Paula Canovas Del Vas Presents a Flawlessly Wrapped SS24 Collection at PFW
Inside the gold-encrusted splendor of the Instituto Cervantes in Paris, Spanish-born designer Paula Canovas del Vas presented her spring-summer 2024 collection, inspired by the art of gifting and her recent move to the city.
Photography by Alessandro Furchino. Some photography by Mari Alexander.
It’s an unseasonably warm day in Paris. Afternoon sunbeams stretch across abstract crimson sculptures placed throughout the high-ceilinged, opulently gilded hall of the Instituto Cervantes. Weaving between them are models, dressed neck-to-toe in sheer red bodysuits and pieces from Paula Canovas del Vas’ spring collection. They walk quietly and deliberately, as though counting each step, and occasionally pause, turning this way then that. The sound of clicking cameras fills a few seconds. Then, they change.
It happens organically. The models work in pairs, like two best friends getting dressed for a day out. “It’s really about that – it’s about the exercise of getting dressed and really having fun with clothes,” Paula tells me, her voice fluttering above a blooming soundtrack created by Brussels-born French composer Pierre Rousseau. “We had this idea, and we created these sculptures and this vision, but it’s really up to the performers and the models to kind of take it to a new [place.]”
For the presentation, each model was assigned a partner and a sculpture – and given freedom to improvise. As a small crowd watches from the edges of the room, one model peels off a blue taffeta dress and drapes it gently over the sculpture. Her friend helps her get dressed again – this time, in a black dress layered on top of a steely gray shirt. She slides up the zipper, fluffs a mass of giant sleeves, shapes her hair into little devil horns (perhaps a reference to Paula’s signature devil-toed shoes).
Throughout the presentation, these little vignettes — between two friends — happen in slow motion and all at once. There’s constant movement and transition, which earns the crowd’s curiosity. “The concept [is a lot] about moving from London to Paris and kind of being on the go,” she says. “It’s a reference to wrapping and to just throwing things on. We documented a lot of that on ourselves when we were in the studio and during fittings.”
The act of wrapping, of snugly enclosing yourself like a gift, is at the crux of the collection, which the Spanish designer titled, “Make of Me a Gift.” We see this play out, loose and unforced. When the model slips out of her outfit, she gently piles it on top of the sculpture and then strings a herringbone ribbon (used in the finishes of several garments) around the entire installation. In another vignette, one friend wraps a blanket-like garment around the other.
If there’s anything the designer does well, it’s creating these conversations around clothes – or more correctly, with them. Ever since I saw the first pair of devil-horned shoes, which she first introduced in her MA collection at London Central St Martins, I was instantly drawn to Paula’s sense of the unexpected. Topiary-like shapes. Swirls of fabric. Hyperbolized silhouettes, but never without meaning.
Her spring-summer collection stays true to that element of whimsy. There are several pieces in taffeta — crisp and airy dresses with tiered, ruched, and gathered-hem skirts. The volume is raised with dramatically exaggerated sleeves, roomy boleros, and silhouettes that simultaneously hug and float away from the body. “We did a lot of research to find fabrics that for whatever reason can’t be used by the mills,” Paula tells me. “We kind of rescue them and use them, […] so there’s a lot of taffeta.”
Deadstock denim, too, makes an appearance: tiered skirts, itty-bitty minis, and patchwork denim pants in a dark wash. My favorite? A denim vest and a sleek pair of denim Bermuda shorts stitched inside out. And of course, as an iternal fan of the designer’s concave, horned-toe shoes, I was pleased to see the familiar shape reinterpreted in a new way. “We were thinking, OK, what would be like the French, Parisian version of it?” she tells me. “And when I think of that, I think of the moccasin.”
More odes to the city of love manifest themselves through prints with sketched heart motifs plucked straight from Parisian postcards. A fiery, sunset-colored jersey dress. A sheer black-and-white skirt. An asymmetrical ensemble realized in urgent, Van Gogh-ian brush strokes of royal and violet blues.
On the accessories front, we see the designer’s sculptural, spiked Pincho bag in miniature, crossbody form and a new addition to the collection: a wheel-shaped, flower-embossed bag. “It’s actually a car manufacturer that does that,” Paula says. “It’s actually quite a technical process of embossing.” Standing on the curved balcony overlooking the presentation hall, I spot said bag hanging from one of the sculptures in the back.
As I say my goodbyes to Paula and make my way down the stairs and out to the embracing warmth of the city, I can’t help but sneak another look at the presentation. I’ve spent at least an hour observing these vignettes; I’ve watched the models dress and undress, wrap and unwrap ribbons, peel and layer garments. I’ve stared at the sculptures – by artist Justine Ponthieux – piled with clothes like that bedroom armchair we’ve all used as a makeshift hanger before rushing out the door. And still, I can’t turn away from the story that Paula has so skillfully unfurled. And that is perhaps the designer’s greatest gift.