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Inspired by everything from her native Spain to fine art, nature to gastronomy, the Paula Canovas Del Vas universe is a rabbit-hole of narrative, fuelled by intensive research and powered by a much-needed consciousness of craft. From the moment she launched her eponymous line in 2018, the CSM BA and MA graduate has built on the narratives, archetypes and sheer vibrancy introduced in an acclaimed final collection that delighted in the duality of complex visual sensibilities. Then, and now, her ‘devil-toed’ Diablo shoes, sensory-play accessories and knitted hugs have ignited the imagination as they’ve evolved season after season. Encouraged by the self-printed book Paula shared for spring/summer 21 that celebrated the making of the collection, LN-CC visited her Haggerston-based studio to learn more about her process.
“My mother has always had very interesting shoes,” Paula tells us as we admire the latest pair of Diablo heels. The designer grew up surrounded by ‘funky shoes’ and while working on her MA collection, the design for the hoof evolved out of memories of her friends calling her Bambi because of her skinny legs. ”The factory where we produce our shoes make traditional Spanish footwear so that’s the reference too,” she adds. “They are quite complex to make because they are built largely by hand and they are so light, so comfortable.” At every turn in the studio and from every sentence the designer utters, her consideration and passion for her craft is obvious. And each piece is imbued with its own enthralling narrative. “There is a whole story, a history to the ideas of the bags and flowers,” she adds. “I personally don’t particularly have any strong feeling towards flowers, but my mother has always been interested in the art and craft of hat making, in particular fabric flowers.” The story of how her mother’s interest came to inspire Paula’s work encapsulates the spirit of the brand she is building. Paula Canovas Del Vas is powered by family, friendship, curiosity and consciousness.
Each garment, accessory and shoes has a similar story behind it and a similar focus on considered craft. As pieces evolve each season, the studio is constantly questioning how they can be improved, how comfort can be enhanced and impact reduced. “We don’t position ourselves as sustainable but every collection is driven by a sense of duty,” Paula explains. “We don’t use leather, we use organic cotton, something like 70% of the collection is made from deadstock fabric and in the knitwear we reduce waste. It requires a lot of research.” The tight-knit Paula Canovas Del Vas team are constantly questioning themselves and the wider industry, pushing for positive change. To help this endevour, they frequently look beyond fashion and collaborate with a myriad of creatives, artisans and experts from disciplines as diverse as architecture, food and art.
For autumn/winter 21, Paula enlisted the Melbourne-born, London-based expressive artist Shaye Gregan to collaborate on the prints. While Shaye’s own work draws on the African diaspora experience, identity, decolonisation, mental health and black joy, this collaboration was a reaction to the turbulent time it was made. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, Trump, and racial divisions, and inspired by their shared love of sci-fi, Shaye and Paula’s team daydreamed of leaving this Earth to explore new worlds. “It was about finding some new hope, cultivating a safe space, imagining a utopia out of a dystopia,” the artist explains over Skype.
For two months, Shaye worked in the studio alongside Paula’s core team. As he sketched, they cut and collaborated at every step.
Inspired by the studio’s process, Shaye’s mother wrote a poem that features in the collection. “For me, the process was one of the biggest things and the poem describes how the garment that you're wearing has gone through so many stages before becoming the garment that you wear now,” he explains. Its message is to be conscious of where things come from and to respect how and where pieces come from. “In the fashion world, so much is consumed without knowing and for me, real fashion is stuff that obviously makes you feel good but it needs to be sustainable and people need to know where it came from.” While it’s a privilege to do so, you don’t have to visit the Paula Canovas Del Vas studio to appreciate the hours and hours of research, development and craftsmanship behind each piece. All you have to do is touch her pieces, feel them against your skin, and walk in her shoes.