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Paolo Sebastian the designer from the other side of the world

April 19 2018

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Paul Sebastian Vasileff, his real name, was 17 years ago (he was 28) when he set up his fashion house in Adelaide. Australia is not the first country that comes to mind when it comes to sewing and yet, despite training in Italy, and doors that opened in Europe, homesickness took its toll. His 2018 spring-summer collection is inspired by Disney characters. The story of his life, too, could begin with "Once upon a time ..." - Isabelle Cerboneschi.

We can expect to find many things in Australia, but not necessarily a young fashion designer. Paul Vasileff was 17 years ago when he set up his fashion house in Adelaide. He presented his collections in Paris and travelled to Sydney. Named the Australian Young of the Year last year, he drew inspiration from the Disney world and cartoon characters for his 2018 spring-summer collection: It's called Once upon a dream. You almost think he's talking about himself ...

Paul Vasileff's fate resembles a modern fairytale, where the role of the good fairy would be held by his grandmother, a seamstress with nimble fingers. It is from her that he learned from an early age the gestures that allowed him to weave his destiny. In an imaginary country, Italy. He did his classes there , but even before the graduation ceremony, he returned home: homesick.

From the girl to the stepmother, all this unreal world has been summoned to the podium to embody his 2018 spring-summer collection. Phrases or songs, such as talismans, were embroidered on tulle dresses. A fantasy induced by the theme. But not only. We feel that these fairies, and all the other characters, have one day crossed his path.

IC: You are the first Australian designer to have presented his collection in Paris. What do you feel when you show your creations in the stronghold of haute couture?
Paolo Sebastian: It's a very "Pinch me dream!" Moment. Since I was a child I have always had the desire to show my work in Paris. I was both nervous and excited when I arrived. We are known here in Australia, but not so much in Europe, and the idea of ​​finding myself in the French capital the week where all the big names of couture, Chanel, Dior, Valentino, Armani, are etc. means enormous pressure, even if I did not show.

What was the reaction of the market?
Excellent. We received very positive feedback for our collection, our know-how, the materials. I am proud of what we have accomplished.

You started at 16 years ago. How did all this adventure begin?
When I was a child, I was about 3 years old, making dresses with newspapers and gift wrapping. Fortunately, my dresses today last longer than those then (laughs). I have always loved to sew, to create with my hands. My grandmother is a wonderful seamstress and I watched her do it. Everything she made was beautiful, both inside and out. I loved drawing too.

When did you make your first dress?
When I was 11 years old. One of my friends had seen a dress in a magazine and asked me to reproduce it. Once I have done that, another friend saw her, then another, and all of them wanted the same! This triggered chain reactions. While I was going to elementary school, I was sewing dresses. I did not charge anything at the time: I created them because I loved it! With the girls, we went together to buy the fabric, I did the drawing and I sewed. But I only stuck to one form of dress in particular and after a while, I found myself stuck.

What was the trigger that made you want to do this as a job?
Thanks to my mother, I met a seamstress who worked in traditional Italian techniques. I went to her house, I learned to draw, to drape, and when I was 14 years I declared that I wanted to have my own brand. I created it a few years later, 17 years ago. I called it Paulo Sebastian, because it's a word game around my name: Paul Sebastian Vasileff.

That's very young 17 years!
I was still going to school. We had to do some work on the subject that we liked and I decided that this job would be precisely to create my own brand, with a paying show whose profits would go to a charity. I had seen a documentary about Valentino where he said that, for each show, he created 63 pieces. I assumed it was what I had to do too, so it was huge! All my friends, my family, my neighbours helped me, sewing buttons or other things. I thought it would be great if a hundred people came to see the show: there was 660! And the next day I received orders for wedding dresses. I sewed them at home at the same time as I finished school. But that was not enough: I wanted to learn the technique of sewing, cutting, tailoring. I went to an old Italian tailor based in Adelaide who made costumes by hand in a traditional way. And I asked him to teach me. Then I applied toEuropean institute of design in Milan and one day I received a phone call to tell me that I had got a place.

It was your first long trip?
I had never traveled outside of Australia! I did not speak Italian, I did not know how to cook, or clean, or anything, and all of a sudden I found myself living on the other side of the world, busy, and studying what I loved so much. It was a magnificent experience! I had some pretty incredible things out there: I met Giorgio Armani, my work was presented during London fashion weekI saw a few shows. When I graduated, the school wanted me to do interviews to go into houses, - all our teachers worked in the fashion industry and had relationships - but I had only one desire : return home. I told them, "thank you, but no thanks". I finished my last exam and two days later I was back in Australia. I did not even wait for the graduation ceremony. I asked them to send it to me by mail.

How long did you stay in Milan?
One year. When I came back to Australia, I defined what I really wanted to do: I wanted to relaunch my brand, because I wanted to position it as a fashion house. I wanted to show everyone what I had learned in Milan and I organised a show that I baptised Swan Lake. The collection was a great success, images started to be published on social media, and I started receiving e-mails from people who were writing to me from New York and wanted to buy my dresses.

All this through the magic of social networks?
Yes. I asked them how they had heard about me and they said that they had seen my clothes on Pinterest and Instagram: thousands of people had liked and reposted my photos without me realising it. At the time I was not very present on social networks. It has changed since.

And how did you work with a clientele who lived at the side of the world?
I talked to them via Skype. I drew for them, I took their measurements and when the canvases were ready I sent them to them. I was doing fittings by Skype, then I made the dress and sent it to them. Then, little by little, we had some outlets, celebrities started wearing my dresses on the red carpet for the Oscar or Golden Globes. The company grew, I had to hire staff, and now we are occupying a two-story building with a team of 18 people in the workshops. It's a little crazy!

Choosing the city of Adelaide to create a couture brand was not the obvious choice. What made you think it could work?
It was my dream! And the least thing i could do was to try! Many people told me that in Australia it was going to be difficult. I told myself that if I got there, it would be fantastic, and if I failed, at least I would have done something that I loved. And then I had my family, my friends with me to share this adventure, while when I was abroad, I was alone. I just wanted to be happy. Luckily, I made and met my bet. I am doubly happy.

Do you believe in magic?
Of course! With all that has happened to me, how not to believe it! Fairytales were the source of inspiration for my latest collection. But my whole life is a kind of fairytale.

Where does your name come from?
I'm half Italian by my mother, hence the name Sebastian, I was born on a Saturday. And on my father's side, the family is Bulgarian. That's where my name comes from, Vasileff. The families of my grandparents both emigrated to Australia after the war, like many, and my parents met at the university. Luckily both families had chosen to settle in Adelaide!

Do you think that your roots have something to do with the choice of your job?
Certainly yes. My two grandmothers both sew. I also kept their sewing machines: they are objects that move me. A few seasons ago, we made a collection called Snow Maiden, The Snow Girl, inspired by a Slavic tale. For that I got all the embroidery from my Bulgarian grandmother, I sent them to the textile museum, and I created a collection that was inspired by the themes. The two cultures from which I have come have shaped the man I have become. Anyway, in Australia, everyone comes from elsewhere, or almost ...

Between the moment you created your brand and today what is the biggest lesson you've learned?
It's hard to say. I especially learned that the most important thing was to know how to surround yourself well and to want to create a business for good reasons. When I started, I knew nothing about this industry, nothing about business, nothing about fashion shows, I had no experience. So I have obviously learned a lot of things these in the last eleven years.

If you could give advice to Paul Vasileff aged 17 years old, what would it be?
I do not know if I would give him any advice, because I would not like to change anything about what happened. I would tell him to be strong, try to do a little better every day, to be proud of what he's doing. I would just tell him to be a better person every day than he was the day before.