"My work comes from personal experience in the world. Looking at what is happening right now, where I am and who am I, what do I perceive from reality and how do I feel about it?"
Last week, Paulo Mileu completed his final exams. Dressed to the nines in hot red Balenciaga pants and an irresistible purple spandex bodysuit layered over a short-sleeve shirt and shoes to match, the third-year Undergraduate in Fashion Design student presented his work with quiet confidence and delicious creativity. "Polimoda has been like a dream," says Paulo. "Mostly because of the people that it brought to my life, that I got the chance to connect with and the whole diverse environment and family spirit that exists between students, teachers, mentors and staff."
Head of Fashion Design Department Massimiliano Giornetti talking to Paulo Mileu
Originally from Lisbon, the young creative's choice to study fashion design in 2017 was a rather obvious one. "I come from a country where I couldn't see becoming a Fashion Designer as an actual job option because when I was a kid, the industry was very small in Portugal, but that's something that is now changing and growing. I've always been — and am — an art fanatic and I've had a hidden love for fashion that probably only my family knew about from a very early age. It's thanks to them that I am where I am today, doing what I love."
"Working until late at night with my friends at the Scandicci Lab every day for three months before finals is one of my favorite memories."
At the beginning of this year, before most countries went into lockdown, Mileu won an applied project at Polimoda for his collection "Unknown Collapse" and flew to Osaka to showcase his work at the Bunka Fashion College Show. "I still have goosebumps when I think about Japan," he says. "I dove into Japanese denim and focused on the destruction of it. For a person that never left Europe before, having the chance to travel to a completely outside 'world' was unbelievable." From learning about a new culture to trying Japanese food and singing in karaoke rooms, Paulo was blown away by the experience. "Japan is like falling in love."
Although self-assured Mileu is only 21, his avenues of inspiration are crystalline. "I'm very inspired by storylines that are not mine. I like to grab them and imagine myself in them, whether it's 'being' Julian Eltinge performing for a crowd and letting everyone wonder about my sex and gender, being trapped inside a sculpture of Louise Bourgeois or simply having an out of body experience every time I watch a movie just so I can get my heart more fragmented." He isn't afraid of merging his various passions either. "My work and vision come from my endless research on gender identity, periods and characters from the past and from contemporary art, shaping all of it into my imaginary world and aesthetic."
Paulo Mileu working in the knitwear lab during the first day of school at Manifattura Tabacchi
Speaking of imaginary worlds, when contemplating a make-believe dinner with the designer of his choosing, dead or alive, Paulo doesn't hold back. "Depends on the type of dinner. If I'm having dinner at Le Train Bleu in Paris where we would be dressed fancy and living our fantasies, then probably with John Galliano to learn about him and dive into his dramatic, marvelous and inspiring body of past, present and future work, and we'd definitely be having a Kiki. But if I'm having dinner in a quiet and lesser-known place with wonderful food, then definitely with Alexander McQueen because I would love to understand, with my own eyes, the love, passion, fun and darkness."
"My work and vision come from my endless research on gender identity, periods and characters from the past and from contemporary art, shaping all of it into my imaginary world and aesthetic."
Mileu has called Florence home for the past three years, building a close-knit community of Polimoda People, and for him, the best times happened with those very people in the design laboratories. "Working until late at night with my friends at the Scandicci Lab every day for three months before finals is one of my favorite memories. Ordering pizza because there's no time for cooking — only for stitching — and listening to horrible trashy music otherwise we'll fall asleep," he says. "And then packing everything up five minutes before the school closes, and even though we have a room full of textiles, pins, scissors and unfinished garments to put in our lockers, we still want to use the last four of those five minutes to work."
Though Paulo is only 21, he's endlessly devoted to his craft. When asked about where he'd like to be in five years, his answer is simple. "I see myself working every day. Is it working for an existing brand, my own brand or maybe both? I don't know," he continues. "The only thing I want to be sure about my future self is that he is still on the never-ending ride of knowledge for the craft, pushing my aesthetics and my imaginary world forward, breaking boundaries and sacrificing for the sake of fashion and self-expression," he says. "Besides that, I'm waiting for Chanel to call me to be the next Creative Director. I'm waiting."