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Paula Mihovilovic BA collection
Courtesy of Paula Mihovilovic

Paula Mihovilovic conjures couture from the fashion spectres of her past

We catch up with the designer on modernising the glamour of the 1950s, One Direction fan fiction, and her corrosive Scorpio tendencies

Fashion is often referred to as a vessel for personal reinvention, harbouring the power to shed, inhabit, and experiment with different identities. But Paula Mihovilovic’s graduate collection at Central Saint Martins offered up an alternative idea: that people are forever haunted by the spectres of their past no matter the efforts they might make to decorate and disguise themselves. On the runway, ghoulish body doubles loomed over models, free-floating from bustiers, bustle skirts, and disco leggings. The whole thing was a seance of mish-mashed historical references, with Mihovilovic whipping layers of transparent fabric into overblown ballgowns, organza hoodies, and sheer, photo-printed balaclavas. “My collection marries our digital age with the golden age of couture,” she says. ”I seek to bring the glamour of the past to the present.” Think Charles James, accented with the holographic quality of an Instagram filter.  

This phantom thread was perhaps first sewn by her parents, who founded Skandal (a then-popular, but now-defunct) fashion brand in the 90s. “I didn’t have many friends, so I spent most of my time hanging around my parents’ studio while the seamstresses taught me to make dresses for my dolls,” she says. “On one hand I do it for myself, on the other hand, I do it to honour my parents, who’ve fought so hard to give me the opportunity to pursue my dream.” Mihovilovic’s mum now lives as a 1,368 year-old vampire, which she announced on a Croatian episode of Come Dine With Me. It’s a preternatural bloodline that seems to have surfaced in the designer’s obsession with murder mystery podcasts, vintage wedding dresses, and Slavic folklore – and one that’s attracted the attention of the British Fashion Council and the Sarabande Foundation, both of which have helped to fund Mihovilovic’s studies.

Below, we catch up with the designer on modernising couture, One Direction fan fiction, and her corrosive Scorpio tendencies. 

How and why did you first get into fashion? 

Paula Mihovilovic: Through my parents. They were the creators of the most popular clothing brand in Croatia. My father was a business-minded man. My mother was his creative-minded partner. They were extremely busy and brought their work home a lot. I, at the time, did not have many friends, so I spent most of my time hanging around my parents’ studio with the seamstresses who taught me how to make dresses for my dolls. As I grew up, I realised that I could dress myself like I dressed my dolls. I discovered fashion titans like John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, and decided that I want to pursue fashion at the top tier level like them. On one hand I do it for myself, on the other hand, I do it to honour my parents who have inspired me and have fought so hard to give me this opportunity to pursue my dream. 

What are some of the obsessions you return to time after time? 

Paula Mihovilovic: My creations are centered around women as individuals. I enjoy envisioning my designs on the most glamorous woman you see on the street or at a party. I want to accentuate her beauty regardless of who she is. I want to make the gloves, the hats, and the dresses she wears. This focus on individuality drives me to practice millinery and couture. 

I would like to think that you can see my individuality and creativity within my work. I often present my work modeled by myself on Instagram. Instagram is where I curate my fantasy, regardless of the norms of everyday life. I design, I make, I style. I use the platform as a space where I can curate an aesthetic which I believe is 100 per cent representative of myself and the women I want to dress. When in a state of doubt and lack of inspiration, I always like to come back to my IG account to refocus myself. 

Can you guide us through some of the inspirations behind the latest collection? What are some of the themes you wanted to put forth? 

Paula Mihovilovic: My moodboard for the latest collection consisted of Charles James, Charles James, and Charles James, with a hint of Cristóbal Balenciaga. My focus was to reinterpret 1950s formal wear in a modern way. I sought to bring the glamor of the past to the present; I did this by taking the silhouettes of the 1950s and pairing them with current concepts in fashion. My collection marries our digital age with the golden age of couture; I combine crucial accessories of that period, such as headpieces and jewellery, with modern garments such as ski jackets and leotards. My motivation is to bring back glamour of the 1950s to the streets of London, Paris, and even Croatia. It is my dream to reincarnate gowns and hats as joggers and bomber jackets. 

What do you think people are likely to misunderstand about your work?

Paula Mihovilovic: That I only want to make large dresses. 

Which piece(s) are really totemic of the collection as a whole? 

Paula Mihovilovic: The transparent layers, which I styled on top structural dresses, created an illusion like the augmented filters that we use on social media. 

When did you first become aware of the power of fashion? Did you have a freakum outfit when you were growing up? 

Paula Mihovilovic: My power outfits when growing up were wedding dresses. Definitely scared away a lot of guys with them. 

Would you design Rishi Sunak's next TV look for £10,000? What would you design lol? 

Paula Mihovilovic: Yes, because I'm broke. I can see him in a ballerina tutu with knee-high boots covered in spikes!! 

What’s your weirdest internet obsession? 

Paula Mihovilovic: Murder mystery podcasts.

The most embarrassing picture/screenshot on your camera roll? 

Paula Mihovilovic: A continuous scroll of the One Direction fan fiction that I used to read from seven years ago but have yet to delete.

The most recent note on your Notes app?

Paula Mihovilovic: Nuclear power plants in the Republic of Croatia yes or no? Disclaimer: I cannot remember the context of writing that note… 

Your weirdest comfort food? 

Paula Mihovilovic: Salad with sugar on top.

The worst advice you’ve ever been given? 

Paula Mihovilovic: My 93 year-old grandma once told me: “Paulaaaaa, do not give up your pussy until you’re in your late 30s!” 

Who’s your nemesis? 

Paula Mihovilovic: Peanuts (deadly allergic).

What’s your star sign and are you typical of that sign? 

Paula Mihovilovic: It’s Scorpio. A quick Google search says they do not shy away from conflict and can surprise others with their brutal honesty. For better or worse, that is pretty accurate of my personality… 

Pettiest thing you’ve ever done? 

Paula Mihovilovic: I put laxative in my flatmate's milk, it was well justified, believe me!!!! 

What Dazed headline would you be? 

Paula Mihovilovic: The Dress Artist Confronting Her and I. 

Who would be in your nightmare blunt rotation? And your dream blunt rotation? 

Paula Mihovilovic: In my dream: Myself.

In my nightmare: Myself.

What would your ghost outfit be? 

Paula Mihovilovic: A transparent Charles James “Clover Leaf” dress.

What do you reckon you’re most likely to get canceled for? 

Paula Mihovilovic: Telling an inappropriate joke.

Title of your biography? 

Paula Mihovilovic: 20 Large Gowns in My 20 Sq Ft Apartment.