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It’s nearly Fashion Week, and Hillary Taymour is furiously preparing her latest collection for Collina Strada, the indie fashion label she founded in LA in 2008 and which has since become a staple of the downtown New York fashion scene.
Beloved for their playful approach and inventive prints, Collina Strada has experienced meteoric growth in recent years, attracting a cult of celebrity fans from the worlds of fashion, music, theater, and TV. Bold names recognized by millennials and zoomers alike — Rihanna, Charli XCX, Lorde, Dance Moms-superstar-turned-queer-icon JoJo Siwa, and Riverdale actress Camila Mendes — are all featured in the brand’s vibrant Instagram portfolio. As an added feather to her already impressively embellished fashion-cred cap, Taymour was the mastermind behind Kim Petras’s horse girl Met Gala look this year.
During the pandemic, Collina Strada experimented with new, clever ways of showing their collections — a video game with Gucci, an Animorphs-inspired digital lookbook, and even a short film starring 13 Reasons Why actress Tommy Dorfman. Their return to the runway for Spring 2022 was hailed by Vogue for its “good vibes and high-octane fun,” and its simple, yet powerful message that “after a year of doldrums, we should all have the freedom to dress up as the queens we are.”
Indeed, it is this sense of freedom that attracts so many people to the brand and their shows, especially in New York, where the industry’s overwhelming focus on commercialism has sucked much of the joy and life out of Fashion Week. Although Taymour is tight-lipped about exactly what she and her cadre of collaborators have planned this season, it’s sure to be an invigorating part of the non-stop high-fashion party that takes over the city for a week.
Of course, the process of putting on such a lively fashion spectacle can be draining, to say the least, and when we speak, Taymour seems to be feeling the weight of all the work she has yet to do. “It’s [going] fine,” she says, a bit despondently. “Every day is different, honestly. We just start working on it and then it eventually comes together. There’s no real formula. And I never like it [when I’m creating it], but I guess that’s what keeps you going, because you want it to be better.”
Fortunately, she has her little pup, Powwie, around to keep her spirits up. When she talks about him, her tone softens and there is a brightness in her voice. “He’s the perfect fashion dog,” she says. “He loves coming to the studio. When I say, ‘You want to go to work?’ he always perks right up.” Like most office dogs, Powwie is the cutie king of his mother’s workplace. “He walks around while everyone is eating their lunch and says hi and he’s always there when someone needs a cuddle,” she says.
Taymour adopted Powwie when he was just a few months old. “I wanted a travel-size wolf,” she says of the photogenic merle Pomeranian, who often appears in her brand’s look books and runway shows. “He loves to model. Once you get him in the shot, he won’t exit until the photographer puts down the camera.”
When he’s not mugging for the camera, Powwie takes it upon himself to check in with the other human models on set. “Because we’ve been working with the same models for so long, he feels like it’s his friend day [when we’re on set] and he walks around like, ‘Oh, you made it! Thanks for coming!’ He doesn’t act like a [typical] tiny dog. He’s got this confidence, like he just knows what he has. He’s cool. He’s also a Scorpio — his birthday is 11/1/11 — so he’s a very special boy.”
Powwie even inspired a capsule collection of funky tie-dyed doggy T-shirts that Collina Strada designed for sale on Ssense.com last year. The shirts, made with recycled materials in earthy colors with dramatic bow detailing at the collar, had a sort of grunge-meets-glam, thrift store-chic look, that was perfectly in keeping with Collina Strada’s downtown, eco-conscious ethos.
“I’m not planning to make more dog clothes any time soon,” says Taymour. “I’m stretched a little thin at the moment in terms of the product we are already making, but never say never. It’s not something I’m opposed to. I love seeing pictures of puppies in the clothes and getting tagged on Instagram. There’s nothing better.”
Since launching in 2008, Collina Strada has collaborated with everyone from Levi’s to Skullcandy to Reebok, with more buzzy partnerships on the way. “We have three or four coming out soon,” says Taymour, “But I don’t think I’m allowed to say [what they are just yet].”
Whatever the final product is, it’s sure to be created with an eye to sustainability, which is as much a part of the Collina Strada brand as their daring prints and unusual color combinations. “Whenever someone approaches us about a collaboration the first question is always, ‘Do they have enough money to invest in a collab?’ and then ‘Can they do it in a sustainable way?’”
It can be challenging to create, sustain, and grow a truly eco-conscious fashion brand “but it’s the right thing to do,” says Taymour. To that end, Collina Strada often works with deadstock fabrics, and uses recycled cotton T-shirts sourced from the Kantamanto market in Ghana to make tops and dresses. The brand also utilizes alternative fabrics like rose sylk — an organic cellulose fiber made from rose bushes and stems that has a hand feel similar to spun silk or bamboo. “It’s not easy [to be sustainable], but [it’s important], so we spend a lot of time sourcing and researching and doing the work.”
Although she’s mostly focused on work in the months leading up to the collection’s debut, she does have a few fun things planned, for which Powwie will doubtlessly join her. “He’s an excellent traveler,” she says. “He was on his first plane when he was just four months old, so he’s very good at flying.” He’s also good at going undetected when need be. “I’m always sneaking him on planes and buses and trains, and no one ever realizes. He just gets in the bag and chills.”
Sneaky as he is, Powwie can’t go everywhere with his mom, and he’s not above punishing her when she leaves him at home. “If I leave him, he’s like ‘I can’t believe you left me!’ and he won’t give me attention for a few days,” she says. “He can never stay mad for too long, though.”
He’s a sweet dog and usually very well behaved, according to Taymour. Although he does occasionally act up, he only really indulges in the mildest of mischiefs. “His favorite toy isn’t a toy at all, it’s a spool of thread,” says Taymour. “When he’s [in the studio and] feeling really naughty, that’s what he goes for. Probably the worst thing he’s ever done is chew a whole spool of thread, which isn’t so bad. It only costs like a dollar.”
Taymour had horses and a dog growing up, but Powwie is her first pet as an adult. “My childhood dog [a Jack Russel terrier named Ringo] passed away and I did a year of healing before I got Powwie,” she says. “[Powwie has] definitely made me a nicer person. He’s also made me more responsible, I think. More motherly, probably. Like, I can’t just go crazy at night anymore. I have to remember to come home to my animal.”
As for any siblings for Powwie? Taymour has a firm answer on that one: “We’re not talking about that. He would f*cking murder me. He’s very much got only child syndrome.” She says she would consider getting some other animals if she ever left New York, but a new addition — or a Joan Didion “Goodbye to All That” moment — is not really something she’s thinking about right now. She’s just focused on the next collection and continuing to move Collina Strada forward.
And at least she has Powwie there to help. “He’s definitely my emotional support animal at work,” she says. “Whenever I'm feeling annoyed or overwhelmed, he just comes and sits on my lap. He’s a very special boy.”
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