Meet Paolo Sebastian, the label making Australian couture

Adelaide to Paris.

From South Australia to the beating heart of couture, Paul Vasileff of label Paolo Sebastian was ecstatic after presenting his creations in Paris during couture week this month. “It’s been a very wonderful but surreal experience,” he told Vogue after showing to international media, buyers and potential clients. “This is something I’ve dreamt about my whole life so I’m still having trouble registering and making the connection that it has actually happened to me and to the brand.”

It’s a moment that has been in the making since he began his label at the age of 17, nearly ten years ago. After studying at Adelaide technical college, then at Milan’s Europeo Istituto di Design, Vasileff made the leap into building his own brand under an Italian-ised version of his first and middle names in 2007. Choosing a couture sensibility with a focus on evening wear wasn’t a conventional route for for a young brand based outside of Australia’s two big fashion cities, as Vasileff recalls. “In the early years it was hard. The Adelaide and the Australian fashion scenes were very different. I found that a lot of people struggled to take me seriously either thinking that I was too young or because I was from Adelaide.”

Since then, as Vasileff has revealed more of what the brand has to offer, the understanding of what he was doing grew. “Thankfully as we built the brand that perception has changed, as has the entire local fashion industry.” He says he sees an industry more open to change, something that was reflected in his reception in Paris. “The response has been phenomenal. I was actually quite nervous in the lead up – Paris is a new market and we were presenting to a lot of industry officials. Thankfully people really took to the brand and understood the aesthetic and the story behind the collection.”

Vasileff has built a following both locally and overseas including celebrity clients and stockists worldwide. His elegant gowns, sometimes richly embellished, and almost all occasion pieces, have been worn by Kris Jenner, Giuliana Rancic and, in a recent Vogue Australia shoot, by Kim Kardashian. His work has been written about in publications like British Vogue andWWD.

With production based entirely out of his Adelaide atelier, Vasileff has a sizeable operation that works to produce garments of the highest quality. Fabrics are sourced from Europe, with lace from Sophie Hallette, a supplier to some of the major fashion houses and embroideries, beadwork and silk from Italy. His atelier workers pull it all together. “I’m very lucky to have the staff behind me that I do,” he says. “I feel that’s why we are able to maintain the quality and standard that we do because we all have so much love and pride for our work and we want to make sure that we are constantly improving ourselves…for example one of my seamstresses was a tailor-ess for many years so it great to see her adapt traditional masculine tailoring methods into an evening gown.”

Clients around the world from Australia to the Middle East, where the label has a slew of return private customers, keep everything ticking. Vasileff says he owes the ability to infiltrate geographically distant markets to digital platforms like Instagram and Pinterest. “These tools have provided us with a worldwide reach, which is wonderful.  This lead to many international requests and subsequently we are now stocked in several international stores.”

For the newest collection Vasileff looked to the intricacies of dragonfly wings, their iridescence and delicate nature, for inspiration. “I thought it would be great to try and translate those effects into the designs and textiles. I custom develop the majority beadwork and embroideries we do so it’s always a fun and interesting challenge to experiment.”

As for the label’s future as a couture house, Vasileff’s commitment to quality should tell any would-be critic he’s destined for even bigger things. “I think a lot of people still don’t realise the hours and the handwork that goes into couture. Some dresses exceed well over 200 hours [of work]. I think it’s really important that we know and understand where our clothes come from and how they are made and that’s why I have chosen to keep production in house in our Adelaide Atelier.” Spoken like a true pioneer.