London-based womenswear designer Paula Knorr’s world is one situated between fantasy and reality. A masterclass of cut and a celebration of attitude, metallics cling to bodies like wrapping paper, sci-fi lamé glistens against Lurex and tinsel-strewn tassels drape across the body like Studio 54 confetti. So it makes absolute sense that Björk has been known to wear Knorr’s designs: with their bent towards femininity, female empowerment and OTT glam, they’re the fashion equivalent of the Icelandic musician’s extravagant avant-garde sonics.
Having grown up in Frankfurt, Germany, with design in her blood – both of her parents are illustrators – Knorr’s interest in fashion was first indulged by sewing outfits for her younger sister at the age of eight. Having relocated to London to pursue studies at the RCA, the young designer graduated in 2015. Within twelve months she’d received NEWGEN support from the British Fashion Council and started her eponymous label. Three years on, Knorr is working with her idols and gaining a reputation as one of London Fashion Week’s most exciting new talents.
Undine Markus: I hear that you’re in Germany now, what brings you back?
Paula Knorr: Basically, I’m in Germany to supervise production as I’m producing in Berlin. At the moment, I’m traveling between Germany and London. It’s a busy time as I’m starting to set up a second studio in Germany, so I have to spread my time.
Undine: Congratulations! Are you doing that in Berlin?
Paula: Not Berlin, Cologne. It’s really easy to commute to. It’s quite close to London, the flights are super easy and it has a really big airport. It’s a little bit of a quiet time when I’m in Germany, there’s not a big fashion scene in Cologne, not at all. I’m basically just here to work and then, if I want to talk to somebody about fashion, y back to London [laughs]. I find it quite relaxing to have these really quiet moments when I’m not in London. I thought about Berlin, but it’s too crazy. It’s really nice to be able to just focus on my work while I’m in Cologne.
Undine: I de nitely feel like Berlin is very similar to London in that sense.
Paula: Yes! I mean, nothing is as intense as London.
Undine: Have you done much work in New York? Even if not through your brand, then as part of your work with Peter Pilotto?
Paula: I really like New York, but I think, for me… I studied in London and I really feel like a London designer, I have my whole support there, all the people that believe in me, all the people who helped me in the beginning and still help me. And being part of NEWGEN, it’s a great, great sponsoring scheme. They don’t just give you money, they also look after your business, give you supervisors, a lot of help that is not that common for sponsor schemes. I also feel like my designs t into the London scene, it’s quite dramatic. It’s really interesting how different all the designers in London are, I really like that.
Undine: As well as NEWGEN, you’ve been nominated for various awards, do you feel like they really served as stepping stones in your career? Would you encourage young designers to invest time and energy in applying?
Paula: I think you really have to look at your product and what you’re doing and then decide for yourself. If you want to have a fashion show, if you want to do it that kind of way, you definitely should. But, if you want to, let’s say, have a sportswear label or something between fashion and art, maybe it’s not the right thing. For high fashion, and to get your foot into this kind of world, initiatives like NEWGEN are amazing, they connect you with the right customer and really support you.
Undine: And have you ever considered branching out into menswear?
Paula: Not really. I think, for me personally, menswear would be something really difficult because my brand illustrates female identity. It’s all about how you feel as a female and my feelings towards femininity. But I would love to create accessories and also homeware to really help create a whole world around this woman where she feels safe.
Undine: And what was it like for you to debut at London Fashion Week with these ideas last year?
Paula: It was extremely pleasant to finally have a show. All my clothes are about movement, I design my clothes while putting garments on women and seeing how the fabric interacts with the body and movement. To finally see the girls walking in my clothes was amazing and really helped to translate my idea to the audience.
Photography by Stella Asia Consonni, fashion by Francesca Pinna. All clothing and accessories by Paula Knorr SS18
Undine: How did you pick music for the show?
Paula: My boyfriend is a musician and I worked with our producer friend. We worked closely together. I told him what music I liked, what music I hear when designing my clothes, the woman who inspire me… a lot of Solange. I really like her and what she’s doing with music at the moment. She portrays a very natural form of femininity that I think is extremely inspiring today. She’s a pop star without the glitter.
Undine: And are there any other artists apart from her that have inspired you?
Paula: I mean, I’m always inspired by Björk. I’ve worked with her a few times. I’m not so inspired by famous people, actually. I love really strong feminine characters that portray varying sides of femininity in different ways. With Björk it’s always this absolutely flamboyant, a little bit over the top artifice, but you can still see her as a mum and a feminine being. I think it’s really inspiring. And it’s the same with Solange, she’s so creative and artistic when it comes to music, but so naturally feminine. I love these really strong characters that maintain a feminine approach to music.
Undine: I feel like the vocalist from Little Dragon, Yuki, has a similar air to her.
Paula: Ah, yes! She’s really cool!
Undine: So speaking of womenswear, what do you feel like are the main elements that you would like to maintain, anything that you have been pulling from your previous collections?
Paula: I will always use a lot of stretch materials, jerseys, soft materials. I’m always thinking about how I can make clothes that are super feminine and extravagant, but still super wearable. Like how can you feel cosy in an evening dress? A lot of jersey and soft velvets, these types of fabrics will always be at the core of my collections. And looking at how the fabric reacts with the body, it’s a lot about shape. Some of my first garments were based on the idea that, when you have them on the hanger, they look flat, and you need the body shape to create the garment. I set myself these kinds of design rules before starting. I also think it’s really interesting that nowadays you can see a lot of designers where the collections don’t change that much, but the brand itself redefines itself more and more. Gucci, for example. It has a really particular style and you kind of start to love it even more, you become addicted to that kind of world. That is really nice, the idea that it becomes a brand style, and it doesn’t change completely. You don’t buy into a new idea every single season. It’s also customer-friendly, I’m always thinking of myself and that I don’t want to change my whole outfit every season. That’s what I want to communicate with my brand, that I’m making the clothes for a woman but the clothes shouldn’t change the woman, the woman should take the clothes and incorporate them in her own wardrobe.
“With Björk it’s always this absolutely flamboyant, a little bit over the top artifice, but you can still see her as a mum and a feminine being. I think it’s really inspiring.”
Undine: Is that something that you started thinking about more when working with Peter? What were some of the ways in which it changed how you saw your personal brand?
Paula: Definitely. When I worked with Peter Pilotto, I went there straight from the RCA, straight from creating my MA collection. During the MA, naturally, I was never thinking about the customer, because my collection wasn’t supposed to be sold. It was really interesting to work for a brand that is so dedicated to creating beautiful dresses for women. I learnt a lot about sales, what women actually want to buy, and that was really inspiring.
Undine: I’d love to hear about how you first got into fashion.
Paula: I mean, I wanted to be a fashion designer from a really young age. I come from a really creative household, my parents are illustrators of children’s books. I think I was eight years old when I was sewing little outfits for my sister. I’ve always known that I wanted to do that. I never really thought that I wanted to have my own label, but it felt right after working for Pilotto and getting granted the NEWGEN award. It would have been a waste not to try it at that time. I never thought I could create a brand just around that idea of how to dress women. When I started studying, I thought that’s not enough, but that is absolutely not true. That is what it all should be about, fashion is nothing else than the garments we wear, it’s totally OK to sometimes narrow it down to that and really, really concentrate on that and do it very well.
Follow Paula here.