Canadian-born Designer Paolina Russo is Creating a New Kind of Sportswear

Photography by Aidan Zamiri, courtesy of Paolina Russo

Get to know Paolina Russo, the young designer who uses upcycled and unconventional materials to create avant-garde sportswear.

What is the inspiration behind your unique aesthetic?

“The most significant influences on my work are definitely my upbringing and growing up in Markham, Ontario. There’s a massive craft community there, but at the same time, there’s this huge sports culture — everyone plays Timbits soccer! I always try to find the point of intersection for those two influences in my work — so using sports gear but then bringing in elements of knitwear.”

How did you first get into using upcycled materials?

“My mom has never thrown anything away, including any of the sports equipment we had growing up. The summer before my final year at Central Saint Martins, I went home; I felt really nostalgic as I sorted through our old stuff. I felt that every object had a story and feeling behind it, and I wanted to honour that. So I started taking apart a lot of my old sports equipment and creating forms with it. I took my soccer sneakers apart and draped them until they reminded me of a corset. It created an armoured look, and that’s what ignited the upcycling in my work.”

Paolina Russo Spring 2022. Photography courtesy of Paolina Russo

What was the best lesson you learned from creative director John Galliano when you interned at Maison Margiela?

“I think that the main thing I learned from him was his ability to stay authentic to the story and vision of each collection: Every season had its own concept, whether people recognized it or not. As a designer, he always remained faithful to it and ensured that the rest of his team was also committed to the narrative and the women we were designing it for. And I carry that with me when I go about creating my own collections.”

What surprised you most about your experience collaborating with Adidas on a capsule collection in 2019 and another in 2020?

“It was such a great learning opportunity to be in a full fledged operating system surrounded by these amazing resources, designers, product developers and people. I’m grateful that they trusted me with so much of the creative direction and that the collections could truly be my vision, even though I was a young student with very limited experience in the field.”

Russo’s 2020 Adidas collection featuring illusion knitwear. Photography courtesy of Paolina Russo

How would you describe “illusion knitting,” and how did you first discover it?

“Illusion knitting is a technique that creates a lenticular-like fabric similar to a holograph: When the material moves, a different image is revealed. It’s a process usually done by hand, but it’s very strenuous. I really liked how it looked, but I felt like there could be a way to make the product more detailed and the process faster. So I started working with these computerized knitting machines and developed programs that have the same effect but are much faster. Illusion knitting has definitely become a staple within my brand.”

WALKS to REMEMBER

Paolina Russo’s most memorable fashion moments — so far

This article first appeared in FASHION’s Winter 2022 issue.

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