The eye does not always know where to focus.
On the purple and orange frog-shaped wicker handbag? On the rhinestone horns glued to the top of anise green sneakers? On the protruding heart-shaped hips of a pink velvet dress, formed by old-fashioned side hoops?
Visiting the set of a Collina Strada set is reminiscent of being welcomed by a delegation from another planet. The models, in their layers of candy-colored mismatched clothes, are a new breed, descended from goth rats and granola girls. They don’t strut and pose. They frolic and trample.
On this Monday in February, they were ripped from their grungy fantasy and dropped off at a rented movie studio in South Brooklyn. Here, the brand is working on a project that bridges our world and theirs: a parody of the mid-2000s reality show “The Hills” (Collina translates to “hill” in Italian) with a certain “Real Housewives” energy.
“The Hills”, which debuted a week later on Feb. 16 at New York Fashion Week, isn’t the company’s first fashion flick. In September 2020, when the pandemic forced labels to swap their shows for online presentations, he posted a video titled “change is cute.”
At the time, the digitization of fashion shows was not ideal for many designers, who may depend on traditional in-person formats to reach buyers, editors and influencers. Collina Strada, however, saw an opportunity to fully express the world she envisioned for her clothes – something truly only possible in digital form.
“Change Is Cute” opens with a white bull (dyed purple and covered in orange squiggles) and a cow (painted in rainbow flowers) wandering through a hilly landscape (except the hills are covered in wallpaper with hand-drawn fruits). It only gets weirder from there.
This season, Collina Strada has decided to continue its global construction through video. (After “Change Is Cute” came “Collina Land”, a video game funded by Gucci as part of its Platform for emerging designers, and “Collina Mals“, a project that enlisted David Mattingly, the artist behind the sci-fi series “Animorphs”.) The difference this time is that the film is scripted.
Hillary Taymour, the 34-year-old founder and creative director of Collina Strada, said she wanted to do “pure fashion comedy”.
Ms. Taymour didn’t follow ‘The Hills’ when it aired on MTV from 2006 to 2010. She was around ‘The Hills’, however, living in Los Angeles and going to the same clubs as its stars, who were also around the same age. Ms. Taymour dressed somewhat similarly, albeit more “indie sleaze party girl”, she said: tube tops, heavy eyeliner, American Apparel jeans and Marc by Marc Jacobs heels.
“I didn’t even wash my hair,” she said. “I still don’t.”
While she founded Collina Strada in 2009, the brand’s visual identity (upcycling and tie-dyeing; use of natural materials such as “sylk” made from waste rose bushes; casting of models who are not female slender white but non-binary people, people with disabilities, people in their 60s) didn’t crystallize until around 2019, she said. That year, she was named a finalist for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, a prestigious award for emerging American designers.
Just as the first episode of “The Hills” revolves around its star, Lauren Conrad, who is starting a fashion internship, “The Collinas” tells the story of a new intern starting out in Collina Strada.
This intern is played by Tommy Dorfman, whom Ms. Taymour had in mind when she wrote the screenplay. Ms Dorfman is an actress and filmmaker who last September became a figurehead and guest of honor at parades and parties. In a process she likened to dating fashion designers, Ms Dorfman was experiment with clothes after clarify her identity as a trans woman.
She and Mrs. Taymour bonded almost instantly. Ms. Dorfman, who is generous with both compliments and on-set improvisations, was drawn to the designer’s thoughtfulness; other brands would send her unsolicited, overly-wrapped freebies, as they often do with celebrities and influencers, hoping they’ll post the free bags or clothes on Instagram or wear them in a photo of paparazzi.
Mrs. Taymour would ask, “Do you like these socks?” Ms. Dorfman said, then gave them to him over dinner.
In the original script for “The Collinas”, the character of Mrs. Dorfman naively charges into the New York fashion world, showing little interest in the actual work. His reaction, in an early version of the script, to getting the job: “Sustainability is so in vogue!” Collina Strada’s other employees are snobby, judging her, for example, for not having her own crystal-encrusted refillable water bottle (a real product made by the brand).
The joke seems to be for all the fashion brands that consider themselves sustainable, including Collina Strada, which considers that there is in fact no such thing.
“The best way to get the message across is through humor,” Ms. Dorfman said between takes. She wore a chartreuse blouse over a periwinkle silk skirt over floral graphic pants. Oversized coats were cinched in with a studded belt, secured with a small band from a kilt skirt. She was about to film a scene in which she is asked to spray shiny silver pants and fails at the task. Charlie Engman, Ms Taymour’s longtime collaborator, reminded the actors not to stare into the camera.
On the table next to Ms Dorfman was a list of inspired ‘housewives’ slogan ideas‘I love posting and composting’, ‘The only thing that isn’t sustainable in my house are my enemies’, ‘How much do I care about the environment? Even the bags under my eyes are reusable.
“If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can laugh at you?” Ms Taymour said on the phone a few days after the shooting. “Fashion takes itself so seriously. Like, ‘I used 50% less water in this garment this time.’ Come on guys. We can care about things and do our part, but no fashion brand saves the world. I don’t care what they say in the press. They are not.”
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There was a high-pitched hiss from his side of the line. “Sorry, my dog just sneezed,” she said. (Powwow the Pomeranian also shot a confessional scene in “The Collinas.”)
When the pandemic hit, fashion institutions were looking for ways to support smaller brands, which led to some breakthroughs for Collina Strada, like inclusion in Gucci’s Vault program for young designers and the Met’s “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” exhibition. Gucci also paid for Ms Taymour to attend the Met Gala. On the red carpet, she wore lime green cargo pants and a large horse head necklace hanging from her shoulders, a look that made her feel armored and reminded her not to take the industry so seriously.
“His fair fashion,” she said. “If you’re not having fun, what’s the point? At least while getting dressed.
It’s the small size of her brand that makes Ms Taymour think so, she said; it does not answer to a board of directors or a parent company, and it shows in the way it presents its collections. Projects like “The Collinas” or “Change Is Cute” aren’t about creating the perfect image to sell new clothes, but about capturing the right “image vibe”.
“Which I think would be totally eliminated if it were a bigger company,” Ms Taymour said. “Would I be able to cast the people I chose if there were hundreds of millions of dollars at stake? I don’t know because they’re all jokers, and that’s what makes it fun.
But smallness also has its drawbacks. The budget for “The Collinas” was $100,000 (paid by Cash App), which meant a tight filming schedule that barely left Ms. Taymour time to eat while filming. She did, finally, standing up.
She wants to expand into shoes, but it would cost her $250,000 to start producing the design she has in mind, using the most sustainable practices available to her. And that’s the challenge: to grow a business while staying true to the “Collina girl,” the environmentally conscious anarchist, that is in us.
This season, new cargo pants have been dyed using sequins. As she dyed them, “sitting in the studio, heating up sprays with a hair dryer,” Ms. Taymour realized, she said, “I’m, actually, a psycho right now.”
“Sounds cool,” she said. “But how do you scale hot nuggets?”