meet the csm student turned insta-babe who introduced john galliano to snapchat
Incidentally, she just won the L’Oreal Professionnel Young Talent Award for her BA collection. Yup, Paolina Russo means business.
Last night, after five long years of studies and months of preparation on her final collection, I Forgot Home, Paolina Russo won the L’Oreal Professionnel Young Talent Award at the Saint Martins BA fashion show. Competition was stiff, as she was up against over 100 fellow design students. Given that the course’s acceptance rate is as low as 7%, winning an award whose previous recipients include Grace Wales Bonner, Goom Heo, Jim Chen Hsiang, and Flaminia Saccucci bodes well for a successful future in fashion.
After growing up in Toronto, Paolina’s initial perception of fashion was informed by the sportswear she was constantly surrounded by -- hence the trainers and rollerblades worn whimsically as hats, the souped up sports socks, the helmets and the kind of body armour one might expect to seek on an ice hockey rink or American football pitch, only corseted to perfection. Her collection essentially picks up from where Balenciaga left off, with what feels like a satirisation of the shoe-as-leggings trend with shoeggings, shoehats and shoegloves.
Her multicoloured knitted bodysuits change psychedelically with every movement. However, this kooky and individualistic approach to design does not distract from the collection’s real charm; the impossibly intricate details and precise pattern cutting that puts every curve and contour in its place: no shoelace is out of line. “It’s really about that sense of fading memory and emotional attachment to the past,” Paolina tells i-D. “There’s a lot of sports motifs and references throughout the collection that basically what I dreamt fashion would be like when I was growing up.”
As a child, your imagination is your best friend. You don’t care about climate change or North Korea you just want to be a princess or a knight or in Paolina’s case, Gwen Stefani:
“I’ve always loved dressing up and feeling like a popstar,” she says. “Whenever I would make anything, I’d put it on my head or turn it into jewellery. It was a really natural progression to start making clothes.”
Growing up in the suburbs of Markham, Paolina was so obsessed with the No Doubt frontwoman that she wouldn’t be caught dead in anything other than a crop top. Much of her childhood has stuck with her and Paolina now channels her inner pop diva through her work. “I reference my childhood and adolescence a lot with bright colours and shapes, icons and logos. I think my work centres itself around youth because I find the uncertainty and hope that comes with growing up really beautiful and interesting.”
Paolina’s career trajectory is, however, certain to keep moving upwards. After interning at Margiela last year, she can count John Galliano among her mentors. “It was a really surreal time for me. I’m so grateful to John and I learnt so much from him and the Margiela team.” In a recent conversation with Tim Blanks, Galliano even cites her as one of the inspirations behind his spring/summer 17 collection, calling her an “Instagram Babe” and saying she introduced him to Snapchat. “It’s amazing to be validated by someone who has been such an inspiration and influence on me and my work,” she says.
One crochet piece in the Margiela spring/summer 17 show is actually named the ‘Paolina dress’. She even managed to embroider a cheeky portrait of her boyfriend, Aidan Zamiri, into folds of the dress. “He’s been a real driving force behind me and my work,” she gushes over Aidan, who filmed a short video of her final collection. “I’m always super inspired by him, the things he’s interested in and the way he dresses.”
The pair are always collaborating on something, but most of their focus is taken up by styling and shooting videos for the band Dream Wife, who they met after working on a set for one of their first gigs. “Using their music videos as a vehicle, we get the opportunity to create a whole different world. Dressing the band in these crazy looks and for them to completely own it and perform with so much presence and personality – it's brilliant.”
So what’s next? “At the moment, I’ve not had much time to think about anything other than my upcoming collection, but after it’s out there I’m excited to see what else might come up.” The little girl that made hats out of plastic bottles with her mum back in Canada has grown to become this year’s most exciting Saint Martins graduate. We can’t wait to see what life has in store for her.
Photography Pablo Di Prima
Video Aidan Zamiri
Make-up Mona Leanne
Wigs Taylor-Mary Anthony
Headgear in collaboration with Leo Carlton
Models Zenobia Crimson @ antiagency, Ayesha Tan Jones @ antiagency, Jasmine Lia @ Nevs, Leonie Perzl, Shot at Grand Palace Studio