Her surreal and magical prints have covered the finest silk and now glass bottles. With a first class education at Central St. Martins and work experience for luxury labels such as Dior, McQueen and Galliano you could say that Hermione de Paula was ‘born into fashion’, only she does everything her own way. Her delicately feminine yet sexually charged creations will draw you into a fantasy world where nothing is ever what it appears to be.
Your clothes are worn by the likes of Rita Ora and Florence and The Machine, how did your career in fashion start?
We have this joke in our family that I was born into it – literally – because my mum gave birth to me in her Chanel sunglasses. I come from a family tree whose branches are full of matriarchs all known to be impeccably dressed no matter the occasion and also many artists. So I naturally grew up with the arts, and being creative with my family. This lead into textile then fashion, I studied at Central St. Martins, where it has been a privilege to subsequently return to teach.
Dollar daisies, ice cream roses and Austrian mountains are just a few of the themes that run through your silk prints. Where do you find inspiration for your creative designs?
A lot of psychedelics. No. Ha! I’m into the idea of smoke and mirrors, optical illusions and apparitions and old codex manuscripts I have found which have strange, seemingly secret languages of an unintelligible alphabet. I am fascinated by flowers or creatures that look like something else to attract a mate or protect themselves from prey. Orchids are my favourite flowers, they are insane. They are Mother Nature’s mistress of mimicry and illusion; there are orchids whose flowers look like monkey faces, flying ducks and doves, lions, bees, and even X-rated gingerbread men. And how can octopuses mimic perfectly not just colours but patterns of surrounding shells on their skin in just three tenths of a second, to ‘disappear’ into the seabed around them? I am into this idea of creating these kind of worlds within my work with concentric infinities and surreal transitions, lost in a labyrinth. The aesthetic is feminine with a kind of strangeness and eroticism. Within my work I have a theme of things aren’t quite what they seem ‘a flower is not just a flower’ where the wearer discovers hidden details within the prints. The more you look, the more you see. But also that it’s all just a bit of fun and they are to provoke human interaction – the prints are conversational pieces, the wearer can re-tell the story of the print and like Chinese whispers the story changes and creates its own story as they wear them on their travels. I make clothes to dance or make out in, not stand around or sit in the corner in. All we have is time, so I want to make clothes to have a GOOD time in.
For many your collections have been the highlight of fashion week, why did you choose not to show last season?
It was important to just jump off the merry-go-round for a season to re-focus and allow for developments within the brand and new ventures. I had been working a lot as a creative consultant and doing collaborations, including Matthew Williamson and various other projects. In the past I have created collections for Nicholas Kirkwood. You can do anything but you cant do EVERYTHING at once. So I wanted the time to refine and develop new ranges and products for my own brand. I did this at the end of last year to be ready for launch this year.
Your bridal creations convert even the non-believers, a generation of women who want to get married only to wear one of your dresses. Where did the idea to start a bridal collection come from?
It’s funny you would mention this as all of our brides seem to come to us as it’s not your traditional naff bridal with all those “cringe” connotations. I’m a hopeless romantic at heart and I love a bit of tradition, but not in the catalogue bride sense. I think we offer something for young brides who want to be sexy and just decent enough not to make their grandpa blush, and also a dress you can feel impossibly glamorous in yet comfortable to dance all night until dawn in. It may be a couture dress, but hopefully it is well sloshed in champagne by the time you take it off because you’ve had the best day/ night. It happened very organically, I trained at McQueen and Dior Couture so I had always wanted to develop in this direction. I made a dress for a friend and then via word of mouth it has grown from one to around 20 that are currently in work. I love working on each dress as it’s a real personal journey and you become very close with each bride and that’s so lovely. The timeline can be up to nearly a year for one dress and is very rewarding as when we do the final fit and see the wedding pictures it’s extremely moving every time – to help make someone’s dress of their dreams come to life and something they can hopefully pass down through the generations. I feel like faced in the current market of conveyor belt fashion a sense of soul is lost and the ‘art’ of fashion is becoming highly diluted. We have the high street which is incredible but the boundaries between this and the luxury market are becoming blurred, and people are struggling to see the value in the high price in comparison. With my main line there’s a lot of work that goes into each piece – weeks and weeks of hand painted artworks, which are then printed and often have hand embroidery on top of the silk. My customers appreciate the artistry and value in the time it takes to create each piece with each of the prints based around stories or people close to my heart so they are very personal not just images pulled of the internet and printed on a t-shirt and printed off in the 10x thousand times.
Can you tell us about any other exciting collaborations or projects you are involved in?
I’ve just launched a commercial collaboration for packaging with Bottlegreen for their quintessentially English soft drinks. I have also done limited edition silk scarves. Later this year we are launching a product in collaboration with an American brand which I have developed all the branding for. We are also launching our boudoir and homeware collection which consists of silky robes and loungewear with matching sheets, cushions and various glamorous wonders for interiors, which all have that 30’s old Hollywood decadence vibe with a twist of 70’s glam.
What’s next for Hermione de Paula?
We are bringing out a full lingerie range this year and a bespoke lace. The bridal collection has been awarded funding by the WORTH project which is really exciting. Lingerie has always been my dream so it extremely exciting to work on this and we will continue to grow our bridal, boudoir and interiors.
Interview by Lorna Tucker
Photography by Andrea Vecchiato