The Australian designer behind couture label Paolo Sebastian, Paul Vasileff, a previous recipient of the Young Australian of the Year Award, started his career while most of us were still sitting in class daydreaming about what we’d like to do…
Paul Vasileff, who is just thirty one, had already established his iconic international fashion label by the time he was named Young Australian of the Year in 2017.
Having been taught how to sew by his grandmother before he hit double digits, Paul was always sketching women and designs before starting his label at the age of only 17. After designing a gown for his school friend, he received a request from another to make one, starting the snowball that got his label rolling and off the ground. Word spread through family and friends and a growing band of followers who couldn’t help but be impressed by his designs. While his early fashion shows were promoted by family and friends in Adelaide, the young self-taught designer thought he needed a more international sounding name for his label than his own Paul Vasileff. “Paolo” from Paul and “Sebastian” – his middle name – had the ring he was looking for.
Winning a scholarship to Milan’s prestigious Europeo Istituto di Design where he studied for a year, one of his designs was featured at London Fashion Week. Paul decided then that he wanted to be based in his home town. Told he was crazy and that it was impossible to make it in fashion from Adelaide, he was firm in his decision to stay close to his family and friends who had supported him. Vasileff worked out that he could still exhibit on the international stage, with a launch in Paris and a runway showing at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in London, while still being based in Adelaide. He was right.
From two staff in 2013, Paolo Sebastian has grown to a team of over 16. As he planned, the couture label is based in Adelaide where all the gowns are actually made, with stockists around the world in Singapore, Dohar and Shanghai. Until Covid hit, clients would fly in to see him, while others have measurements taken via Skype, giving them the privacy of a fitting from their own home.
His runway shows regularly sell out well in advance, as happened when his gowns appeared at the Adelaide Fashion Festival. Extra shows were added every time he was featured. His gowns featured on the Melbourne Fashion Festival runway in 2021. The detailed hand stitching and unique designs are a topic of fashion conversation by those who have seen his runways and those who wear his gowns. Cocktail Revolution’s images from his earlier runways are still talked about. You can see why our coverage of his AFF 2016 runway.
Vasileff launched his Gilded Wings collection in Paris in 2016 at the age of twenty five and his Wildflowers collection in 2017. In 2018 he collaborated with Disney Corporation to design his Once Upon a Dream Spring/Summer collection. His Nutcracker Autumn-Winter-2018-19 collection was based on the works of composer Tchaikovsky. East of the Sun and West of the Moon debuted for Autumn 2019-20 and was inspired by Nordic Folklore. His 2020 Spring-Summer Collection, The Passage of Spring, was based on Boticelli’s painting Primavera. And his latest collection Persephone, is based based on Greek mythology.
His gowns have graced red carpets all over the world as well as here in Australia. They’ve been worn by Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry and Hillary Swank and so many more! Closer to home he’s a favourite of Carrie Bickmore. The popular TV show host was wearing a blue Paolo Sebastian gown when she famously donned a matching beanie and made that unforgettable speech promoting awareness of Brain Cancer, having just been awarded the Gold Logie. Bec Judd, Delta Goodrem, Rachael Finch and Megan Gale are just some of the high profile Aussies who have worn Paolo Sebastian on the red carpet. Model Meghan Blake Irwin stole the red carpet at this year’s Cannes Film Festival wearing Paolo Sebastian’s Wild Swans Ostrich ostrich feather ball gown.
Vasileff is well regarded in his home town where he known not just for his design talent but for his loyalty and gratitude to those who helped get him started. When he was recognised as the Young Australian of the Year, he said: “It’s huge to be honoured, I’m so grateful… I really hope my story can help inspire other young people to follow their passion. There’s no dream too big. I was told when I started my fashion label that “You’re crazy. You’re never going to be able to do it from Australia let alone Adelaide. “
Asked what fashion means to him, Vasileff said: “Fashion gives people the chance to dream and to have a sense of a greater reality and a greater sense of themselves and when they put on our dresses they can have that Cinderella moment and get a better sense of themselves.”
“There’s no dream too big.”– Paul Vasileff
“Fashion gives people the chance to dream and to have a sense of a greater reality and a greater sense of themselves and when they put on our dresses they can have that Cinderella moment and get a better sense of themselves.”– Paul Vasileff
Runway photos: Dimitra Koriozos
Follow Paolo Sebastian on Instagram.