Profile: Paloma Von Broadley

Prologue Part 1: The Cafe. Inquired of Amy Williams, Chair of the CCA Fashion program: what up and coming designer should we talk to in the Bay Area given our interest in fashion that’s gorgeous, incredibly crafted, and thoughtful, maybe even responsible.

Answered, without hesitation: Paloma Von Broadley. (There were others, too, but there was a particular fervor as Amy mentioned her name.)

Photo Credit: Tara Chumpelik

Prologue Part 2: At home, cat and computer fighting for space on lap. Find Paloma’s site. Loud exclamations from sofa, cat runs off. Good thing (for cat) since drooling ensues.

Prologue Part 3: Thank you note to Amy. E-mail to Paloma asking for interview pronto.

Paloma’s work blows me away. I do confess that I have a thing for evening wear (for a lifestyle I do not have) and Paloma’s work (primarily a line she calls Scalloped Silk) would be my first pick if I lived such a life.

It’s sculptural, romantic, intricate, spirited and yet it doesn’t take itself seriously. It looks FUN to wear, easy, and comfortable even. But it’s not just pretty. All that fun and movement takes rigorous, intentional tailoring–real engineering and craftsmanship. These clothes make you smile. They just do.

Oddly enough, there’s a kind of LA quality to her work. There’s that glamorous quality that radiates, mesmerizes, demands that that you “Look at Me”. But for all its charms, LA is gritty, tough and very smart. So where do we find that glamour and grit, femininity and toughness all rolled into one? Cue Paloma.

And all this from a scrappy fledgling designer, a real one woman show.

Welcome to the flip side of Big Fashion.

Just a couple of years out of school, Paloma doesn’t have textile manufacturers knocking on her door but sources fabrics from jobbers; she works out of her house (knitting machine at the dining room table, serger in the corner, dress form as functional sculpture) and has just recently created her first, more casual ready to wear line.

And yet you just KNOW she’s having a blast.

Bubbly, passionate, intense, smart, neither she nor her studio bore any  signs of the mega-wedding outfitting she’d just done for a client. (Bride plus 15 bridesmaids. Yow. On so many levels.) A good look around (much fondling of fabrics and show and tell of finished work, including some killer pleated work done in a handmade pleater) and we got down to business.

You have to tell us about your name. I was born in Ibiza (Spain), and my father gave me his favorite Spanish name. Von is actually my middle name, definitely not German nobility!

Are your parents Spanish? No. My mother is German, and my father is American. He’s quite a character….he’s an actor and owns Earthfire Gems Gallery in Santa Fe.

So you grew up in… In Santa Fe, NM.  We moved to Hollywood from Europe, but ended up in NM.  I traveled a lot visiting family in Europe and with my father to buy for his business.

Fun! What was the best part of that? I loved the creativity, and being around artists was great.

Photo Credit: Tara Chumpelik

Is there a place that’s most informed your work? When I was 17, I went to India. While it was a while ago, I was profoundly inspired by the fabrics and saris and colors and smells. I also saw the possibilities of working with fabrics and tailors for the first time.

So where did this whole career in clothing (and jewelry) come from? Instead of going to college, I traveled after high school, and started working for a clothing store in Santa Fe. I started buying with the owner, a dear friend now, at the LA contemporary market.  I worked at the store for 2 years, buying, merchandizing and making my own jewelry from the materials from my dad’s gallery.

But then I needed to get away. So I gathered my beads and took off to Europe. I traveled and returned to Ibiza where I started living a mellow beach lifestyle, selling jewelry, but really not being very productive!  But when I became 21, I decided I needed to get motivated and went to work for dad again for a few years.  And then I went to CCA.

Did it work for you to take all that time off then go back to school? Yes , I think it was really smart to do even though I was the oldest in class. But in all honesty, I don’t think I could have done CCA at 18 or 19. Fashion at CCA is so serious, it was so hard!

I loved CCA, I’m now teaching a Fashion Design 1 class at CCA.

How is that? (Expansive grin.) The students, they’re all so talented. I’m totally inspired by them.

So what’s your work about? What else inspires you? It’s a mix! I can start with a fabric and be inspired. Or I can see a shape and start to work backwards.

And different cultures inspire me, a real mix.  India is huge, African fabrics: the patterns, colors always inspire me, really stirs up my emotions. Even color combinations move me. I love unexpected color combinations…you add a color or element, and the pattern completely transforms. But I tend to play with color more in jewelry than in clothing, which to me is more about texture and form.

What else? Oh I just started watching The Tudors that’s so inspiring. (Agreed!) And my best friend is a florist in San Francisco, The Petaler and I love helping her. I also love Stonemountain and Daughter, it’s my favorite local fabric store.

A huge part of my work and my philosophy is sustainability, though. I don’t really consider that I’m in the fashion business per se, because it’s so based on consumption and trends.  And fashion is such a dirty business. If I’m in the fashion business, it’s slow fashion.

Who do you look to in the fashion world for inspiration? Oh it’s so sad about Alexander McQueen. His work really moved me.  I enjoy the fantasies and dreamscape of Tsumori Chisato. I love her for her wild shapes and the imagination of her fabrics. I don’t look at blogs, much.  I feel like I should do more…but then I want to keep my look fresh.

Name a transcendent moment. It’s really profound when something manifests from flat pattern to 3d, and when you see it move on a body. It pushes you, and when you think you’ve pushed yourself hard, then push harder. It may not always be good, but it takes you places you didn’t expect to go.

Photo Credit: Tara Chumpelik

You have to tell about your technique for the dresses: how they’re so sculptural yet so feminine and soft. Where’d that come from? Oh I don’t know…I’ve always been entranced by undulation, by movement. As a kid, I used to have saris pinned to the ceiling, and they were so graceful, so amazing. As for the technique itself, there’s a patterning technique called subtraction patterning/cutting developed by a man named Julian Roberts. I incorporated his technique and added some sculptural elements of my own.

Photo Credit: Tara Chumpelik

And what about the ready to wear line? It feels of a piece with the romantic work, but is also just a lot more streamlined. And oddly enough it feels like you could wear some of the pieces, like the sweaters and the wraps with those more statementy pieces. I was trying to create something edgy and sophisticated. Not trend based. I want you to be able to bring it into your closet and wear with clothes you have. Really usable clothing that you can wear in different ways: that’s part of sustainability.

We haven’t talked about this a lot, but you also are a designer and maker of jewelry. Do the two relate? Absolutely. Jewelry is second nature for me, and the styles just blend together.

So talk about your business, and about making a name for yourself. Most of my work right now is custom work, like the wedding party I just designed for, or statement gowns for events. But it’s not like I’m inventing something completely new for each client: I’m still basing designs and custom work off of what I do. Clients come to me because they’re inspired by shapes I’ve already made but want to customize color or fabric.

Then, there’s the ready to wear line…it’s a new thing for me, and I’ve just completed the line.

How on earth are you able to do all this on your own? Well, I’m not yet selling enough to be producing all the time! Like anyone else, I’m trying to figure out what makes sense in terms of growth…I’m competing with China and India but also with local designers. Right now, larger gowns and statement pieces are more straightforward to make a living, and the wedding market is huge! I can also be highly creative for a wedding, so weddings make a lot of sense.

I can make and create the work but finding the time to sell it is another matter! It’s the hardest part, of course. But I do have the experience of working with my father and selling in galleries….that’s enormously helpful because I don’t have that fear. I know how galleries and retailers work.

But do you want to go mainstream? Sell in stores, get a staff, etc? Oh that’s a hard one. I’m still trying to figure out how to go more mainstream…but in my own way, and slowly. I actually see a bigger picture of what this could be all about. The old retail model is dead though it doesn’t mean that retail is dead.  I love what MAC’s doing at the Yellow House by bringing in makers to work as artists in residence and helping people understand the connection between making and the final product.

Who are you designing for? I have a hard time nailing a customer. It really spans lots of demographics. So who is she? A sophisticated, modern, woman into quality and elegance, but who also likes to have fun and be comfortable. Clean and sexy in your own skin. (You see this in all her work, such as the dress with a racer back attached to a sexy, romantic, highly structured skirt.)

Have you ever worn your designs and had people approach you…what’s that like? It gets me giddy! It feels really good. People get really impassioned and emotional when they see the work: they’re emotionally hit. It’s very unusual to them.

Who plays you in the movie of your life? Kate Winslet on my best day and a young Woody Harrelson in drag on my worst. (Best answer we’ve heard, ever.)

What kind of movie? A silent film, but in color.  Black and white is just too dark!

Why silent?! Because I gesture a lot, very expressive…friends have told me I’d be great in a silent film.

What are you reading? Oh it’s not up or happy...JMG Le Clezio. Beautiful short stories, but really dark. Human life is not so pretty.

First thing reached for in the morning: Water. I’m a big water drinker.  And a cashmere robe…must be cozy.

Thanks Paloma. We expect big things (on a sustainable scale).




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