With her new capsule cardigan collection for Jaeger available at Fenwick Bond Street, we talk to designer, model and member of the Irish brewing dynasty, Jasmine Guinness, about what makes the perfect knit and why the trusty cardie is anything but dull.
Why the cardigan is the best buy you'll make this autumn: see Jasmine Guinness' new Jaeger range
1. Growing up in a castle in Ireland - you must know a thing or two about warm knits - but why do you love cardigans?
“Cardigans are just like women – they are practical, versatile and good for everything. I grew up with women who wore cardigans – vintage cardigans never struck me as a boring thing. But yes I’m Irish – it’s in my genes - we need a lot of knitwear. A beautiful cardigan can be so timeless. This baby blue style is inspired by Teresa ‘Baby’ Jungman [she was known as one of the Bright Young Things who inspired Evelyn Waugh’s infamous book]. I was lucky enough to grow up with her as she was my step-grandmother. She was extensively photographed by Cecil Beaton with her sister Zita Jungman. She was always very chic, even at 102 years old, and often wore the most beautiful shades of blue cashmere. I love the 30s neckline of dainty silver sequins on this style, the blue is inspired by her eyes and timeless elegance. She was also endlessly generous and kind which made a deep impression on me.”
2. What makes the perfect knit?
“Three things: the shape, the form and the finish. If you go for shape, every inch has to be flattering and stylish. It should be well cut like a jacket - that means figure hugging and able to conceal an array of lumps and bumps. If you're going for comfort (I love huge comfy knits), then the form is even more crucial - it is why the whole Jaeger collection is made from the finest cashmere or merino wool so that it is as soft as possible. Finally the finish is key. I was very keen to include velvet into the back of the neck of the cardigans so they were comfortable, and grosgrain ribbon inside the button holes so they don’t stretch – it’s the little things that make a knit last.”
3. Do cardies work for evening?
“Yes that's what I love about them - they're so versatile. Take the riding jacket with the trompe-l’oeil collar, it looks as sharp as a tailored jacket but is much more comfortable. In vibrant red cashmere, it’s very racy and flattering. I imagine it being worn with a white silk shirt and tailored trousers like in the wonderful films from the 40s and 50s. All of the designs are multi-functional. We have so much to do - we don’t just do one thing in a day - so it's important that you can wear it in the day, in the evening. And the cashmere pencil skirt is another piece that is so wearable. It gives you a wonderful shape - it is very thick and stretchy so it really holds you in and the split reveals a bit of leg.”
4. How do you preserve your knits?
“One of my favourite things is Woolite. If you have something really delicate you can hand wash it in a little Woolite and it will be as good as new. In my knitwear drawers I put sprigs of rosemary and lavender to stop the moths and it smells nicer than mothballs. I am also a great believer in darning your jumpers. It’s not worth throwing things away - you always need a comfortable knit for walking the dog and I like darning in contrasting colours, unless it’s really smart and then I will do my best to match.”
5. Is there one style every woman should own?
“I have an extensive collection of knitwear but a black cardigan is always a really brilliant thing. This one has three-quarter-length sleeves and the lace makes it so mysterious and beautiful. That’s what’s so lovely about it – there is a hint of flesh but not too much. It was a lot more revealing but we made it less so. It was inspired by the chic ladies of Paris, with their incredibly well-cut, elegant black wardrobes, as well as English arbiters of style like Amanda Harlech - she always looks incredible. When I was young I would have worn it with a coloured bra, now I’d wear it with a silk camisole or T-shirt underneath. And I love the black jet-style buttons.”
6. Why is it worth spending a bit more?
“I have spent this summer in Wales and Ireland wearing a Gieves & Hawkes five-ply cashmere men’s cardigan that my step-great-grandmother wore in the 40s. It is the most incredible blue colour – I’ve been wearing it with everything from a denim skirt to my bikini - but the quality is incredible. I think quality is a thing you never tire of. And the thing about Jaeger is that they have this quality and timelessness to the designs - you buy something now and you know you can wear it in 10 or 20 years time, the look and quality never dates. If I invest in something I want to know I’ll be wearing it in 20 years and give it to my daughter.”
7. And which style is really on the button?
“I designed the six cardigans I have always wanted. One of my favourites is an amazing leopard-print cashmere cardigan. I was always looking for the perfect one and I never found it - the prints were always too artificial. We created this print from a photo I had of an old leopard skin hanging on the wall at a B&B I stayed at. Although it was incredibly sad, the print on the skin was the most beautiful thing I'd seen and I’ve been mad about leopard print since I was five. Our print came out so well we had to add a skirt and a dress too. I love it. It's pure glamour.”
Leopard-print cardigan, £175, and skirt, £150, Jaeger (available at Fenwick Bond Street).
By Claire Brayford