by Stephanie Malik
The story of the LA-based high fashion denim knitwear label Knorts is as atypical as it is inspiring. Masterminded by Eleanore Guthrie, Knorts was created by a 21-year-old Accountant who formerly held aspirations to be a pro-snowboarder. Yet somehow in less than 4 years, with absolutely zero prior experience or education in the fashion industry, Guthrie has managed to develop a game-changing, avant-garde denim knitwear label that has become a favorite among A-list celebrity stylists the world over. In the past year alone, Knorts has been featured on Hollywood heavyweights including Lady Gaga, SZA,Kehlani, Kali Uchis, Rose McGowan, and Whitney Port to name a few. Additionally, a bevy of Knorts garments have been requested for projects by the likes of Big Sean, Iggy Azealia, and Future. Finally, and perhaps most impressively, Knorts was even part of Justin Timberlake’s Super Bowl Half-Time Show this year, a monumental achievement which has led to Timberlake’s team purchasing another 8 Knorts garments to be used as part of the official wardrobe for his 2018 Man of the Woods world tour. Oh, and speaking of international pop superstar world tours: Demi Lovato & DJ Khaled also currently feature 4 pieces by Knorts prominently on both male and female dancers on Lovato’s Tell Me That You Love Me tour. Not too shabby for a DIY designer without fashion school contacts to lean on or a PR team pushing her brand.
Ironically, Guthrie pays essentially no attention to mainstream pop culture (she doesn’t watch TV or Netflix & Chill), preferring heavy metal and side hustling for cash to keep funding her business (more on that later). Guthrie goes against norms in fashion in almost every way conceivable, doing everything differently from her background and process (not taught, but entirely self-created), to her DIY approach to every aspect of her business. Endearingly humble and introverted, Guthrie is also striking in both her physical appearance (she’s 5’10” with a modelesque frame and hair down to her waist) and her confidence as a designer. A self-proclaimed tomboy, Guthrie executes decisions about Knorts with the conviction and sophistication of a designer twice her age. I had to find out more.
So what made you decide you wanted to abandon the glamorous world of accounting for fashion, despite having no previous fashion education or even real interest in the fashion world?
Accounting was always a backup plan. I was going to Westminster College in Utah because I wanted to be a pro snowboarder. I figured to be the best I had to be around the best. Then, after breaking my collarbone twice and getting several concussions, I realized that was never going to happen, but I also knew I always wanted my own business. Really, snowboarding is what got me interested in fashion and I realized that was kind of the one thing that I was strongly passionate about.
Wait! Hold up. How exactly did snowboarding get you into fashion?
Well, oddly enough all of those snowboarders hitting the terrain park—even the big mountain snowboarders and skiers — are very much into how they look when they’re snowboarding: what brands they’re wearing. So, you know, at that point in my life I cared about what snowboard brands I was wearing, what silhouettes I was wearing while I was snowboarding. I would even alter my snowboard pants to achieve the silhouette that was cool at the time, which was the flare pants with an oversized top.
Wow, so I think it sounds like you’re talking about the inspiration for your signature super-flared Knorts “elongators” is that right?
So the reason they’re flared like that isn’t part of this LA 70’s revival aesthetic that’s been popping off lately?
Oh hell no!
It’s because literally the flare would be what’s covering the boot?
Exactly, it was all about creating this cool silhouette when you’re snowboarding to have an oversized top and super tight flared pants, that was really big in the park scene.
And this is true for both male and female snowboarders?
Yeah, especially men because that world is heavily male dominated, so you would see mostly men rocking that style.
Interesting, so the guys were really into wearing the super tight flares too?
Yeah, and we’re talking tight, tight pants. Sometimes it would look like they were wearing their little sister’s skinny jeans to the mountain. I’m not even kidding.
That’s wild. And I think it also makes sense of why you consider the majority of your garments, including the Elongators, essentially a unisex brand.
How did you get into denim knitwear to begin with? Weren’t you not even particularly drawn to denim or a “denimhead” growing up?
I realized there was a hole in market. I couldn’t find knit shorts that were affordable and cute in college, but I knew other girls wanted them. So that’s how Knorts started as a collection of knit shorts in college. And since I had absolutely no previous design background, I figured knitwear would be the easiest to design because sweaters stretch and fit a lot of different body types. Little did I know that knitwear (and also denim, but for different reasons) are actually two of the most technically challenging textiles to design with.
So you basically picked two of the hardest materials to design with and combined them?
Yeah… and I didn’t realize that until I had already started.
It’s pretty amazing you can create such diverse patterns and silhouettes while maintaining a strict adherence to indigo dye—which essentially means you’re just using one material and one color. Have you resisted branching out for any reason?
I think it’s a combination of creative and logistical/financial reasons. First of all, It’s just too overwhelming to source new yarns and figure out how to work with them. It complicates things immensely learning about how new yarns work and mastering their individual idiosyncrasies in order to eventually get them to do what I want from a design perspective. It’s also insanely expensive.
Right and it seems like a large part of the joy for you as a designer is purely creating and that incorporating new yarns and colors etc. is just making unnecessary obstacles for yourself. Limitations can actually sometimes fuel creativity too. You know you’re not relying on color in the traditional way…
Yeah, I work more with contrast. I have so many ideas of different ways I could use this yarn I just haven’t had the time or the money to even develop all the stuff I want to, just with this one yarn alone. There’s just so much I could still do with it.
Right, so someone like me who doesn’t even own a pair of jeans because I find them tragically uncomfortable would probably find Knorts comfortable—do you think that’s true?
Definitely. Comfort is a major priority to me and actually feeds into why I was originally motivated to start Knorts. When I first started my business, Lululemon and similar yoga/athleisure brands were getting big and people were wearing their garments everywhere. I was just kind of over it. It’s like “I don’t want to always look like I just stepped out of yoga class, but I want to feel like it!”
Exactly. It doesn’t even feel like you’re wearing denim, but you still get the aesthetic.
It’s rare for such a young designer to have such a strong vision and perspective. You always style your own shoots, you don’t use interns because you don’t trust them to do the job properly. Where do you source such passion and vision from?
It’s definitely something I’ve learned over time. When I started Knorts I didn’t really know what I was doing or know what my vision for the brand really was.
Right, but now you instantly know “that’s Knorts” or “that’s not Knorts.” I’ve witnessed your process and it’s meticulous AF. It’s salient you have a very clear vision of what Knorts is from the smallest thing like a plant in the background on set (which is definitely not Knorts, by the way) to subtleties of every pattern. How did you go from not really knowing what you’re doing with Knorts to being so unrelentingly certain and confident what Knorts is that you basically single-handedly run the entire brand?
It basically comes down to staying true to myself. Doing what I like and paying attention to my initial instincts. Even at the beginning when I wasn’t sure what I was doing and working with other people—relying on them to tell me what I should be doing—those relationships never panned out. Eventually they would fizzle out and I’d be forced to figure out how to do it on my own. I didn’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of other than like…my mom and dad, neither of which have any fashion experience. So Knorts evolved out of me basically being left to make all of my decisions completely independently without any outside influence. And it kept turning out that when I just followed my own instincts…people seemed to really like it.
Um, obviously some people have really liked it!
And then I found the more I followed my own intuitive gut instincts, the more I saw how powerful it actually was, which further encouraged me to stick to my instincts.
So effectively the more you were true to yourself as a designer, the more successful Knorts became?
Exactly. I faced rejection in my early days—a lot of rejection—but it helped me evolve and attune my intuition as a designer to where I now have the market validation as evidence to know that I’m at least doing something right.