Paolina Russo



Clothing courtesy of Paolina Russo
Photography/Art Direction: Jelena Luise
Stylist: Brydie Perkins
Makeup: Stevie Squire
Models: Tiffany R. Chan and Helene Selam Kleih
Production, Creative Direction, & interview by: Jessica Canje, VULGARTEEN Productions

Paolina Russo isn’t afraid. Not of being too much, not of colour or of clashing. In her designs, she is completely and totally fearless in the best possible way. Currently completing her MA in Fashion Knitwear at Central Saint Martins, Paolina is already accustomed to industry praise, having made an impact with her designs early in her career. It took five years of studies and months of planning and preparation to premiere her first collection, but when she won the L’Oreal Professionnel Young Talent Award for her final BA collection, I Forgot Home, it was clear her talent and work ethic had set her apart from her fellow classmates.

As a person, Paolina leaves an impression—whether it’s her creative approach or her gentle calming voice. It’s no surprise she had a crocheted piece named after her in Margiela’s SS17 show. She was an intern for John Galliano, who she cites as one of her many mentors, and the feeling is clearly mutual. Not only do her intricate designs tell a nostalgic story, but they’re also eco-friendly, made from repurposed materials such as soccer shoes and balls, shin pads, sport-socks, and rollerblades. In an industry full of waste and dullness, Paolina brings a much-needed perspective and lively dose of colour. And the 23-year old, Canadian-born designer is only getting started. Here Paolina talks suburbs, Solange, and how music informs her work.

I know you’re from Markham as we have bonded over this [laughs]. Tell me about your upbringing and how this has influenced your work?

I think it’s a funny coincidence that we’re both from Markham, Ontario. Before I even came to London, I never really left Canada, or even Markham. That was kind of all I knew. When I moved to London, my world was blown open. Markham was super influential to my work, especially for my last collection. When I went home over the summer, before my final year, I felt really nostalgic. I remembered the feeling of when you’re a teenager and living in the suburbs and you’re just bored and you don’t really know what’s out there. You don’t know if there’s anything bigger than what you know. That was the base feeling of my collection. I think the main thing too, about being from Markham, is the strong sports culture I grew up around. Ever since I was a kid, I played sports, like Timbits soccer. I have this sporty approach to everything I do and it’s because of how I grew up. There’s also this craft culture in Markham. All those craft fairs—the Markham Fair and all the craft guilds—really influenced my interest in crochet and knitwear. Everything I do is really hands-on and based in hand craft. That mixture between sports and hand craft is really from having lived in Markham.

What’s an important lesson you’ve learned from CSM so far?

To be independent and not seek validation from an outside source. I think being at CSM, they force you to be super independent and to find your own voice, your own validation, and your own means. I’ve learned to be super resourceful because studying at CSM is really expensive, living in London is super expensive. I never had a huge budget to put towards my work. It was always about finding creative solutions. It pushed me to start using things like recycled materials and going to charity shops to find materials. I think that sense of resourcefulness came from studying at CSM.

You’re in the very early stages of your career, but amidst your much-deserved success, has there been a pinch me I’m dreaming moment?

Definitely when my shoe corset was on Solange for the cover of Dazed. That’s the biggest thing that has ever happened to me, and it was so out of the blue. I didn’t even know the piece was going to be on the cover. When I saw it, it really got me shook. It was amazing and emotional experience, because when you work so hard—it’s amazing to see my work in that kind of context, and to see it on a woman that I respect so much. So cool.

What’s your ideal work environment?

A space that has loads of light and a pretty substantial workspace so I can spread out. I have so many ideas, and considering I work with so many materials, it’s nice to have physical space to spread those ideas out. To have things on the floor, have things out and be looking at my work constantly. I loved working in the studio during my BA because all around me everyone was working really hard and there’s this flow of energy, the flow of creativity, and that’s super motivating and inspiring. It pushes you to want to do better with your work when everyone around you is pushing their own work so hard. I definitely think that a collaborative working environment, where other people are working on their own things and there’s a lot of individuality, is my ideal work environment.

I’ve heard you taught John Galliano how to use Snapchat. Can you describe your time interning at Margiela, and what you learned that you now apply to your own business?

Not fearing failure. Everything that John does at Margiela, he goes for it fully. He’s not thinking about whether an idea is cool or what people think of it. He gets inspired by one thing, and then he explores it so fully in the collections with so much depth, and without that kind of fear. I think that’s really cool. He is completely free with the way he works creatively. For me, it makes me more open about the way that I approach my own work and ideas. You just can’t see something through until you fully commit to it and you’re completely in that world. John creates a world around him. It’s not just about the clothes, it’s about the woman, about how she smells. It’s about what music she listens to, where she goes out—all of these things that build this world. So I’ve tried to build this world for the woman that I’m designing for.

Is it hard to find a balance between work and social life? I know you’re on a scholarship, so keeping yourself in line while living in London may be a bit challenging. What do you do to keep yourself on track?

This is definitely one of the hard things for me to balance. I need that time to breathe and to be normal and separate myself from the work. Just to give myself a little perspective. If it’s fashion 24/7, I think it can become really stale and boring and I don’t want to lose my love for it.

I’m 23, so I need to be out there living my life, seeing new things. It’s important for the work as well, because if I’m not living my life, where are all these ideas coming from?

Tell me about your music choice in your shows. How you approach it is quite unique—does it reflect your personal music taste?

My favourite part of putting together the show was picking the music. I really wanted to bring that suburban vibe to the runway. A lot of the music I choose is music that’s super important to me, but it’s also music that I listened to a lot when I was teenager. When I hear a Green Day song or a Good Charlotte song, it instantly brings me back. You don’t see people playing that kind of music on the runway. It’s usually something with a beat or a kind of mellow piece that doesn’t overshadow the collection I guess. But I like to go for it. I want people to be having a good time. When I’m designing, I’m putting together a playlist on the side, to get me in the mood of the work that I’m doing, the world that I’m designing and the person that I’m designing for. My music is like really, really important to clothes.