Vladimir Teriokhin confesses that his greatest design challenge is staying focused. "I want to design a lot of things at once, and it often gets me into trouble," he laughs. In ballet, you learn to stay away from a certain spot on the stage because it's slippery—and I need to remember that!"
Vladimir frequently mentions dance and design in the same sentence, and it is no coincidence. In 1969, he was among 20,000 9-year-olds who auditioned for the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy School in Moscow—and one of only twenty selected. He spent the next ten years studying and performing with the Bolshoi, during which time he met and married the world-renowned ballerina Elena Stepaneko. The couple had successful dance careers in the former Soviet Union, but decided to travel to New York City in 1989 and start a new life.
Vladimir continued his ballet career, dancing with the Los Angeles Classical Ballet Company, but after twenty years he felt it was time to do something else. "In Russia, I spent years studying art history and design, and had experience designing ballet costumes," he explains. Gradually, he launched a second career as a designer— with a focus on knitwear. "I have always found knitwear to be the most interesting aspect of fashion. I learned to knit from my grandma and have been doing it my whole life."
He began working freelance and created commercial collections for a succession of top designers, including Donna Karan, OSCAR by Oscar de la Renta, Isaac Mizrahi and Ralph Lauren. "I did my first job for Ralph Lauren in 1998," he says. "They needed several sweaters for a fashion show and asked me if I could produce them in a week!" He met the deadline—and one design made the cover of Women's Wear Daily. Vladimir's ability to perform under pressure—and deliver an impeccable product—cemented a relationship with Lauren that continues today.
He opened his own company, Vlad Knitwear, in the mid '90s and discovered the joy and freedom of designing for himself. His signature hand knits are a reflection of his dancers aesthetic: elegant, fluid and often sensual in shape or texture. Ancient symbols and icons—from South American prints to Japanese characters to Egyptian hieroglyphs—serve as his inspiration, but his interpretations are uniquely modern. "Knitwear has a long tradition, and I like the challenge of trying to create something totally new," he says.
When creating a new piece, he always knits swatches first and then draws the instructions on graph paper before knitting a complete garment. To learn new techniques, Vladimir often copies motifs that other designers have created—and he advises knitters to do the same. "As I try to figure out how something was created, I learn something new. It's like in painting or fashion design, where students learn by-copying from the masters over and over."
Vladimir strives for the highest standards of quality in every piece he designs and believes that knitters would benefit from giving themselves the same challenge. "All it takes to produce something beautiful is desire and experience," he says, adding that practice really docs make the difference. "When you are knitting and you reach a section you think is difficult, knit a few practice swatches first, then incorporate it into the design."
In addition to creating exotic patterns and textures, Vladimir is always looking for unique yarns with which to create them. "I love Japanese paper," he says, "and I decided that I wanted to re-create it in yarn." He searched for months and finally found an Italian paper yarn. "I used a crochet hook to stitch it, keeping it very loose and open, and then pressed it flat. It was perfect!" he says with childlike glee. He has worked with everything from satin tape to a yarn so hairy it looked like fur when knit into a coat, and he encourages knitters to take chances and experiment.
Vladimir compares the creative process to a flower slowly opening. "When I get an assignment, I usually put it away for a few days and let ideas come to me," he says. He then researches his ideas, often by visiting museums or consulting his "library"—a collection of books, magazines, fabric and color swatches that he uses for inspiration. In creating designs for this issue, he looked for traditional patterns with an antique feel. "Men's wear is always pretty conservative," he explains. "I wanted to do something classic but give it a modern edge."
The former ballet star says that his work keeps him so busy he doesn't miss dancing. "Ballet gave me the discipline and training to be a designer," he says, and he's so devoted to his craft that he spent last New Year's Eve knitting a few last-minute samples—while on vacation in the Bahamas. "Designing a collection is just like performing," he concludes. "When the tickets are sold and the audience is in their seats, you can't say you're too tired or need a vacation. Somehow you find the energy and emotion to do your best."