Meet the designer leading the comfort revolution—without sacrificing sequins
After winning an International Talent Support Fashion Award, receiving NEWGEN support, and creating her own brand, designer Paula Knorr is now working towards a sustainable collection, featuring recycled sequins, biodegradable glitter, and deadstock materials. Since 2015, Knorr has been creating contemporary takes on classic glamour styles, presenting practical elegance. Knorr takes emblematic beauty staples—sequins and glitter included—and gives them a place to be celebrated, adapting and normalizing them. She keeps femininity at the heart of her designs; producing collections for the everyday chic woman. Document sat down with Knorr to talk about her lifelong journey with fashion and the importance of female sartorial empowerment.
Alice Lefons: Once graduated, what made you decide to start your own brand?
Paula Knorr: Right after graduating I started working for Peter Pilotto as a freelance designer, and I did that for nearly a year whilst I was also starting my own brand. I won the International Talent Support in Italy, sponsored by OTB, who owns Margiela and Diesel, and this gave me money to make another collection. The product that I developed for my graduation collection is basically still what I’m selling now; it was already quite focussed and wearable for being a graduate collection, which was absolutely the idea behind it. A lot of people felt it was something that was missing in fashion and had the potential of filling a niche. I then applied for NEWGEN and got in straight away, so there was no other option but starting my own label at that point.
Alice: When saying your product is filling up a niche, what do you mean by that?
Paula: The idea behind my clothes is taking absolute glamour, what women secretly wished they owned and making it comfortable, making it relaxed wear, and turning it into a tool they can actually use. A lot of evening dresses tend to be restricting, extremely delicate, and difficult to wear. What I’m aiming to do is to create an empowered version of these: you don’t need to miss out on the glamour, you can wear it as you would with your sportswear basically. From the first collection, my style is about redefining pattern cutting and shapes to create a garment where the shape is created by the body of the wearer; silks and shiny sequins at the front and jersey at the back mold around the body. For me, it’s always been about what the body does when wearing the garment.
Alice: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far running your own brand?
Paula: What I absolutely learned so far is as a young designer coming out of a college you’re constantly being told to produce more and more new work; you don’t actually have to reinvent yourself all time. I learned you should stick to your strengths and really play them out, which is actually not so easy when you have so many ideas in your head all the time.
For press it gets really confusing if the collection’s looks are completely different all the time; they see the collections five minutes at the time on the runway, while as a designer, we see it constantly at the studio. I’m really trying to make a cohesive, bold, and focussed product; this is the biggest learning curve for me.
Alice: On a day to day basis, where do you find your inspiration?
Paula: I look at how other women wear their garments, how they like to dress, and how they move. I always love to discuss with friends how garments fit them, how they wish they’d look like. I get a lot of inspiration from the women in my life.
Alice: How would you define femininity today?
Paula: We’re hopefully getting to a point where every bit of femininity can be celebrated, seen as empowered and strong. People still get judged for being too feminine, for being too glamorous, for wearing pink all the time… We’re not yet in a place where we can fully embrace it with no judgment.
Alice: That’s actually a very good point. There’s a lot of pressure to dress down, almost rejecting the most classic ideas of glamor and femininity as they come with a staple.
Paula: Absolutely, although even in a sequin dress we’re still our absolutely intelligent and powerful boss woman. It’s the same thing for men: no man will be criticized for dressing overly masculine, but they will be for dressing feminine. What I’m trying to do with the label is keep the glamour but making it comfortable. The wearer should be able to do anything in the sequin dress, dance at a party, climb over a fence if that’s where the night goes.
Alice: Do you see an advantage in being a woman designing for women?
Paula: For my fashion, absolutely, as there’s a big understanding of lifestyle, wishes, and body and the insecurities connected to it. My dresses have jersey inserts that adjust to the body and the changes it has even just during the course of the month.
Alice: Sequins, glitters, are a constant element throughout all your collections. What do you like particularly about these?
Paula: They are the staple of glamour, I just loved them since I was a baby. I want to take these kinds of materials that have restricted women for centuries and make them wearable. For next season, I’m trying to use 100% sustainable fabrics; recycled sequins, biodegradable glitter, a lot of deadstock materials. I’m collaborating with this couture mill which gives me their deadstock. It’s so hard for glamourous evening fabrics to go sustainable, and it’s not really 100% where I want it to be because it’s still plastic, but I’m trying to make a point by not using new plastic, only recycled or deadstock material. As a young brand with a small production, I feel it could be amazing if this approach could inspire a bigger company to do this too.
Alice: If you could choose any person from the past or present to wear your clothes, who would that be?
Paula: I tend not to look at icons that much. I love really feminine people who really love to live their femininity without being judged like Rihanna or Kate Winslet. Women that have no problems with being super feminine and still absolutely powerful and intelligent.
Alice: What’s your first memory related to fashion?
Paula: I come from a very creative household; both my parents both studied art. We had a big dress up box in the house which we were playing with all the time. I got my first sewing machine when I was 8 and I started sewing clothes for my little sister. The first thing I made was a top made out of satin ribbons.
Alice: What’s your most treasured garment in your wardrobe?
Paula: In my teens, I worked in a vintage store, and I loved looking at garments that were made back then. I have a few original ‘50s cocktail dresses that still had the tags in, which were from an old store in Venice that is now closed. I had one in silver lamé, one in pink, and one in bright red. They’re definitely my most treasured items.
Models Robin and Syd Falls at Anti-Agency, Jay Jay and Esrom at Troy, Hugo Hamlet and Yuki Beniya at Storm, Anna Engerström at Milk, Felix Abloh, Gigi Hari. Hair James Oxley. Make-up Linda Andersson at Artlist Paris. Casting Director Abi Schwinck at Made Casting.