Somewhere in a loft in Chinatown, a wedding took place. But this was no ordinary wedding. The fashionable bridal party walked down the catwalk turned isle in bejewelled hoodies, panther prints and crushed velvet. The bride wore cargo pants and a t-shirt with pierced nipples. She wasn’t getting married to a groom or other bride, but to her higher self. This was the setting for the Fall/Winter 2018 presentation of American brand Collina Strada, which has been known to push boundaries with its critical and creative fashion shows for several seasons now. We had a conversation with Hillary Taymour, the Creative Director, to talk diversity, social media and her anti-Trump casting statement.
You live in New York City. What is it like to be a creative in America at this precise moment (politically, socially, artistically, etc.)?
We are currently living in the Creative Age. Personally, I don't think I know more than a handful of people working a 9-5 job. So it feels a bit like a new frontier where we are all trying to break from the rules of the generations before us and push boundaries in order to spread awareness and send a message.
If your brand was a person, what would he or she be like?
His or her name would be Grey, which they would sometimes spell differently depending on the day. Grai doesn’t like to associate with gender and likes to wear monochromatic outfits to the studio. Gray is a minimalist sculptor with three close friends that have drinks on Mondays. Grei owns a dog that is the leader of a cult in Bedford–Stuyvesant.
Could you explain to us the story behind the name Collina Strada?
My Italian friends would always call me Collina, which means ‘hill’ – short for Hillary. Strada is also an Italian word and essentially translates to ‘road’. I figured it was just a fun name.
Diversity seems to be a reoccurring theme in both your design approach and your fashion shows. Do you believe is your responsibility, as an artist, to address this issue?
I do not believe diversity should be anyone’s responsibility to address anymore. It should be an industry standard!
Another theme I see coming back is gender norms, or rather the lack thereof. What are some of the gender norms that you are trying to break with your designs and fashion shows?
At most of my stockists, you can find Collina Strada on the racks at both men’s and women’s section. I don’t want my customer to identify with the collection as a womenswear brand or even a unisex brand. I just want them to identify with the garment itself: if it fits and they feel great in it, it shouldn’t matter which rack it is hanging on.
Your latest collection is titled Sologamy and explores the question “what do you wear to marry your higher self?” What is your definition of one’s higher self?
Your higher self is a version of you, someone who is always there. Someone who fully trusts that everything will work out. Like the little angel on your shoulder, helping you through life.
How did you translate the idea of your higher self, and the marriage to her or him, in your designs?
I wanted the collection to feel like a wedding or celebration of sorts. Essentially, I focused on the idea of how people should feel safe to dress in whatever they choose. This translated into designs that were quite loud and fun, yet not so over-the-top as to compete with the bride, of course.
Why do you think it is so important to convey a message of self-love right now?
Amidst the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement, I feel like it is necessary to stop the anger and turn back to love.
Let’s talk about the fashion show, which once again featured a diverse range of models. Where did you find them? And which criteria did you follow whilst casting them?
Everyone I cast feels like family. I want my models to have a good attitude and also a good time. I’m not a fan of casting overworked models that are just on to the next show. I want them to enjoy the experience and have fun.
Your Spring/Summer 2018 show was themed around social media anxiety. Yet your latest show also featured a fair few Instagram celebrities, such as Molly and Reese Blutstein, and Bunny Michael. What is your opinion on social media as a tool for designers?
I think social media can be a useful guide to help brands find their customer and see what is working on the market.
Do you feel like social media has changed people’s perception of your work? Or have you always been active on social media since starting your brand?
I feel that, unfortunately, social media has become a necessity for ant business to thrive. I’ve been on Instagram since the beginning of my brand and I must admit I have a love-hate relationship with it. I just try to not to get sucked down this rabbit hole of looking at what everyone else is doing. We all have to play the game and social media just happens to be the biggest one right now.
Back in 2017, you held a fashion show for your collection Terraform, which had an anti-Trump casting statement. Could you enlighten us on this brilliant concept?
This show was held right after Trump was elected. It was more like a personal release to me, I thought to myself, “well, at least we can always dream about moving to Mars…” I tried to cast people who were from the countries banned by Trump, or who would be personally affected by his policies.
What is next for Collina Strada?
We just signed a lease on a bigger space in Chinatown, which is exciting. Furthermore, I want to keep pushing the boundaries on the idea of a traditional fashion show. I’d also like to expand my line and focus on art and furniture.