Hillary Taymour was interviewed for Lampoon’s February issue, coming out on the 20th of February 2020.
In a studio, sitting three flights above Chinatown’s Elizabeth Street, Hillary Taymour sits at a table hosting a sewing machine and enough deadstock fabric to expand the length. It’s 7:15 pm and Taymour’s head is down and hands kept busy with a sneaker in one hand, glue in the other. The Collina Strada designer is working to complete a custom pair of sneakers for Spanish singer and songwriter, Rosalìa’s upcoming Grammy appearance. “Sustainability is a journey” – Taymour confirms her Spring Summer 2020 show notes statement while fastening jeweled mesh to the exterior of the sneaker. “Everyday is difficult having to make design choices. For example, I’m using glue right now.”
Based and manufactured in New York, Collina Strada’s core transcends its collections, as its DNA is imbued with catalysts for change. Self-declared as a platform for climate awareness, social awareness, change and self-expression, the brand offers itself as the medium to which Taymour has been able to express her social, political and eco stance. Collina Strada’s collection themes range from sustainability to climate change, to self-love and self-preservation, seemingly acting each season as a barometer of the world’s current political, social and economical situation. “We don’t shove values down anyone’s throat, but simultaneously express our values in a way that doesn’t feel gross. You wouldn’t even know my brand is sustainable on the shelf. It doesn’t preach any of that shit.” A notion that stands arguably true and is backed by the brand’s own perception and audience reaction – perhaps because of the approachability factor or “because it doesn’t come from money”, if you ask Taymour.
Collina Strada’s Spring 2020 Ready-to-Wear collection was set to the block lining the west side of Stuyvesant Square Park in New York. On each attendee’s seat sat a reusable produce bag and show notes offering ways to help the Earth. Amongst the page of advice, showgoers were encouraged to eat less meat, eat more plants, cook at home and plant a tree – words offered by Céline Semaan of Slow Factory, the sustainable fashion agency. The show itself was titled Thank You Very Much for Helping Me and acted as a humble plea in joining Taymour by simply asking: how can I help? Taymour reflects on her show notes. Her gaze remains down, focused on the sneakers, raising subtly for a moment with a nod to a stack of leftover show notes. “One of my buyers came in today and is the owner of one of the biggest boutiques in the Americas. She told me she has my show notes on her refrigerator to remind her to do better. It’s not preachy. It’s just like little motivational talks to be better and we all need it.”
Collina Strada casted its community to walk the show and as previous seasons, championed mothers young and old and celebrated LGBTQ+ friends and survivors. “We cast for two days and see so many people, but in the end I always wind up casting my friends. I cast people who inspire me, friends of friends, humans that I respect.” Some models deviate from the runway, stopping along the produce-lined park fence to grab an orange, or an apple. Others pick squash and kale, or pluck grapes while walking. Brooklyn musician Zsela performs for the audience as the Collina Strada community continues to move down the runway, allowing their inhibitions to take hold of their movement in organic response to the music. The collection was primarily upcycled, repurposed fabric. Patched pastels, painted prints, etched illustrations, fringe in the likes of rhinestones. Taymour demonstrated once more, the triumph of sustainable design and the beauty of compromise. Design will always stand versus material. Fabric will forever decide what can and cannot exist. In a sustainable world, such concept of principle rests with even more emphasis.
“It’s always a compromise. You just have to move on. You can’t get stuck. There is a lot we just can’t do with the limitations of deadstock yardage, so we don’t buy the fabric and we move on and buy something else.” Taymour’s team weighs in on the subject, affixing that the approach adds another layer of complication to everything. As there is a certain amount of fabric when working with upcycled material, it is financially tougher. It’s limiting, but Taymour’s team identifies ways to work around it. On love and loss, Taymour adds, “I get really upset when I can’t make something that I want to make, but then again, there is always next season.” It is with this adaptability, Taymour is able to transcend her own compromises to produce collections, each more sustainable than the previous.
Taymour touches on her brand’s sustainability. Due to deadstock fabric, they must produce designs in small batches, repurpose in the form of smaller details, or ditch the material altogether. Taymour expresses the hurdles to which her brand overcomes on a daily basis but is reserved to her responses, keeping much to myself. “Do you want to know exactly where I source everything?” the designer asks defensively.
Two seasons ago, Collina Strada showcased a collection made of 75 percent deadstock fabrics, recycled ocean plastic beads and a vow to consciously improve each season, not just as Collina Strada the brand, but as a consultive community. Taymour spoke of her wish to focus on the industry as a whole, partnering with bigger brands, helping them to figure out how improve their sustainability. “We are in a crucial state of change right now and the more we do, the more we can impact others to take action.” No marketing ploys, a new company standard.
Following suit, Colombian-Canadian singer, Tei Shi takes to soundtracking the SS20 show in conjunction. Collina Strada-dressed models continue to saunter, occasionally interacting with guests, passing out fresh produce like florals, as if a flower girl at a wedding. Brand notoriety walked in the form of recognizable bodysuit silhouettes. A turtleneck, home to an etched illustration of the Earth read Taymour’s show title, Thank you very much for helping me. As Tei Shi concluded in song and Taymour took her bow, a wave of guests direct itself toward the produce table. Collina Strada’s cultivated community gather in bounty.
In a season where showgoers raise their seats just before the designer’s bow in order to be of the first to exit, Taymour’s shows leave guests wanting more, lingering post-runway, as if to absorb more of the show’s energy. “It’s just fun. You want to just look at my clothes walk down a runaway? I make basic clothes. Why else would you make a show? For me, as a guest, I would be fucking bored. So I just try to make it not fucking boring.” The Collina Strada way is one of unparalleled individuality – a formula experimentally adapted by many, but succeeded only by the brand itself.
“I think your brand feels most authentic when you put your thoughts and ideas into the brand. The more me I put into the brand, the more successful it becomes.” Taymour’s simplicity in her approach has allowed her to translate her authenticity in a way many brands are struggling to communicate. The designer explains the show moments as the stage to which the brand is able to translate what they are doing, what they believe in and what they feel is good for the time. “There is no thought. It is just me being me. It’s just me as a person, not a marketing strategy, but me, trying to better in growing together as a world. I learn every day from friends, or from my peer group and I’m down for all of it. It’s just about figuring out what we can physically do to improve our environment and go from there.”
Taymour’s intuitive process has carried the brand to the heights it rests at today. “It becomes more me as we continue to grow because I’ve learned not to design for other people. I’ve learned to trust myself. It’s all instinct, or feeling.” Although instinct ever-present, the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist did not originally intend to contribute to the fashion industry. Raised in Palos Verdes, California, Taymour initially studied finance, before dropping out to pursue the art of design. Collina Strada was manifested during this time, conceptualized strictly through a handbag collection- a category of which Taymour recently relaunched with upcycled upholstery from the 1960’s and 70’s, following a hiatus. Taymour had learned early on the ethical and sustainable position she would take, unaware however of how far she would take it. “I always believed in making my collection in the States and to pay fair wages. I used leather for the handbags, but it was always vegetable-tanned” a method referring to the process of dyeing leather with tannins derived from plants. “I knew very early on what I didn’t want to do”.
A semblance of coming of age – Taymour is unapologetic in knowing that she is harmoniously woven into the brand’s essential and that primarily she could drive that forward. “Buyers are buying the brand because of me, so I just do the most me and it sells. It’s not about anyone else and that’s not in an ego way, it’s just the more I put of myself into the brand, the more people want to buy it. It feels the most honest and true in this way. You walk into the showroom and I’m actually wearing the pieces. My brand wouldn’t be me if I catered to every person. I am Collina- you get it and you like it, or you don’t.” the designer dryly shrugs. “It’s loud and bright, but it has thought behind it and it’s not about anything else besides that.”
With a rarity and approachability, Collina Strada speaks to generations, not just one industry and has the ability to transcend to a wider audience than the limiting one of fashion. Taymour’s unconventional show practices are what brings the brand notoriety, so much so that even an Elvis impersonator in a Las Vegas chapel once recognized Taymour and her friend, actress and model, Sasha Frolova as “the girls from New York who married their higher selves.” The moment Elvis was referring to was the Collina Strada Autumn Winter 2018 show, in which Sasha Frolova married her higher self on the runway in an act of love, amidst a socially-charged period of fear and anger. “That was our high moment. One Elvis in Vegas knows who we are” Taymour recalled. “He married us for free again!” Sasha Frolova interjected as she listened on to the recountment.
Taymour smirks, reflective for a moment, before swiping the rhinestone-dripped sneakers in her hand with another coat of pink. It’s suddenly evident that the brand is in a sweet spot – one that experiences aches naturally, but still operates with the freedom driven by creativity, rather than commerciality. When asked of the longevity of Collina Strada and on the concept of forever, Taymour responds, “There’s an exit strategy [one day], but we’ll probably be gone for like five months and be like, ‘Oh that sucked. I don’t really want to do a yoga retreat on the beach for this long. I’m bored.’ So yeah, I guess, other than Collina Strada what else would I do?”
Taymour studies the sneakers indecisively. “What do we think?” she asks aloud, though it is clear she has the answer within her already. She’s not convinced. Something is missing. She spits out rapid-fire ideas to enhance the custom design, before slouching deeper into her chair, taking a breath and deciding to act on it tomorrow – Saturday in New York. “I am Collina. Collina is me.”