Though he’s not one to follow trends, nothing could be more of the moment than the knits artfully made by Bruce Woods, a gentleman of a certain age who dwells in a timeless dimension filled with taste and panache. “I don’t design for trends because I want my pieces to last beyond the trend,” he says, lounging in a mid-century wooden loveseat in his charming Portage Park atelier, embodying the natural elegance of his designs. Despite his disregard for the zeitgeist, Woods’ one-of-a-kind pieces are in keeping with the “flower-child-free-spirit-handmade” vibes in the latest fashions.
That is not to say his flawless crocheted textiles can’t travel to more rarefied, less down-to-earth circles; his impressive resume includes loyal clients such as a top New York City Estée Lauder executive who only wore black and lived in a penthouse across the street from The Met, and the former first lady of Strasbourg, who introduced Woods to the Parisian jet set in its time. He also sold his designs at high-end stores such as Bergdorf Goodman and the iconic Henri Bendel in New York, but maybe Woods’ most remarkable claim to fame is having worked for Yves Saint Laurent making crocheted hats in the seventies. “I got to Paris because of a modeling job,” he says, quite unsurprisingly, considering his tall and slender frame, exquisite features and graceful presence. Soon after landing in Paris, Woods resumed the work with crochet he’d first picked up in New York and began selling his wares at exclusive Parisian boutiques.
Once back in his hometown of Chicago, he came full circle and established a delightful studio where he provides one of the most authentic and inspiring shopping experiences around. Every corner of his atelier exudes sophistication and style, in the most organic way. The same could be said about his designs, made with mostly natural fibers such as fine wools, cotton, silk and bamboo, crocheted with usually a single or half double stitch. “Those are the only two stitches that I normally use because anything else turns into what people think of as crochet craft. And I don’t do that because my process is to make this garment into a fine piece that’s more like a textile. So I don’t get involved in complicated stitches unless it’s just for a little accent,” he says. “I wanted [my work] to move from craft to a kind of casual elegance—giving preference to the fiber rather than the stitch.” Woods’ silhouettes are relaxed and minimal, though there’s an optimal level of ornamentation provided by the colors and details he employs. “I like things to have some kind of a mystery about them.”
Woods’ work has made waves locally as well and has been featured at Facility, Nick Cave’s multidisciplinary creative space. He will also be featuring and selling his designs at Alma Art and Interiors gallery in early December, as part of “we are MATERIAL,” a collective founded by local designers Anna Brown, Gillion Carrara and Andrea Reynders that seeks to “offer curated experiences that redefine the relationship between designer and consumer by shifting the consumer back toward the traditional role of patron.”
That is exactly what Woods tries to cultivate: “The clients that I have in Chicago are far more faithful.”
Journalist Isa Giallorenzo was born in São Paulo, Brazil and has elected Chicago as her beloved home since 2009. She runs the street-style blog Chicago Looks and wants to see this town become one of the fashion capitals of the world.