Discovery: Paul Burgo

By
Photography Astrid Sterner

Published August 27, 2014

ABOVE: ALL CLOTHING: PAUL BURGO. PHOTOGRAPHY: ASTRID STERNER. STYLING: DANIEL EDLEY. MAKEUP: KANAKO TAKASE. HAIR: TAMAS TUZES. MANICURE: KATHERINE ST. PAUL HILL. MODEL: SARAH TAYLOR/IMG. CASTING: SHAWN DEZAN AND LEAH HEYMAN/MICHELLE LEE CASTING.

Paul Burgo is precocious. Only 20 and still a womenswear student at Central Saint Martins in London, Burgo has interned for the likes of Prabal Gurung, stylist and Vanity Fair contributing editor Elizabeth Saltzman, and, of course, Interview.  He has yet to show his first collection, but the models of the moment are already making a beeline for his clothes. “I often work with very juxtaposed ideas, like hard and soft—hard silhouettes with soft fabrics,” he explains. “My aesthetic is very masculine and feminine and also dark. I work with lot with black and white. I don’t like to work with color.”

If anything gives away Burgo’s age, it is his workspace rituals and not his final project. While sewing, the designer listens to the Harry Potter series on audiobook. “My favorite book is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Professor Lupin is my favorite character,” he says. “It probably sounds super childish that I listen to them so much, but they used to help me fall asleep when I was little. Now they flush my mind out so it’s easier to work.”

AGE:  20

HOMETOWN: Chapel Hill, North Carolina

LOCATION AT TIME OF INTERVIEW: I’m sitting on my balcony in London. I’m still in school. I’m at Central Saint Martins.  

IN THE BEGINNING : [My interest in fashion] comes completely on my own. My mom is a lawyer and my dad is a psychologist. People ask me if I always wanted to be in fashion a lot, and I don’t really have a definitive answer. I remember starting ceramics when I was quite young and doing these sculptures and always paying attention to what the people were wearing more than the people themselves, which evolved into an interest in clothing. I don’t think I played dress-up as a child. I went into my mom’s closet and looked at her clothes. I may have tried on a pair of shoes or two. You would be surprised at what a lawyer has in her closet. I would read, strangely, Vanity Fair, which is fashion-oriented but not entirely a fashion magazine. It was my mother’s, obviously.

NEW YORK DEBUT: A friend of a friend of a friend referred me to a publication, but I was too young because I was 16 at the time. They referred me to Alexa Lanza, who was the Market Assistant at Interview at the time. [Eventually] that was my first internship.

ICONS & INFLUENCES: All different things inspire me. In the beginning, I got inspired a lot by the designers’ work that I was seeing—I remember spending hours on Style.com. My dad brought me up on film noir movies, and those kind of Hollywood glamour things were really inspiring. I don’t look at just one [style icon], but I am recently obsessed with Katharine Hepburn and these black-and-white movies where she is wearing really masculine suits. For each project, I always keep the research in this big box. I was looking through it the other day and every section has film noir screenshots.

We are working on a project now where I have to develop a muse and clientele and I’ve been looking at images of Stephanie Strauss, who also used to work at Interview and who I hope will always wear my clothes. She is a very New York, jet-setting, fun girl. I think my girl is very multi-faceted. I want my woman to feel romantic or strong or whatever she wants to feel so I like to include the romantic aspect.

MASTERS OF THE CRAFT: My absolute favorite designer in the whole world is Haider Ackermann—what he does is so poetic and thought-provoking. I think that fashion shouldn’t just be innovative for the sake of innovation, and what he does is thoughtful and intentional and really works. The progression as him as a designer is so interesting; you can still tell that it’s the same designer but there is a massive growth there. I really love what Raf [Simons] is doing for Dior. I love Céline. I love what Ann Demeulemeester does for men. Some of the Alexander Wang pieces for men are really great too. Dior Homme is always incredible.

MY FIRST PIECE: I remember one, which, now looking back, was quite hideous—an orange dégradé gown that I thought was so cool at the time. I think I would leave that behind. In the beginning I was more colorful and flamboyant and now I have progressed to a more minimal—not dark, but minimal and more somber—aesthetic.

WEAPONS OF CHOICE: [For color], black, obviously. I remember always wanting to work with these diaphanous silks—now I love working with these structured fabrics so you get these interesting shapes, like thicker wools and raw silk.

CURRENT COLLECTION: It’s actually a mélange of a bunch of projects I have done throughout the year at school. They all have different points. For instance, the white look is based off of lovers and the color white. I was looking at white and what it means and in Western society, it means marriage. In the East, it’s a color for funerals. It made me think of love and loss and that hard but soft element. Another [piece] is a shirt project where we had to incorporate all of the classic elements of the shirt. Another was a life drawing.

OFF THE RUNWAY, ON THE iPOD: I know it probably sounds cliché, but [I listen] to a lot of music I hear on the runway. I remember the Sacai soundtrack for the Spring 2013 runway was really incredible. I listen to that a lot. I always do my visual research and then look into music that I find reflects my state of mind for the project and I listen to them on repeat so when I’m done I can probably never really listen to them again because I listen to them so many times!

THE MODEL, THE MUSE: [My friend] Marie Piovesan is obviously one of the most inspirational people in my life. I remember after Interview I was at Prabal Gurung, and I saw her walk the show and thought that she was really beautiful, and after some time we became really close. She is incredibly intelligent and witty and insightful. I also love Sarah Taylor, who modeled for me for this shoot; she’s become a dear friend and I can’t wait to see what she does.

I always have this conversation with people who don’t really understand why I look so much to models. Aesthetically, I am always looking to them when I am designing. I think models are super important to the design process and it can make or break the collection. You have to choose who you want carefully to reflect what you are going for. Most of the girls that I love so much have become friends of mine, like Lexi Boling, Grace Mahary, Anmari Botha, Iris Van Berne.

IT’S A GIRL’S WORLD: To be honest, it’s quite challenging to do menswear. It’s limiting in what you can do. With women you can do whatever you want on the body but for men it’s more restricted and it’s harder for me to come up with ideas for men. [I do feel that] womenswear and menswear are definitely coming closer together. My personal wardrobe is a mix of men’s and women’s pieces. I think it’s pretty much interchangeable.

THE FUTURE OF FASHION: I was talking to someone about micro-trends and how fashion works now. Now, you have six shows or however many you are doing and it’s not always going to be like that. Sooner or later it’s going to be once or twice a year. It’s only going to be five garments with no shows, which I think is so depressing because there are all these elements you have to incorporate when you are designing.

BACKUP CAREER: It’s hard to think of myself in anything other than fashion. I would love to do styling or even work as a model booker. I know styling is harder. It’s easier said than done. Casting is [also] much harder than people think, I’ve noticed. Working backstage at so many shows that I freelance for, it’s really difficult and very stressful.