew. As an eighteen-year old his dream was to work in a Parisian atelier.
But life worked out differently and, following the advice of some friends, Anthony completed his fashion studies in England and then came to Italy, arriving in Florence in 1986.
“In Florence I began working right away with various important designers,” says Anthony. “I met loads of people, it was the centre of the fashion world in those years, and it was fantastic. They were fun years and incredibly important for my formation. I started getting offers for more work all over Italy: I worked with Calvin Klein and then there was a collaboration with the Benetton style studio in Treviso. Then I decided to move to Venice: I knew the city because I’d been there on a school trip and that discovery had somehow lodged in my heart. Venice was a kind of dream, this strange city that lived on the water and was reflected in its canals.”
Anthony is much more than a tailor. He is a creator, and when it comes to an article of clothing, that makes all the difference.
“My work is structured in so many different ways,” he explains, “And each time I have to think afresh. What I do is adapt to the requirements of my client, but I have to re-programme myself continually. If I work with designers, for example, they already have their own idea so my job is to help them make it a reality. I take their sketch, then I build the model, select the fabric, think about how the item will be worn, and try to contribute something extra. When, instead, I’m working with someone who’s a trend researcher, or internal designer, my contribution is more incisive, more interesting. With this kind of client, they’re looking for something new and I have to come up with new looks, new approaches. That’s why street-style and big art and design shows are really interesting and stimulating events for me.”
Anthony works at the IUAV University in Venice on the Fashion Design and Multimedia Arts course, where he teaches pattern-making and industrial design. “I follow the first-year students while, over the course of a very few months and by working really hard, they develop and then create their first pieces. They must be dedicated, enthusiastic, and above all they have to be prepared to take risks, to put themselves out there, and that presumption of already knowing everything has to be left outside the classroom door. Those are the fundamental requirements of the course. I’m really strict with the kids, but at the end of the course they’re always surprised at what they’ve been able to achieve and they thank me.”
“I’m also really keen on working with theatrical costume designers. Thanks to La Fenice in Venice and the Teatro Regio in Turin, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know opera and the theatre from behind the scenes, and those have been fabulous experiences.”
“Now, after this pandemic which has forced us to slow down and turned all our systems on their heads, we’ll have to find new ways of doing things and start anew with things that are closer to us,” Anthony concludes. “I think it will be a good time for small labels and that the common good will become more important than ego. I see opportunities for starting to build something different, as long as we never forget to dream.”