While many designers have taken the opportunity during lockdown to discover new hobbies or reconnect with their creative side, Hillary Taymour of Collina Strada’s day-to-day has been about one task. “I’ve been making masks every single day,” she says, from her studio in downtown New York. “Everything we sell on our website, I send a free mask out with it, and whenever anyone buys a fashion mask, we send five masks to health care workers, so I really haven’t had time to do much else.”
The pieces Taymour has been selling are no ordinary masks, though. Coming in a variety of eye-popping prints—from plaids to florals to psychedelic swirls—they reflect the bold aesthetic signatures Taymour has firmly established at Collina Strada and made her own. The label was initially launched in 2008 as an accessories line, and it was another four years before she began producing ready-to-wear. Arguably best known for her colorful tie-dye pieces, Taymour has been quietly branching out over the past few years to offer a more comprehensive collection, adding outerwear, party dresses, and even bedazzled reusable water bottles to the mix. It’s this slow, steady—and most importantly, responsible—approach to establishing a fashion brand that has seen Taymour emerge as one of New York’s most compelling design voices, culminating in the brand placing as a finalist for last year’s CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.
For Taymour, the current crisis is a prime opportunity to communicate the brand’s ethos, even if some may have initially misinterpreted the fashion face masks as wildly overpriced at $100, without fully parsing their charitable backstory. “People don’t necessarily understand how things are made, and that we don’t have a huge factory where we pay fast fashion prices—that I’m paying one person from home to sew them herself, and that the money is really going to the five other masks we’re making for medical workers,” Taymour explains. “It’s such a different time, and I think it will change the way customers react further down the line, but it’s been a hard connect, I think, for some people.”
On the other hand, she’s been happy to welcome a new audience to the brand through the attention her masks have received, whether providing them with a guide to make their own, or simply taking the opportunity to speak openly about the ins and outs of running an independent brand in 2020. “I do think now that there’s so much time, people are definitely reading the fine print, and if you tell a story to someone they’re actually going to hear it,” Taymour adds. “You definitely have people’s attention. I feel the kind of engagement we’re getting is so different from before, but different in a positive way, and the more transparent you are right now, the better.”
It’s a sense of community and creativity that is embedded in the brand’s DNA. As one example, Taymour’s partners in quarantine are the photographer Charlie Engman and model Sasha Melnychuk. Their talents came in handy when Taymour decided to create a quarantine collection from fabric scraps and an accompanying look book to raise funds for 22 charities earlier this month, serving as a timely reminder that having limited resources on hand doesn’t inhibit our ability to create. “I really believe that right now we have a huge opportunity to be creative, and I’m in a lucky position where I get to work with friends who are artists and get to make things that make people happy,” she notes. “If that’s what I can give back to society right now, when things are feeling dark and depressing, then I’ll do that.” It’s something Taymour is thinking about on a smaller scale too, like her daily commute. “I’m walking to my studio almost every day and mostly wearing Collina Strada, which is brightly colored anyway, but also these crazy face masks that we’ve been making. It’s so funny watching people’s reactions when they pass me—the other day I heard someone say, ‘Oh wow!’ I think you can still bring a little bit of joy right now through things as simple as fun patterns and crazy colors. It’s cheering.”
The intimate Collina Strada community that Taymour has cultivated over the past decade feels to her like the greatest driving force keeping her going in the face of the barrage of tragic news stories that continue to roll in daily. “In some sense we’re lucky, because nobody knows what the shopping situation is going to be like for the next few years, so unless you have a direct dialogue with your customer, you’re at risk of losing them, and I have that already,” she notes.
“But what I love most is just seeing someone wearing a piece of ours on Instagram while they’re doing their gardening; seeing them live the brand is super beautiful. It could even be someone making a mask and posting it and saying they were inspired by Collina Strada—it’s not about them being a customer or not, but maybe I taught them how to make a mask and they’re doing it at home. It just feels good to be able to help people in that way, even just a little bit. And maybe they’ll get into it more, and make some masks for their neighbors or something. That’s all we can really do right now—help each other, and be there for each other, no matter how big or small your community is.”