Sara McAlpine meets the designer redefining femininity on her own terms
‘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