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Brand to Know: Not Your Grandmother’s Cardigans

By Isabel Wilkinson


“I’m trying to think. I don’t even know what I own that’s black,” says the designer Julian Taffel. “I think I have one black mock neck — but I wear it with a green cardigan.”

It’s fitting, then, that along with Paolina Leccese, Taffel has created Leorosa, a knitwear brand sprung from the pair’s own bright, magpie-eyed aesthetic. They reference their grandparents’ wardrobes, as well as music by the ’70s Italian pop diva Patty Pravo and films by the directors Lina Wertmüller and Eric Rohmer as inspirations for their vibrantly contrasting, Italian-made knits. “There’s a very French, always-on-holiday look that we like,” Taffel says.

Taffel, 27, and Leccese, 28, met as students at the Parsons School of Art and Design in New York, and when they graduated in 2015, they both went on to work for the antiques dealer Emilie Irving in her curiosity-filled store Xenomania in Manhattan’s East Village. Though Taffel is now based in New York and Leccese lives between Milan and Cologne, Germany, when they meet, they scour vintage shops and flea markets — the one in Assago in Milan is a favourite — on the lookout for trinkets and knits. “The cardigans we like have a sort of grandmother shape,” Leccese says. With Leorosa, “we basically wanted to take that and make it modern.”


This week, the brand launches with a pop-up store on Grafton Street in London, where shoppers will be able to try on the brand’s six refined cardigan and pullover styles. There is a women’s cardigan with a relaxed bow collar; another with a more ladylike faux fur accent; a lamb’s wool men’s gilet featuring a navy body with red, yellow and green trim; and a men’s cardigan with contrasting pockets (camel and burgundy, forest green and pale pink or burnt orange and royal blue). The brand’s signature piece, the Rosa, a merino-wool and cashmere cardigan, has brightly clashing piping — which comes in a splash of primary colours — giving it, like all of the brand’s styles, a look that is simultaneously on-trend and entirely nostalgic. When the designers were producing samples, their Italian knitter ran out of the light blue velvet buttons they had requested to finish the sweater, so he completed it with a red one at the collar. He was apologetic — but the look stuck. Now, each of the brand’s cardigan styles come with a contrasting top button. “We love the idea of it being a bit childish and whimsical,” Taffel says of Leorosa. “The idea of our knitwear is very simple, so we want to exaggerate it with wacky, bright colours you might not think to match together.”


Next, the brand will release a satin, high-cut opera pump in three colours — each with an exaggerated, velvet clip-on bow — to coordinate with the cardigans. (Taffel and Leccese plan to introduce new products and styles on a rolling basis, rather than on a strict seasonal schedule.) To introduce Leorosa, they enlisted the photographer Oliver Hadlee Pearch and the stylist Emilie Kareh to create portraits of their friends and collaborators, such as the London-based art adviser Bettina Von Hase, the German painter Andreas Schulze and Eva Gödel, the founder of the Cologne-based modeling agency Tomorrow Is Another Day (along with three of the male models she represents). Even Leccese’s father, the Milan-based art and antiques dealer Pasquale Leccese, came to model the brand’s wares.

“We want to put an emphasis on collaborating with artists and creative people,” Taffel says. As such, each purchase from Leorosa’s Grafton Street store will come with a postcard, created specially by artists such as the American painter George Condo, the British illustrator Angelica Hicks and the German conceptual artist Rosemarie Trockel. “We are designing clothes, but we have a really strong interest in the arts as well, and finding a way to merge that together is such a wonderful thing,” Taffel says. “We want to work with our friends and make it a community.”

7 Grafton Street, London, leorosa-world.com.