Vladimir Teriokhin was sitting at a long work table in his 3,000-square-foot studio on 37th Street in Manhattan the other day, stapling his company ID along the top of sample blocks of a muted green yarn with complex stitches that have names like herringbone, basket weave, double chevron. Like television spec scripts being submitted to a network for development consideration, these were headed to Ralph Lauren for approval.
Mr. Teriokhin keeps a library of stitch samples, invented by lead craftswomen such as Nicky Epstein, but has also invented many of his own, available in patterns for Vogue under his own name identified only by number: Vlad 1, Vlad 36. His favorite stitch remains the cable. “Not basic cable!” he said. “Combinations. Traveling.”
Mr. Teriokhin — whose long neck and Allium-stalk comportment reflect his background as a ballet dancer in what was the Soviet Union — has built a business, Vlad Knit, on giving his ideas away: prototyping and producing sweaters for many of the major fashion houses showing this fashion week. For years, Oscar de la Renta hired him to prototype and produce his knitwear, and he has also collaborated with Vera Wang and Marc Jacobs, whom he’s helping to develop an intricate crochet. “Very much technically strong, maybe Francisco Costa competition,” he texted after a recent meeting with the latter. (Mr. Costa, at Calvin Klein, is known for his knitwear.)
The new guard, including Proenza Schouler, the Row and Rosie Assoulin, have also sought Mr. Teriokhin’s expertise. “I don’t have knitting knowledge,” Ms. Assoulin wrote in an email, explaining that when she decided to add knitwear for fall 2014, “he was our go-to guy with his experience and talent.”
Now he is emerging from behind the scenes. Last autumn, along with a creative partner, Allyson Spencer, he introduced a new line of sweaters, named Spencer Vladimir and retailing from $800 to $2,500 at Barneys New York, Moda Operandi and Just One Eye, a boutique housed in Howard Hughes’s old Hollywood headquarters.
Perhaps most coveted of these has been the Vlad: an enveloping cloud of chunky cables more elaborate than the trunk lines leading to the main Google servers, knit by Mr. Teriokhin himself. Seventy percent wool and 30 percent cashmere, it evokes Irish fisherman togs of yore, but also, in its intestinal tangle, the work of the Swiss illustrator Giger, who designed the alien in “Alien.”
Goop, which sells some of the sweaters, tweeted a picture of Gwyneth Paltrow modeling a black Vlad, calling Mr. Teriokhin the “sweater whisperer.” A few weeks ago, Miley Cyrus Instagrammed a picture of herself buying flowers, looking unusually fresh-faced in another model, the Cocoon, that suggested a particularly delicious bowl of oatmeal (the company had not sent it to her, as is customary with celebrities).
Like many of his clientele, Mr. Teriokhin, who is in his 50s, keeps an almost entirely vegan diet and works out twice a day, “swimming, lifting, yoga, dance aerobics,” he said. “When you are performing, this is what they teach you.” He knits with a precise, upright posture. His only work-related injury: cracked and dry hands from the chemicals and dust on yarn.
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In the studio, Mr. Teriokhin jumped up occasionally to help an Eastern European woman about a decade older knitting an elaborate section of a gray sweater. “She must have the stitch right,” he said. His employees and he tend to wear mass-produced sweaters barely related to the intricate textiles quickly lengthening beneath their needle tips. “I don’t care. Only it must be comfortable,” he said when asked the label of his plum cashmere V-neck.
They were surrounded by delivery boxes, oversize skeins of yarn, walls tacked with WWD covers, an old poster for a Mirò show, a few abstract paintings of indeterminate age and, in a corner, some large bamboo stalks jutting out of an oversize vase.
Mr. Teriokhin’s 18 “girls,” as he calls them — who, along with several European factories help make all the sweaters he produces for other designers — hear of him by word of mouth. They include a former violin teacher at a conservatory, two professors and a symphony pianist; they can make $400 to $800 a week working for Mr. Teriokhin, sometimes from home. “We teach each other,” he said.
The buzzer sounded, and a sleek young man in a black suit, black glasses and knit cap came in. “Did our production arrive?” he asked. “Do you know if our care labels came in?”
“From Orley,” said Mr. Teriokhin, referring to the groovy young design threesome. A giraffe of a girl came in next with long, straight black hair and a single row of sequins wrapped around her forehead, announcing that she was from Marc Jacobs. “Intern,” Mr. Teriokhin said after she left.
The density of Mr. Teriokhin’s sweater designs, which gesture at (among other things) ballet, ancient armor and Mongolian herders who raise the Kashmir goats that provide the wool, reflect his own complicated history.
Beginning at age 9, he trained with the Bolshoi in Moscow, one of 20 students chosen from thousands. As a young dancer he joined the company at the Mikhailovsky Opera Theater in St. Petersburg (then the Maly in Leningrad), knitting backstage as his grandmother had taught him, to pass the time.
There he noticed a mysterious woman helping at rehearsals, a former ballerina named Lena Stepanenko, whose career had ended abruptly. She took him under her wing, and he became entranced with her depth of knowledge about the minute requirements of dancing “Giselle” and “Swan Lake.”
As Mr. Teriokhin talked, he sketched dance scenes from the ballets and recreated the tunes in perfect pitch (with a “dum du du ba bum ba da dum”) with such presence that a spotlight seemed to cut through the fluorescent shop lights and illuminated his head, framed by fifth-position arms. “We remember still, after all these years, every step, every gesture,” he said.
The activity of knitting seems for him no less vivid. “When you knit, your mind goes here,” Mr. Teriokhin said, his eyes rolling dramatically heavenward. “You are praying, you are meditating.”
With new labels such as Ryan Roche, a 2015 CFDA award winner, and Gudrun Gudrun, the emotionally and structurally complicated sweater has also become a contender in the race to build new luxury “it” items, as cheap Chinese cashmere gluts the market and the sheer volume and variety of shoes and bags wear away their fetish potential.
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Championed on Etsy and blogs, at the increasingly popular Vogue Knitting Live conventions, and in little neighborhood wool shops springing up like so many felted mushrooms, elaborate artisanal knits — which require loving maintenance to avoid stretches, pulls and holes — have become a guilt-free status symbol.
“There’s an attention to detail that’s remarkable,” said Tomoko Ogura, the senior fashion director at Barneys, speaking of Spencer Vladimir’s pieces. “When we touched and examined each piece close up, we were drawn to the couture-like quality.” Built-up layers make collars stand up, ombré effects radiate tones and halftones, and asymmetric shapes hug curves. Most of them also have that ultimate luxury: generous side pockets.
Mr. Teriokhin began collaborating with Ms. Spencer, who was working for a bridge line of Mr. de la Renta’s, after it closed. She plays the role of art director. “Everything I finish I show to Ally,” he said. “She has a very good eye. She knows very well what she thinks, exactly what’s inside her.”
His eyes fill easily with tears when he describes learning that Ms. Stepanenko had been treated harshly by the KGB and afterward could not dance. The two married and moved to Estonia for five years. Then, in 1989, warned by friends in Moscow of further political difficulties, they moved to the United States, where he joined the Los Angeles Classical Ballet.
He credits Harold Grimes, who worked for the International Rescue Committee to aid refugees, and Senator Chuck Schumer, a frequent dinner guest of Mr. Grimes’s, with encouraging him to make a profession of his hobby. Through them, the owner of the Aviary knit company, now closed, heard about Mr. Teriokhin’s skills and asked him to knit seven sweaters in 10 days. “I was dancing ‘The Nutcracker’ seven days a week, making very little,” Mr. Teriokhin said. “So, I perform, I have dinner, I knit. I wake up, I knit, I go to rehearsal. I finish them.” One of this first batch made the Ralph Lauren Collection runway, he said.
Eventually he was able get an “extraordinary talent” green card with supporting letters from his designer clients, and he and Ms. Stepanenko lived in Park Slope until it became vexing to get into the city quickly with samples. Miraculously, this was the one and only time he encountered the pernicious knitwear villain Tineola bisselliella, a.k.a clothes moth. “Victorian house,” he said with a shrug.
Now, the couple rents a one-bedroom apartment on Central Park West and 100th Street, where he has mostly “shut the door on a social life,” he said. On his work table, there is a glossy pamphlet of black-and-white photographs of Ms. Stepanenko dancing “Giselle,” made, he said, in honor of her 65th birthday, by the theater. They refused to return to celebrate.
“No more politics for us,” he said. Only statement sweaters.
Some designers, many of whom like to appear to conceive of each item of their half-dozen annual shipments while acknowledging a mysterious “team,” have worried that his work for them will suffer as a result of his own label. “I say, don’t worry,” Mr. Teriokhin said. “I have so many ideas. I can knit for Spencer Vladimir, my girls can knit for you, your image, your vision.”
“I have always stayed in the shadows, until now,” he said.
Culled from: http://www.nytimes.com