In the southernmost city of the lower forty-eights, it’s always sweater season for someone somewhere else. In a back office, one block from Ernest Hemingway’s former home in Key West, Florida, and a walk past mirrored walls on a floor paved with salvaged steel complete with a working manhole, is Scott’s wall of Rubbermaid boxes. They contain Scott’s Sweaters, meticulously organized and catalogued. He’s an accountant by day, but Scott’s been in the sweater business for decades. Scott’s Sweaters isn’t open to the public, not physically. But he keeps constant vigil maintaining his two websites of men’s and women’s vintage sweaters at scottsweaters.com and inspirational sweater images at sweaterbaron.com.
Scott’s trove of hirsute sweaters consists mostly of vintage mohair and angora ranging in style from après ski to full-blown Muppet. In 2000, eBay propelled his business forward, leading him to create his own online store. For that he needed photography, and he began taking pictures using local friends as models.
The terms “lifestyle” and “subculture” are insufficient to describe the enigmatic fashion aesthetic Scott’s photos depict. Shades of Paulina Olowska and Bruce Weber are found in the knit of a flocculent white bodysuit against a black velvet backdrop and worn by a provincial but graceful lad of say . . . twenty? The combination of blurry mohair knitted from the fleece of Angora goats, a splash of acne on a young model, and the visible camaraderie of an intergenerational queer community modeling the warmest natural fibers known to man—in the subtropics—is Scott’s photographic je ne sais quoi.
Scott is a self-taught photographer, but a review of his extensive online oeuvre of sweater photographs helps one to understand how he honed his gaze. The Sweater Baron website contains hundreds of photographs including men’s knitwear patterns from the 20th century, stills from “the best sweater movies ever,” found images from the web, and Scott’s own dot-com advertorial pictures. Deep in the archive are a few backlit portraits of Ricky Schroder showing off both his angelic silky hair and the fuzzy shoulder horizon of the young actor’s mohair sweater. Scott has mastered this brushed and backlit technique and refers to it as capturing the “aura” of a sweater.
It’s only after researching other high sweater culture sites such as Milena Bunalova’s designs for Dukyana that I begin to see where the utopian principles of Internet communities mesh with the provocative sumptuousness of fetish. The art of Scott’s Sweaters is not its off-key context, but in the way the sweaters can wink with a million furry lashes. Scott’s Sweaters is a cruise across an illuminated juncture of both physical and photographic fuzziness, seen through eyes watery from vintage pullover, computer screens, and sun drench.
Travis Boyer is a New York–based artist, curator, and textile educator.