Sara McAlpine meets the de­signer re­defin­ing fem­i­nin­ity on her own terms

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‘I don’t want to con­trib­ute to a su­per­fi­cial vi­sion of women,’ says Paula Knorr, com­ment­ing on the ten­dency of de­sign­ers to fetishise a fic­tional muse, rather than pro­vide what real women want and need from a piece of cloth­ing. ‘I’d rather look at the women I see ev­ery day and serve them, rather than some imag­i­nary per­son in my head,’ she adds.

And serve them, she does: Knorr has a string of awards for her de­signs, hav­ing won the ITS prize (judged by Ba­len­ci­aga and Vete­ments’ creative di­rec­tor Demna Gvasalia) when she grad­u­ated from the Royal Col­lege of Art in 2015. Af­ter a stint as pat­tern-cut­ter for Peter Pilotto, she was awarded the BFC’s New­gen spon­sor­ship, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Christo­pher Kane and Si­mone Rocha. Not bad for a de­signer who says start­ing her own la­bel wasn’t in her plan.

‘My par­ents were il­lus­tra­tors, so I was al­ways draw­ing, but the job of a fash­ion de­signer wasn’t some­thing I knew you could have,’ says Knorr. It was the craft it­self, work­ing with her hands, drap­ing fab­ric on the body, that drew her to fash­ion. ‘I think about the con­struc­tion method first, then I try it out with the fab­ric, putting it on a woman to see how it moves. That is the most im­por­tant part of my de­sign process.’

Knorr’s AW17 col­lec­tion, with its liq­uid-like satin ruf­fles fall­ing from the seams of midi dresses and form-fit­ting wet-look sep­a­rates, proves that high fash­ion and func­tion can mix. Women are at the cen­tre of Knorr’s work; she ad­dresses all the traits women em­body, and she doesn’t posit a mu­tual ex­clu­siv­ity be­tween fem­i­nin­ity and em­pow­er­ment. She en­cour­ages women to be strong in a typ­i­cally ‘fem­i­nine’ pal­ette, such as metal­lic mer­lots and hot pinks, all in fig­ure-skim­ming silks and sheer shirt­ing.

‘We need to move on from think­ing that fem­i­nism means you can’t be fem­i­nine,’ she says, high­light­ing her USP: func­tional sta­ples in lux­u­ri­ous lamés and crushed vel­vets that work as evening or day­wear. It’s cer­tainly what drew Natalie King­ham, buy­ing di­rec­tor at Matches Fash­ion, to Knorr’s work; she asked the de­signer to cre­ate a cap­sule col­lec­tion as part of their In­no­va­tors ini­tia­tive. ‘It cel­e­brates those do­ing some­thing in­ter­est­ing in fash­ion right now, not ad­her­ing to tra­di­tional fash­ion norms,’ says King­ham.

One such norm is ‘the em­pha­sis on uni­sex be­ing the pref­er­ence for the eman­ci­pated woman,’ says Knorr, so her 13-piece col­lec­tion em­braces the kind of fem­i­nin­ity that an old-school brand of fem­i­nism might snub. ‘I want to fight for the woman who looks and feels fem­i­nine, but is still aware of her rights and gets what she wants with­out com­pro­mis­ing her char­ac­ter or be­ing taken less se­ri­ously.’ It’s this at­ti­tude that has seen singer Björk, ac­tor Tilda Swin­ton and ahead-of-the-curve New York stock­ist Open­ing Cer­e­mony ap­proach Knorr for cus­tom-made pieces.

So, what can we ex­pect to see from Knorr in the fu­ture? ‘From SS18, I’ll take the things women rely on ev­ery day and make those into Paula Knorr pieces, em­brac­ing ev­ery woman in us – fem­i­nine or fiery – rather than pick­ing and choos­ing just one.’

Paula Knorr is now avail­able to buy on­line at Matches Fash­ion. Prices start at £750

LEFT Cot­ton-mix dress, £1,085, and denim, lamé and polyester jacket, around £1,500, both PAULA KNORR

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