How Henry Zankov Became the Fashion World’s Go-To Sweater Guy


When Henry Zankov was a child, he set up a make-believe clothing store in his bedroom. “I would say to my brother, ‘What would you like to buy today?’ ” he recalls, laughing. “I would sketch designs, and I even had a catalog. It was crazy but sweet.”

Zankov, who is now 43, has made his younger self proud. We’re sitting in his apartment, in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens neighborhood, surrounded by racks of colorful clothing guarded closely by his Scottish Terrier, Georgina. The space also serves as his studio and the showroom for his namesake knitwear brand, which he launched in February 2020—just before pandemic lockdowns went into effect—with a small collection of bold looks for men and women. Despite the unfortunate timing, he found success with his exuberant, artful, and technically innovative designs. Even the fuzzy upcycled pillows he made to help keep the brand afloat were a hit. In 2021, he landed his first wholesale account, with Net-a-Porter; in 2023, he was a runner-up for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund prize, meaning he received $100,000 and a dedicated mentor: Daniella Vitale, the CEO of Salvatore Ferragamo.

“Henry’s talent is a unique mix of art and commerce,” says Eva Chen, vice president of fashion partnerships at Instagram and a longtime Fashion Fund judge. “I had bought his sweaters before I met him in person, and it’s been a joy to get a glimpse of the poetic way he views the world.”

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Zankov moved to the United States with his parents when he was 9. They ended up in Teaneck, New Jersey, because of its strong Jewish community and proximity to his mother’s side of the family, who had settled in the state in the 1980s. On the weekends, he’d take the bus into the city to go shopping with friends. “I remember going to the Comme des Garçons store that used to be in SoHo and thinking, God, this is so incredible,” he says.

Chloe King, Libania Namam Sa, and Dilone wear Zankov clothing.

In high school, he took sewing classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology and ended up enrolling there to study women’s design, gravitating toward knitwear along the way. “I’ve always been drawn to softer materials, whether it’s jersey, sweaters, or silk,” he says. “I really enjoy creating something from nothing. But it’s so tedious to knit, and knitting machines are so precarious. So I had to learn how to be patient.” While at F.I.T., Zankov was encouraged by a professor to take an internship at the cashmere brand TSE. Right after graduating, he landed a job at Donna Karan as an assistant menswear designer. “When I first started in the industry, I was really into black and neutrals,” he says. “It wasn’t until I worked with Diane von Furstenberg that I was really able to get into color, because she’s such a color person.”

Hints of Zankov’s previous experience—he spent five years at Donna Karan and four at DvF—can be found in his fall collection. Titled “Hold Me Closer,” it was inspired by something people tell him often about his clothes, which is that they “feel like a hug.” An oversize ruby merino wool sweater, for example, can be tied at the waist like a wrap dress, and his matching separates embody the same basic idea of practical elegance as Donna Karan’s Seven Easy Pieces, though with much more color and flair. “I want everything to feel effortless, and I don’t want the clothes to ever feel like they’re taking over the person; I want the clothes to bring something out of them,” says Zankov.

The designer Henry Zankov (center, in red) has won a loyal following with his namesake knitwear brand, worn here by (clockwise from top left) his friend and muse Chloe King, model Dilone, stylist Jermaine Daley, model Libania Namam Sa, curator and gallerist Alex Tieghi-Walker, writer Tilly Macalister-Smith, and model Dylan Keoni.

A self-proclaimed “stitch geek,” Zankov also incorporated a number of touch-me elements into the collection, like airy brushed alpaca mohair and hand-knit intarsia with integrated pompoms. “I really wanted to push the textural aspects,” he says. “It’s so easy to stay with sweaters and tops, but it’s fun to experiment with different shapes as well.”

Looking ahead, Zankov is working to expand the range of his line. “I would love there to be not so much novelty all the time, and to offer layers that are a little bit more affordable, like a nice turtleneck,” he says. He’d like to incorporate more shirting and wool tailoring as well. “We started with just six sweaters and then grew into this,” he says, gesturing toward the bright, almost creaturelike confections that have taken over his living room. “Sometimes even I am surprised with how the visual language continues to evolve.”

Chloe King, Dilone, and Dylan Keoni.

Hair by Edward Lampley for MR. SMITH at CLM Agency; Makeup by Marco Castro for MARCO CASTRO at Born Artists; Models: Jermaine Daley, Dilone at The Lions Management; Dylan Keoni at Elite Models; Chloe King, Libania Namam Sa at UC Models; Tilly Macalister-Smith, Alex Tieghi-Walker; Casting by DM Casting; Casting Assistants: Brandon Contreras, Evagria Sergeeva; Photo Assistants: Jupiter Jones, Rich Fazo; Fashion Assistants: Kelsey Logan, Jacqueline Moore; Hair Assistant: Marvin Tarver; Makeup Assistant: Emma Ando. Dilone, Macalister-Smith, and Namam Sa wear Sophie Buhai earrings; King wears her own earrings; Keoni wears Jimmy Choo shoes; Macalister-smith wears Christian Louboutin shoes; Tieghi-Walker wears Vans slip-ons; Namam Sa wears Martiniano shoes.



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