A millennial starting a cardigan brand? It seems almost paradoxical, but the designers Julian Taffel, 27, and Paolina Leccese, 28, have cracked the code. “Our generation is overwhelmed with choices,” says Taffel over a cappuccino at Bar Pisellino, in New York, where we meet to discuss Leorosa, the knitwear line he started earlier this year alongside Leccese. “The idea of quality and simplicity used to be mainstream, and has become novel.” It’s this new climate of fast fashion and an overabundance of options that inspired Taffel and Leccese to fill what they see as a growing gap—“We can never find any cool, simple essentials, except in vintage shops,” notes Leccese—with the essential modern item.
A common aesthetic, plus their international backgrounds—Leccese is German-Italian and grew up in Cologne, while Taffel is Japanese-American and grew up in New York—helped the pair, who met at Parsons School of Design in 2013, to come up with a take that is both nostalgic and current. Taffel says, “We want what our parents had—a place people can come back to in 30 or 40 years with their kids, and they’ll still be selling the same things.” All of the sweaters are made in Tuscany by local Florentine knitters Leccese and Taffel have met with personally.
Leorosa’s first line went on sale this past October in a curated pop-up on London’s Grafton Street. A small postcard designed by artists George Condo, Angelica Hicks, and Rosemarie Trockel accompanied each purchase—an appreciation of burgeoning artists and attention to detail that knows few parallels among today’s millennials. It’s no surprise that there is a lot of talk about the “Leorosa family.”
“A place people can come back to in 30 or 40 years, and they’ll still be selling the same things.”
The main Leorosa design, “Rosa,” is your grandma’s cardigan, but with a new angle. It’s available in bright, monochrome colors such as violet, sky blue, and bright orange, with contrasting piping and demure, velvet buttons. And while the details are various, the classical cardigan shape remains relatively unchanged across all Leorosa designs: for women, a boxier fit (in merino wool and cashmere) affords more versatility; for men, gilets and cardigans are made from lambswool for a stiffer, more rugged feel. Recently, the pair have added gloves and opera pumps to their repertoire. Produced in Vienna, the gloves are in suede with cashmere lining; the pumps, meanwhile, are made in Italy’s Marche region. Both, along with the sweaters, are available for purchase on the Leorosa Web site, at Alex Eagle, in London, at Song, in Vienna, and at Leffot, in New York.
The Leorosa catalogue, photographed by Oliver Hadlee Pearch, is exactly what you’d expect from the designers: photographs feature Taffel and Leccese posing with models and friends in candid shots. The looks are androgynous, diverse: men wear women’s pieces and women wear men’s; a 42-year-old poses next to a twentysomething. “This is how people in 2019 would want to wear a cardigan, and how you would want to see someone wear a cardigan,” says Leccese. “We could see it on an Italian nonna sitting on a chair outside her house in Puglia, or, equally, a Harajuku girl on the streets of Tokyo.” In time for the holidays, Leorosa will host a trunk show in New York on December 14 and 15 (by appointment only). —Elena Clavarino