Paolina Russo, the Brand Morphing Ancient Craft Into Futuristic Fashion

Pin It
Paolina Russo Spring/Summer 2024 SS24
Paolina Russo Spring/Summer 2024Photography by Alex Soroka, Styling by Samia Giobellina

Together with fellow CSM graduate Lucile Guilmard, Paolina Russo crafts exquisite sculptural knitwear that balances futuristic references with a folkish heritage

  1. Who is it? Paolina Russo is a knitwear-focused label by CSM graduates Paolina Russo and Lucile Guilmard
  2. Why do I want it? Exquisite sculptural knitwear balancing futuristic references with a folkish heritage, all created in the utmost respect for the humans and natural resources involved in production
  3. Where can I find it? Paolina Russo is available at Dover Street Market London (both in-store and online), SSENSE, Addicted, ALTER, and SVRN

Who is it? After graduating from Central Saint Martin’s MA in Fashion (Knitwear) program, Paolina Russo launched her eponymous label alone, until a “cosmic moment” brought her together with fellow CSM graduate Lucile Guilmard. “We shared a studio together and then one morning we just said ‘Look, can we do this together?’” recalls Russo. “And that’s when the brand really flourished – when there were two minds behind it, a merging of two creative communities.”

Despite coming from different backgrounds – Russo grew up in Canada; Guilmard in France – the two share a common language in crafts, as both an artistic form and a reactive, solution-oriented process. Both were introduced to traditional clothes-making techniques at a young age via family members, which instilled in each of them an organic appreciation for the hands-on knowledge transfer involved in fashion design. Together, they share a reverence for the pure magic of these ancient crafts yet cradle their potential to innovate solutions for the future.

Knitwear, the brand’s specialty, is, for example, “something that has existed for thousands of years but there’s so much newness in it and excitement about where you can take it into the future.” Even if something seems “theoretically impossible, by working with other knitwear developers we are always able to find some sort of practical solution,” says Russo of their collaborative approach. “It really is a sort of alchemy.”

This ethos – of communal effort, of intergenerational savoir-faire – is the spirited soul of Paolina Russo. The designers always start the development of a new collection by spending time on the ground in the factories they work with. Each step of this process is honestly documented on social media, to make visible, and celebrate, the many hands involved in the making of their garments. “It’s very important for us to meet the people because everything we do is really craft-based – and craft is something that comes from communities. It exists today because it’s been passed down from generation to generation,” explains Guilmard, “We want to make sure that this remains a human story, with human hands.”

Why do I want it? Russo and Guilmard’s deft talent for construction and technique, and their singular vision of colour and motif, have allowed them to so magically transform a heritage craft into futuristic folklore. Their signature sculptural knitwear is both fresh and familiar, as the duo so harmoniously balance technical innovation with folkish motifs and playful palettes. But even if there is a certain novelty in the silhouettes, the designers always ground their garments in a sense of longevity: each piece is made from high-quality, natural fibres using innovative techniques to ensure durability.

For their Spring/Summer 2024 collection, Monolith, presented at Copenhagen Fashion Week as part of the Zalando Visionary Award, the designers drew parallels between prehistoric cave markings and the chalked pavement scribbles of their childhoods to emphasis the intelligence of human ancestral wisdom, so often ignored in our Age of Information and Technology. Perfectly ‘dirtied’ jeans laser-cut with runic symbols, the brands first foray into denim, were styled with wrapped, convex knits; slouched jersey tops were given form with talismanic wooden fastenings. Any tension between past and future was overridden by a brightly-hued optimism for the ability of traditional craftsmanship to endure within future technological landscapes.

Russo and Gailmard’s approach to sustainability is just as rigorous and socially conscious as their design process. Every step, from the origins of the fibres to the post-consumer journey, is considered. With each collection, they choose to focus on a single fibre – and for S/S24 it was cotton. “All of our knitwear, denim, jersey, are 100 per cent cotton,” explains Russo. “It’s really important for us as we develop things to consider the post-consumer journey. To know that if the pieces end up in landfill, they can biodegrade.” The designers personally visit the sources of all material used and make this information transparent via social media.

As Paolina Russo continues to grow, the designers remain passionately committed to ongoing education regarding technique and material – and then sharing all they learn with their community through workshops and social media. “Design is about finding solutions to problems and that’s why we love fashion. Once you open one door, the conversation is widened. And that’s what makes this craft so fascinating and beautiful.”

Where can I find it? Paolina Russo is available at Dover Street Market London (both in-store and online), SSENSE, Addicted, ALTER, and SVRN.