Oink! Squeak! Woof! These might not be sounds you expect to hear at New York Fashion Week, but this season Collina Strada had a farm, ee i ee i o. And on that farm were joyful barnyard fits that would put Old MacDonald to shame. Hillary Taymour, the mind, heart and soul behind New York-based fashion brand Collina Strada, grew up riding horses to her local corner shop in Palo Verdes, California, which sparked an enduring fascination and affection for animals. While the designer moved to New York City 13 years ago, she still maintains a close affinity with other creatures. The closest of all is with her pet Pomeranian, Powwie, who jumps onto her lap mid-interview to make sure he’s not left out. After all, having appeared on the Collina Strada runway, he’s almost as much a part of the brand as Taymour herself.
Interview taken from METAL Magazine issue 48. Adapted for the online version. Order your copy here.
This playful thread runs through Taymour’s richly textured, candy coloured designs. Collina Strada transforms our childlike fashion fantasies into clothes we actually want to wear. Balancing idiosyncratic whimsy with a solid sense of purpose, Taymour is forging a path based in integrity – some say that’s the key to joy. As she says below, “You have to live it to be it. I’m not just going to say ’let’s be sustainable’ then go eat filet mignon.”
Having launched Collina Strada as a leather handbag brand back in 2009, one day she simply looked around her studio and saw “too much death” so stopped using real leather altogether. A recent collab with footwear brand VIRÓN worked with apple skin leather as an alternative. Taymour has been vegan for six or so years; with an Autumn/Winter 2023 show titled Please Don’t Eat My Friends, the message couldn’t be clearer.
We can learn a lot from animals; how to be present, how to love unconditionally, how to find joy in the little things. Taymour suggests that Powwie is her greatest teacher because he greets each and every day with such excitement. So, rather than growing jaded or pessimistic, perhaps we can all be more like Collina Strada’s menagerie of impeccably dressed ’Animorph’ creatures, even if we take it one step, hop or slither at a time.
You’ve been living in New York City for over a decade now, but before that you lived in California. What did you like most about where you grew up?
I grew up in Palos Verdes and basically all you did was surf or ride horses there. I could ride my horse to the corner store and buy sandwiches and candy when I was little. Kind of a fairytale place.
That sounds amazing. Now that you live in New York, how do you stay in touch with nature?
You’ve got go upstate at the weekend. If you visit parents you stop for a few days somewhere else. You find the time because it’s important. But there needs to be way more inner city green spaces. When we did our last show at the Brooklyn Grange Farm, we gave out letters for people to give to their landlords to make green spaces on their roof because there are tax deductions through that. We did all the due diligence and codes so people could petition to put a green space on the roof of their building.
You do a lot of work with the local community so you must feel quite connected to it. What do you love most about the city?
I think the first real week of spring is the most fun week in New York because everyone comes out of hibernation and everyone is in such a good mood. It’s such great energy on the streets.
Your pet Pomeranian, Powwie, starred in your recent runway show. Pets are often a great source of joy for us. How does Powwie bring joy to your life?
He really knows when I need him. When I’m super stressed out during fashion week, he’ll come running to me. He’ll be like, ’I need to get to mum. I know she needs me. He’ll always come at the most panicked time where I’m like, I can’t hold you right now. He’s like, “No, no, you need to hold me. This is your medicine.” We like to be in nature together. He gives really good hugs. Every morning he comes and gives me a hug. Waking up with him is the sweetest thing. He really is the only reason I get out of bed because he’s like, “Good morning! It’s going to be the best day ever!” He screams with joy. It’s such pure happiness about being alive. You don’t see that in humans. No one wakes up every single day thinking, this is going to be the best day ever! They might do sometimes, but we rarely have that reaction to everyday life. Having Powwie waking up and acting like it’s going to be the best day ever means we’re so excited to get up and start the day. It can really help your mood and help your whole day start the correct way.
Did you grow up around animals? How did this influence how you feel about coexisting in harmony with them?
I was raised with horses and dogs my whole life. I think having a connection and bond with your animals really helps your relationships with people and understanding emotional connections. We all communicate without words and being able to pick up on those things can really elevate your life.
You’ve been vegan for a while now. What’s your favourite vegan meal?
Hummus is my main food group, but I love spicy nugs and broccoli. That’s my favourite studio lunch. Or a green alkaline smoothie at this small business on Mott and Delancey.
Do you think being vegan has made you happier?
It’s definitely made me more aware of what’s going on with my body. I can feel myself getting sick so I can get on top of it and be preventative, but I feel like it’s healthier for your soul more than it is for your daily life. It makes me feel like I’m doing a small part in the bigger picture for the planet. Every day I walk around the world thinking, have I done my part today in being a better person or giving wisdom or guidance to others to be the better versions of themselves?’ I’m able to support myself and have a roof over my head and feed myself. I am able to have agency over myself and also be a leader in a space where people listen to me so I want to practise what I preach. I feel like that’s necessary in this landscape with what’s going on with the planet. If I’m saying, let’s be sustainable, I need to do all the steps that it takes myself. I’m not just going to say that and then go eat filet mignon. I don’t want to be that person. And I don’t think I’ll ever be that person. You have to live it to be it.
Do you think that the fashion industry could do more to safeguard animals?
The whole fur thing is really dwindling which is amazing. You see it less and less although it’s not always substituted with the best materials. In our last collection, we printed recycled denim and rose silk to make it look like fur without it being toxic or plastic. I think all companies should have standards in place where they’re practising what they’re preaching. I think there are a lot of brands that do, but I think there’s always room to do better in fashion. We can always do better. With technology, we’re always learning. We’re always getting new things available to us so it’s just about being up to date and continuously changing and evolving.
In your recent show you had animal prosthetics created by makeup artist Isamaya Ffrench. They received a mixed reaction online with some calling them nightmarish or gimmicky. What response were you hoping the show would elicit?
I just really wanted to work with Isamaya Ffrench and her strengths in creating animals because that was the theme of the show. I don’t think there was anything nightmarish about it. I think that’s just coming from the internet and people who didn’t understand anything about the brand or know where it was coming from. They just saw something on Instagram and they didn’t know what or who or why.
It was a continuation of the Animorphs theme that you explored virtually during the pandemic through psychedelic moving images. In lockdown, young people were increasingly experimenting with psychedelics and microdosing for mental health and creativity. Have psychedelics helped your mental health or creativity?
Yeah, totally. I think mushrooms are amazing. It’s always nice to have a reset or a microdose. I think it can really keep you grounded. They're a way to really reset and be in touch with nature in that realm.
What was your first experience with psychedelics like?
I vaguely remember taking mushrooms on the beach as a teen and thinking I was in the Sahara desert near the pyramids. Maybe it was taking me back to my ancient roots since I’m half Egyptian. Who knows? Past life regression therapy at an early age.
What were you like as a teenager? How did you dress and what kind of fashion were you interested in?
My style was a mix of pop punk princess and surfer girl. I wore chequered Vans, Miss Sixty or Frankie B jeans, belly button out, sparkly flame belts and pink ruched tops with striped highlights. I wish I had pictures to show you. I loved fashion. It was the height of the premium denim renaissance and I was obsessed with jeans. Everything to do with jeans. I loved Prada, Diesel, Miss Sixty, Marc Jacobs, and I sometimes indulged in Abercrombie. Nothing made me happy at that age but shopping with my friends because I was a teenage girl. It’s such a hard age figuring out your identity, but I was fortunate to be raised in a household where I could express myself through clothing. Shout out to Nordstrom in the early aughts!
What is your earliest fashion memory?
One of my first fashion memories was the American Express Oscar dress worn by Lizzy Gardiner. She won best costume design for Priscilla Queen of the Desert. That’s an iconic film everyone should watch if you like fashion. I just remember my jaw dropping and my brain not being able to comprehend taking an everyday item and making it into clothing. It really was an eye opening experience for a seven year old.
Do the same things make you happy now as when you were a child?
Yes for sure. When I was a kid I loved being outside riding my horses. That’s very similar to the type of stuff that brings me joy as an adult. I wish I could ride every day as an adult. It’s my dream for my 40s.
So, you’re excited about getting older. Do you feel like you get happier the older you get?
I’m definitely trying! I have really started to appreciate things in a different way. I recognise things that don’t bring me joy and have an easier time expressing that or being conscious with my time. Knowing myself and what I like. I love being in nature and with people I love. It’s the simple things in life that sometimes bring the most joy.
You cast models of all ages in your shows. For many people, ageing can be a scary concept. How do you find joy in getting older?
Getting older is great. You get taken seriously. You feel better about yourself. You feel better in your body. You feel happier. You learn. You just know more and knowledge is power. Holding your space in this world is really important. The older you are, the more understanding you have of that space that you hold.
Do you practise gratitude to maintain this mindset?
I try to meditate and be present in that space. I pet my dog, spend time in nature and give back to others when I can. I buy a granola bar every day for breakfast, but if I see someone who needs food on the train then I always give it to them. It’s a daily ritual. I’m always like, I really want this for breakfast, but this person definitely needs it far more than me. You need to give when you see others who need it more than you do.
That’s such a nice ritual. Collina Strada’s ethos is about being the best version of yourself. When do you feel like you’re the best version of yourself?
Probably when I’m actually able to create. In those real creative moments because designers don’t really get to create all day long. We have to do so many other things so I feel my best when I’m in those peak creative moments.
You once said that everything serious is a joke. How has humour helped inspire your creativity?
I think it’s just part of my nature. I have a very dry sense of humour. I love clothes and I love fashion so much, but at the end of the day, if you can’t have a laugh and you take yourself too seriously, what’s the point? If you’re not having fun, no one’s going to have fun looking at what you’re doing.
What do you love most about fashion?
You can change every day. You get to be a different person every day if you want to. Through clothes you can transform yourself in a way or you can wear them as armour to protect yourself. You can do anything with fashion. It’s your art that you wear throughout the day. Any stranger can recognise what you want to express through your clothing without having to speak to you.
What makes you happiest about the clothes that you make?
I just like the way they fit and how I can style them. It makes me happy. I always wear full Collina Strada.
One thing that makes me feel good about your work is how colourful it is. Would you say that you have an emotional response to colour?
I guess so. Colour is really healing. I really believe in the colours of the chakras and colour therapy. I think colour makes you happy. If you see someone dressed up in a wild colour, it’s going to put a smile on your face. You’re going to have a feeling towards that. You can’t help but have a reaction. At least that’s how I feel when I walk down the street. I’m not really colourful today, but I’m usually dressed quite colourfully. And I can feel people feed off that energy of the colour that I’m wearing and it has nothing to do with me. Usually I’m in my own zone, not really paying attention. I’m not smiling at anyone, but they’re smiling at me. Colour brings joy.
You’ve said before, if something’s not fun, why do it? What are some ways you make sure that you have enough fun in your life?
I constantly check in with myself to see what’s going on. I push myself to do things I wouldn’t normally do, make sure I get things done the way I want to get them done. It’s about being self-aware. It’s all connected.