By Anthony Brancaleone
With a studio in Manhattan, and a corner apartment in Brooklyn Heights, designer Paul Carroll has been creating fashion for women since 1979. What was once a fantasy has become a career that keeps Carroll and his partner, John Liguori, continuously developing new methods of competing against the money and advertising of today’s megaconglomerates.
“You need to know the ins and outs of your chosen field,” Carroll explained on a recent photo shoot for his Fall 09 collection. “When you are first inspired about a potential career you only see the final results; you don’t yet know what goes into getting those results”
Up by 7, at work by 8:30, Carroll designs until 4pm before taking some time to exercise; then he’ll get back to the needles and thread until dinner, usually around 8, and finish with the day’s assignments by 11pm.
Paul’s work ethic and talent, combined with John’s PR and strong business sense, have landed the team in high-end boutiques like Massimo Bizzocchi, located in the Meatpacking District, and has placed Paul Carroll garments in what is regarded as the temple of unique merchandise: Takashimaya, on Fifth Avenue.
While in search of the “3am girl” during a shoot in his living room, Paul is relaxed in dark denim and black tee, smokes from time to time, and has developed the habit of drinking tall glasses of ice-water. He’s confident, carries the right amount of New York cynicism, but manages to be genuinely friendly to each member of the crew.
During breaks we discussed fashion, then followed up with more conversation over fish and chips at the Atlantic Chip Shop, Brooklyn Heights.
Anthony Brancaleone: I love your neighborhood, Brooklyn Heights…
Paul Carroll: I’ve lived here for 16 years. When I first moved the neighborhood was great but a little gritty. Now it’s a very posh place to live. I miss the grit.
AB: What does it offer in the way of inspiration?
PC: Not too much, but I love it. I’m a movie guy. I love film so I find most of my inspiration there.
AB: Anything particular?
PC: Take Alfred Hitchcock. I know many designers find inspiration in his films because they are just so visually amazing.
AB: Does fashion imitate film or does film imitate fashion?
PC: Both, it’s a symbiotic relationship. One feeds off the other and vice versa.
AB: How does a ‘look’ become a collection?
PC: It’s an evolution but it does always start for me with a silhouette or a fabric, then it evolves into one thing then another and so on.
AB: So, it’s a secret…
PC: No, not really, you just try everything! Sometimes things work out, sometimes not so well, but you always have to try things.
AB: When do you know your line is complete?
PC: You set a completion date.
AB: Is there a point when your partner John [Liguori] says “enough” and has to take over?
PC: No, he would never say that.
AB: How do you and John work together?
PC: He takes care of me.
AB: Do you still find yourself anxious when showing a new line?
PC: Always! The nervousness is always there but I think it’s what keeps me always striving to do good work.
AB: Define ‘good’ work . . .
PC: Well, you just do the best you can and hope that women love it.
AB: Are you watching Project Runway?
PC: Of course! It’s always suspenseful.
AB: Who do you think is going to win?
PC: It’s too early to tell.
AB: No idea?
PC: I think Irena is talented but she has real behavioral problems. My money is on Nicholas, Carol Hannah, and Althea. Althea is my fave.
AB: From the perspective of a designer, are the challenges relevant to the job?
PC: You normally get a little more time in real life, but not always. So, yeah, there are “Project Runway days”. For example, I was recently commissioned to make a special costume for Bobby Eakes who plays Krystal on All My Children. Her character needed show-stopping costume for a Halloween storyline. I had to go from sketch to delivery in about ten days with only one live fitting! It came out great, but was a lot of work!
AB: How do you feel about the move to LA?
PC: The show is as good as it always was.
AB: This year, Project Runway is being followed by a show on the models – how important is finding the right model to represent your ideas?
PC: Very. They bring everything to life. The great ones inspire you. I have always been lucky to work with great models.
“A look is an evolution, but it does always start for me with a silhouette or a fabric, then it evolves into one thing then another and so on.” ~ Paul Carroll
AB: What are you looking for in a model and what do you expect from her?
PC: It’s about personality. You have to enjoy the people you work with. Being a model is tough work and it takes a very dedicated person.
AB: You’re less interested with physicality?
PC: How someone looks is the first thing you notice, so yeah, it starts with that. But longevity depends on the other things.
AB: How about interns? How should a designer screen for those?
PC: You look at their work and their education but ultimately it’s about a relationship and a dedication to learning.
AB: Describe your Fall 09’ collection
PC: It’s a modern take on the 1940’s, but not too literal. It has a modern twist.
AB: Is the twist the art?
PC: Well, I don’t know if its art but it’s definitely design.
AB: Why the 40’s?
PC: Well, in the midst of the worldwide financial collapse, I thought 1940’s because those women of that era propped this entire country up.
AB: Strong, yet in film they’re also quite glamorous…
PC: Well it’s film, so everything is very stylized and, of course, lit to perfection!
AB: Do you consider it a good time for fashion?
PC: NO! Fashion and the economy go hand in hand so you can imagine. But this decade has never really defined itself, so it’s all over the place.
AB: Who wears Paul Carroll?
PC: It’s all over the map, which I think is great. I love when a girl in her twenties buys something, but I also love it when someone in their sixties buys as well, which happens often.
AB: Ever seen a piece of yours worn in public?
PC: On television mostly, a few times at the Emmys, on Guiding Light and All My Children, but I have yet to see someone on the street in New York wearing something of mine. That would be so much fun. And yes, I am always happy to see it.
AB: Any plans for shoes, bags or accessories?
PC: Yes, yes, and yes. I love accessories and I love designing them, but the market is completely flooded by d-list celebrities and tweens designers.
AB: Do you offer online sales or couture designs for those outside the city?
PC: Absolutely. Anyone interested can contact us via the website for purchasing and custom orders.
AB: How about you and John; are you fussy about your own clothing?
PC: Well, John dresses for work everyday.
AB: Is it important for designers to develop their own personal look?
PC: Well, it’s part of it for sure, but I’m more interested in developing looks for women. For me, it’s about fitness and being healthy.
AB: How about when you travel, what are your fashion concerns?
PC: Well, it starts with the destination then you pack accordingly. I want to look great and be comfortable but for me it usually starts with a pair of jeans. Comfort and style are important to me, but I am never too fussy.
AB: And, if you could pick a destination…
PC: Florence. Fashion is like theater in the streets there. It’s so much fun to join the cast.
AB: Any recommendations for a stylish woman in flight?
PC: Drink lots of water, sedatives can dehydrate you!
AB: Speaking of women in flight; which airline boasts the finest uniforms?
PC: I can’t think of one.
AB: Korean Air is looking pretty good…
PC: That doesn’t surprise me, I have worked with so many talented Korean people and they really know fashion.