In the closing months of her BA (Hons) Fashion Design program at Central Saint Martins, Canadian-born Paolina Russo produced a final collection which has since been talked about. A lot. A line-up of garments which repurpose the material objects of various sports – from footballs to trainers to shin pads – it’s a love letter to suburban life and teenage sentimentality.
Paolina moved to London five years ago to study on the foundation diploma before gaining entry to the esteemed four-year course, choosing the university because “the course treats fashion as an art not just as a business or a skill,” she explains, “We are allowed a lot of freedom to explore our voices as designers.” During the course of her studies at CSM, the designer spent time interning under John Galliano at Maison Martin Margiela, was awarded the L’Oreal Professional Talent Award and also came runner-up in the MullenLowe NOVA Award.
With the help of several nurturing tutors and mentors – and supportive classmates – Paolina has developed a practice which turns personal experience into material, creating idiosyncratic work that functions as an almost scrapbook of her childhood. By allowing whatever unconventional materials are at hand to guide her outcomes, she produces narrative-rich clothing that references culture at large to explore “nostalgia and an appreciation for craft and textiles”. From rollerblade hats to lenticular fabric to crocheted football ballgowns, Paolina’s technical skills are nothing compared to her creative ingenuity and love for a medium which encapsulates so much of what she grew up with.
It’s Nice That: Why did you decide to study fashion?
Paolina Russo: Originally, I wanted to study fine art painting. When I moved to London and started my foundation I very quickly realised that fine art painting wasn’t what I thought it was going be and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was lucky enough to be able to try out the other pathways, and when I did the fashion pathway it involved a lot more drawing and making which I loved.
INT: Are there any recurring concepts in your work?
PR: I think there has always been an aspect of sports and nostalgia throughout my work at university. That is largely because it was a core part of my upbringing in the suburbs. Before I came to London I had never really left the suburbs that I grew up in, and I always find myself looking back at my memories and hometown for inspiration. Even when I look back at the first ever project I did on my BA – a pair of knitted shin guards – it connects to what I did for my final collection.
INT: Are there certain aspects of the discipline which excite you the most?
PR: I love to make with my hands, that will always be the most important aspect of my discipline. It’s amazing to be able to watch as you build a garment from nothing, it really feels like sculpture sometimes. I also really love doing research! When I am at that stage my mind is completely open, and I love discovering inspiring artists and designers in the library at university.
INT: What was the best bit about your time at university? And the worst?
PR: The best bit for me was definitely having the opportunity to work through my ideas in a space with loads of other creative people around me. I really love the creative energy of the studio, it’s very motivating having your friends around you all working towards a similar goal. When things go wrong to have a supportive group of people around you is very comforting, and I will always remember the hilarious times I had in the studio with my classmates.
I think the worst part was definitely worrying about money. University is very expensive and doing a fashion BA is even more expensive when you start adding in all the materials costs. There were definitely times where I had to debate about buying fabric or buying groceries. I feel very grateful to have been awarded a scholarship for my final year from the British Fashion Council! Without it, I don’t think it would have been possible to have done my final year or make my collection. It really did change my life as I have been given so many amazing opportunities following my final collection, and I am so, so grateful.
INT: Can you describe a project you’re most proud of and why?
PR: I am definitely most proud of my final collection. I felt very complete in the work I did and that’s partly because I had the time and funds to explore an idea fully. I think it’s one of the only times in university that I have ever felt I really finished something. Even when I used to make paintings in high school, I rarely signed them because I never felt they were fully finished. But I would definitely sign my final collection if I could.
INT: Is there a particular person who has shaped your university experience or creative outlook?
PR: I have had so many amazing tutors and classmates throughout my four years, but in particular, my tutor Sarah Gresty has truly made my experience amazing. She really understood my work from the beginning and was super supportive and helpful throughout my BA. I really respect the work she has done for me and my classmates, she is such a dedicated tutor and the CSM BA wouldn’t be the same without her!
INT: If you could create your dream project, what would it be?
PR: I 100% want to make another collection. I enjoyed it so much and I really enjoyed working across platforms; designing and making clothes, styling, photography and video. Making another collection would encompass all of the things I love doing.
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