Collina Strada Designer Hillary Taymour On Strength, Competition And Eco-Conscious Fashion For Oyster #116

“I’ve really tried to make each season reflect my true authentic self, stronger and stronger.”

Hillary Taymour is not tiptoeing her Collina Strada collections around the skirts of Fashion Week anymore. A newfound freedom and a buoyant peer support network has pushed her front and centre among the coolest young labels in New York.

The past few seasons have seen her collections explore social corruption while looking inward, honestly, at her own imperfect gestures. With her work, she nods to the real things: climate change, calmed nerves and balanced chakras, social media obsession, terraforming, and remembering to call our mums. Right now, she is taking on our shared responsibility for the wellbeing of Mother Earth via deadstock fabrics and recycled waste beading.

So, when we speak with Hillary about preoccupations, of both the mind and heart, she has a lot to say. Here for Oyster, her work speaks through the lens and on the bodies of her close sources of inspo — Ana Kraš and Richie Shazam — who behaved as each others’ muses and models. A fitting salute to Collina Strada, whose crusade for a better world through togetherness is one worth dressing up for.

Hayley Morgan: Your label and creativity seems to have really blossomed in the last couple of seasons — what’s been happening with you? Why do you think this is?

Hillary Taymour: I always just design based on what I’m wearing, what I’m doing and how I am expressing myself. So these past seasons I have been wearing a lot more colour and have gone a little crazier with my personal style. Since I turned 30, I’ve really tried to make each season reflect my true authentic self, stronger and stronger. So I’m less tied to what I believe people want, and more so what I want.

It seems you’re always exploring nuanced personal battles in the new collections, rather than purely exploring aesthetics. What kinds of stories are you interested in telling?

I guess the tie-dye thing came about when it was all I wanted to wear and I looked like a camp counsellor. I dressed like that all last summer and I swear to god I could have been a baby sitter — glitter sandals and mismatched tie-dye all day long. I also tried to make the last two collections very much organised chaos, as I felt like my life was organised chaos. I’m just trying to do my best with the 15 minutes that I’ve got people’s attention. I feel like the way fashion is being presented is quite dead, and with Instagram it gets to be so monotonous. I guess it’s different because my brand is not like ‘look at me and these new structural pieces’, it’s more just stuff that I think is relevant and affordable and makes sense in your closet. Which is a different approach to fashion. So I guess if I saw that walking down the runway without any context I would think it was dumb — it needs something behind it to explain why we’re here.

There are a few young labels approaching fashion more like an artist — making a collection with an actual personal story to portray and research and to explore. Do you connect with them? Or is it too competitive?

I had dinner with Prisca [of Priscavera] and by accident we were fangirling. She’s my direct competition, but it’s nice that we can be a community and have this positive discussion. Especially with women, we can often be so competitive because we’ve had to be for so long. Now things are changing and we can be really supportive, which I think is really beautiful and also important because, yeah, men.

Totally. Among a lot of women who I admire, there’s this huge opening up about being real. Everyone is starting to talk about imperfections in a special way.

I think it’s so beautiful and so important. When Trump was elected, when I did my ‘Terraform Mars’ show, I was quoted in Vogue as saying ‘As a second-generation Middle Eastern woman who has had two abortions and dates both men and women…’ and my mum freaked the fuck out. She wanted to sue. It’s so interesting how the generation before can’t handle that type of truth, but it’s so important to share that truth to the next generation. And that’s not a fault, that’s just me saying that shit happens and let’s be real, you’re not the only one going through this.

So is it cathartic for you? You delve into inner peace while reflecting on the current state of the world, but do you feel more at peace with things after a collection is released?

It’s a process. For instance, our ‘Sound Bath’ show was so intense with the sound itself and the shaman. I sent out the second look then just broke into tears — I forgot to do my model switch and we sent a look down out of order, which is fine… But I was just in tears, I was an emotional wreck. It’s really difficult when you give out a collection. The hardest thing for me, is that as soon as you send a look down the runway, you’ve given it to the world and you can no longer change anything. You can’t protect it, it is just being judged. After the show, it is a really strong process for me — I have four days of a really strong high and then like two weeks of a really strong comedown.

Sure. And I guess when you release something you also don’t own the narrative anymore. Everyone gets to interpret it however they want and you have no control over that.

Of course. And all the egos who helped you, all the artists, all these people who you promised would get credited don’t, and then it’s a whole battle… I think Paper Magazine this season wrote “Wearing Collina Strada Saves The World,” and I was like, did you even read the show notes? That’s a fucking bold statement to say, you can’t say that. My PR is saying it’s not the worst thing that someone can write, but it kind of actually is if you read the show notes. I’m saying I’m not perfect but I’m trying to be better and here’s how we can all be better in our homes and in our daily life practices. But I’m not an angel and wearing me isn’t going to save the world. Let’s just take these tiny, tiny steps to be better humans as the 1% that we are.

Eco-conscious design and production is an important thing for you — your most recent show explicitly explored this — but you’ve been friendly with the environment since your days making handbags. Do you think you cared about the environment or fashion first?

So, what happened to me is — before I even shipped a collection — I did a bag for Target. Somehow, I got on this curated Daily Candy shelf. I did something like 5,000 handbags and I was working with a factory in China to do them. I’d never been to China, I was like 21. And I went through this mass production process and was like, nope, never again. The bags smelled like toxic chemicals, the way it was printed was terrible, and people were working around the clock to make these bags in three days. It was not cool. So now we produce locally, we produce small quantities, and everyone gets paid fairly. It’s a happy workplace. But I’ve always loved fashion, yes, since I was a child. I used to have mental breakdowns because Barbie wasn’t wearing the right clothes.

I did wonder about your upbringing, and if you grew up in a family that had open dialogue about the social issues that are so strong in your work.

Absolutely not. My family is super conservative. I was raised to be either a doctor or a lawyer. Those were the options for me. I think that’s why, when I turned 30, my collections became a lot more intense. I’ve really broken free from that, I’m no longer trying to serve my family. I’m just now in therapy with my dad which is really fun.

So what were you like as a teenager, before you decided on fashion?

I grew up riding horses competitively, on the show jumping circuit. Then I was the devil child. I was taking out all my angst on teenage boys.

I read that you also make furniture, too. Is that right?

Yeah, sometimes.

That’s so sick. Why are you so good at all this stuff?

I guess interiors is a hobby that I do sometimes. I was really low, working so hard in fashion and no one was giving me any fucking respect. So I started doing furniture and it was really fun — I did some mirrors and they were in Tenoversix, I designed LCD Store in Downtown LA, and I did some stools. Now I do special interior projects only. But I think I’ll do some more furniture projects now that I’m recently single and I’ve had some time. I really love furniture and interiors — actually, I love clean spaces. People think my space would be super intense, but I love to have nothing around in the most functional way — that’s where you can think.

Are there any other creative endeavours I’ve missed?

I was experimenting with film, but I’m not any more. Now, I’m working on show concepts for other designers.

Oh that’s cool — are you worried to give away your best ideas?

Girl, I don’t give away my best ideas. I have so many ideas, they’re never going to run out. Don’t worry.

I read that you wanted to marry Elon Musk in an old interview — are you still obsessed with him?

Yeah, I don’t anymore. He’s so weird. I hear he has one room in the Tesla thing, because he thinks comedy is the next venture in America, so he has hired a team of comedians and they sit in this room and write content for him. And he has done nothing with it. And one day they filmed the Grimes film clip in that room and he told them to work in the corner and they said no.

I want to know what he thinks is funny.

Same.

Do you still want to go to Mars?

Yeah. I’ll go to Mars with Elon but I don’t need to marry him.

Do you have a fantasy space colony? Who would you take with you and why?

Yeah, not a lot of people. It’s very specific — there are humans and non-humans. So, I have a soul healer who says that I am a blue person and come from a planet that is blue. I have only ever wanted a blue baby, I don’t want a white child — that would be the worst thing for me ever. It’s not anything to do with the white race but I just don’t resonate as like… I don’t know, I just want an avatar baby and it doesn’t matter how I get it.

It doesn’t matter how you get it?

No, I guess it does matter how I get it, but this person on the internet makes really cute fake ones so I feel like I’ll start there. And I have a Blue Merle Pomeranian dog, so I already have a blue baby. I’ll send you his Instagram, he’s so cute. He has a third-eye bindi, he always wears a rhinestone bindi.

Oh my god, I love you, you’re a freak!

His chakra is always open. People always try to take it off and I just look at them like they’re the devil — do not touch my dog’s third eye, what are you doing? He loves it too, whenever you go to put it on, he closes his eyes. He loves it.

Is this like a specialty product or are you DIYing this? What is happening?

Who makes third-eye rhinestone bindis for dogs?

You should!

Everyone always wants one, maybe I should. It’s just jewel glue and a rhinestone and my assistant does it. I can’t do it. It’s better if someone else does it. It feels more professional. Plus, we joke that my assistant is the vajazzler or rhinestone department because I am always asking for rhinestones on things — like ‘I need more rhinestones on the crotch.’ She’s a professional vajazzler.

It’s a pretty good thing for the CV, I would say.

Yeah, she could probably go to Swarovski. But yeah, back to Mars and the space colony. There are non-humans and humans, right? So, I’d have to interview my favourite hundred non-humans and go from there.

Would you have any rules for life on Mars?

Everyone would have to have their own skill set. They’d have to channel it and everyone would have their own jobs. I would do organisation of the colonies or interiors. I could do houses on Mars with plasma walls.

Or just making little dog jewels.

Dog third-eye bindis. Do you think there’s a market for that? I feel like it could be my next venture and that’s how I’ll make my first billion.

Honestly, if you were ever going to move back to California, it would be to start that business.

Or die.

Maybe both.

Yeah, a retirement plan.

OK, back to Earth — with your recent show, you kind of vowed to do more to protect the environment… or rather do less to hurt it. Have you stopped buying bottled water and ordering from Seamless?

I brought my 4ocean tie-dye bottle with me to Paris and I filled it up at the airport. So cute. And I have stopped ordering from Seamless. It’s a big deal. The other night I was going to get Deliveroo in London and instead I just went to the grocery store and made pasta.

So what are you obsessing over right now? What ideas and questions are you looking at for your next collection?

I’m obsessed with grandma couches and really bad 80s prints, so I’m working on those for Spring.

photography Ana Kraš & Richie Shazam fashion Paul Bui words Hayley Morgan

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