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Collina Strada book I Care a Lotta Rizzoli
Courtesy of Rizzoli

I Care a Lotta: Collina Strada’s chaotic new book is an expression of hope

‘You can only teach people through optimism’ say founder Hillary Taymour of the part-archive, part-moodboard, and part-‘how to’ fashion tome

Hillary Taymour and Charlie Engman are dashing through airport security, trying to make a flight to LA to host the second signing of their newly released book, I Care a Lotta, I Wear Collina Strada. The duo – founder and creative director and art director of the New York brand respectively – are on the line on separate calls, in separate queues. It’s a perfectly chaotic interview set up for a perfectly chaotic brand, one which dressed Kim Petras in a horse’s head for the Met Gala and once sent a model down the runway backwards because they liked the back of the trousers, which they’d made at 4am that morning, better than the front.

“This is kind of a full circle Dazed article,” Taymour says, her dog and Collina Strada muse Pow tucked under her arm as she edges closer to the front of the queue. It was a meeting last year in Paris with Dazed co-founder Jefferson Hack that put the wheels in motion for the book. “He introduced me to Charles Miers, who’s the [publisher] of Rizzoli, and he started the book process immediately. We started working on it in the summer of last year.”

The hardback serves as part-archive, part-moodboard, and part-‘how to’. “I think it kind of hits the mark on everyone in this way, but kind of also maybe no one,” Taymour says. A brand timeline stretching back to 2008 kicks off the book, charting the history and successes of Collina Strada as it evolved from an LA handbag brand to a collaborative New York-based ready-to-wear label, to becoming one of the leading voices in sustainable fashion. Following a chronological format, readers are led through each collection from AW19 onwards.

The book describes AW19 as “the season the ethos and aesthetic of Collina fully merged.” Guests were asked to bring trash and recyclables to the runway show which were used to create an impromptu set among which “models sauntered down the runway with beads made from recycled ocean plastic, munching veggies from reusable containers, and sipping beverages from bespoke bottles”.

“I finished my Saturn return, and I was ready. There’s no other way to talk about it,” says Taymour on why the season was a turning point. Luckily, she’s willing to expand for the less astrologically inclined. “I was 31 and I just came out of a huge break up and I found myself again. [I asked myself] who I wanted to be in the world and really found what I believed in, my ethos and how I was going to own the business.”

“I just remember seeing that season and being able to visually identify that something’s different, Hilary has worked through a blockage or something. It was a beautiful collection,” says Engman, whom Taymour met via Craigslist when she moved to New York in 2010.

Since that pivotal season, the brand has continued along what Taymour refers to as a sustainability journey. The book covers Collina Strada’s use of deadstock materials [decorated with Engman’s custom, maximalist prints since Resort 2020], its donations to community gardens, its collaboration with The Or Foundation to re-use t-shirts sourced from Kantamanto Market, and its use of the innovative plant-based fibre Rose Sylk

Undoubtedly, Collina Strada is a sustainable force in fashion that many attempt to imitate, but rather than gatekeeping the necessary knowledge Taymour and Engman lay it all out in the book for anyone who wants to follow the formula. Page 12 is home to a sustainability cheat sheet which lists tips including producing locally and using green materials, while across the rest of the book every effort from distributing reusable shopping bags to the details of the brand’s many green runway set-ups are covered. 

“The world is changed by your example and not your opinion. I can say all I want, but if you’re not doing it, what’s the point?” – Hillary Taymour

“The world is changed by your example and not your opinion. I can say all I want, but if you’re not doing it, what’s the point?” says Taymour. “That’s the only way that makes sense for us to [operate],” agrees Engman. “Rather than seeing it as a potential weakness or a potential risk, I see it as a strength”.

The efforts don’t stop with this professional generosity. Almost every single creative output from Collina Strada encompasses some kind of sustainability messaging and it’s here where Taymour and Engman’s chaotic, child-like creative energy shines. 

When COVID forced runway shows to grind to a halt, Collina Strada created Collina Utopia, animating SS21’s garish florals in a “dreamscape… filled with tie-dyed cornfields, floating gardens, giant turnips from space, and a Collina-print rainbow waterfall”. The next logical step from a Teletubbies-style sun baby wishing visitors to the utopia a “farm-tastic day”[page 91 if you’re curious] was making that world yet more immersive. 

Enlisting the help of the same 3D visual artist, Jefferson Wenzel, Collina Strada launched the fully playable video game Collina-Land for GucciFest 2020 and Pre-Fall 2021, tasking players with saving Collina-Land from a climate disaster. A cute, half-size pamphlet between pages 112 and 113 showcases the game’s main characters in a playing card-inspired layout. Take your pick from the Mother of Dunes, whose compost can regenerate any crop, or the Glacial Guardian who prevents the ice caps from melting – as long as she stays cool. 

These mini zine-like entries are scattered throughout the book, but they’re not the only disruption to the usual sleek, fashion brand archive book formula. All 223 pages, plus the endleaves and the textured cover, are a visual riot. Model images are layered over 3D illustrations, which are layered over Engman’s unmistakable prints, which are layered over WhatsApp screenshots, which are flanked by sketches, which are annotated with handwritten text. There isn’t a single missed opportunity to fill each page with the brand’s playful DNA, whether it’s a close-up of a bum cheek with “pick your shit up!” scrawled on it in marker pen, or a hot pink digital praying mantis.

Although Collina Strada the brand is very much a collective effort, the book was a close, concentrated collaboration between Taymour and Engman, with Taymour pushing Engman to “go crazier” at every turn.

“This is kind of a full circle Dazed article. Jefferson [Hack, Dazed founder] introduced me to Charles Meir, who’s the [publisher] of Rizzoli, and he started the book process immediately. We started working on it in the summer of last year” – Hillary Taymour

“I’d say we’re both pretty chaotic. So, it’s always kind of a push and pull with us where we want to try and be as expansive as possible but also as clear and succinct as we can. It was very intense, sort of like let’s throw everything at an InDesign and see where it settles. We just wanted to be really instinctual. I’m really happy with how the book manages to pull on all these different threads,” says Engman.

Although I Care a Lotta, I Wear Collina Strada emerged from a chance meeting, both Taymour and Engman believe now is the perfect time in the brand’s trajectory to publish a book. Collina Strada is in a period of growth after being considered an emerging brand for some time, and collating all the archival material for the book carved out an opportunity to assess everything from the origins of the brand until 2023 as the brand “continues Collina-ing”. 

In gathering the sketches, the stills, the runway images, the prints, and the reviews, the duo could interrogate what worked and what didn’t; they could renew their commitment to the founding values of the brand; arm themselves against prioritising commerciality; and place renewed value on the “amazing things that happened” as a result of their “urgent, everything-all-at-once attitude” which weren’t appreciated at the time. 

With that in mind, the book is perhaps as much a gift to themselves as it is to the reader. It’s an exercise in remembering why they do this in the first place. “All the clothes are very much a version of what my inner child would have wanted and would have never gotten to have,” says Taymour. “I don’t think it should be preachy, it should be fun. You can only teach people through optimism.”

Grab your copy of I Care a Lotta, I Wear Collina Strada here.