Paula Hian has always dreamed in geometric shapes.
But it was hard for the Manayunk-based women’s wear designer to find the prints that fit her bold, graphic tastes. So for nearly two decades, she worked with basic wovens she found at international fabric shows.
These days, however, her Main Street loft space and run-of-the-mill prints are simply not enough. So she decided to take a chance and sell her 2018 collections of shoulder-baring, body-hugging knits in a King of Prussia Mall pop-up.
All of Hian’s designs — patterns of concentric circles, dancing diamonds, and overlapping squares — she designs herself at a factory in France. Prices range from $500 to $2,500. It’s all very St. John meets Chanel. And the dose of spandex Hian uses in her viscose knits gives her collection an easy-to-wear athleisure vibe sans pantylines. No Spanx. No stress.
“I love working in knits,” Hian told me one recent Monday afternoon. “I’m obsessed with texture: twills, piques, I just love that feeling.”
Hian moved into her 2,600-square-foot KOP pop-up — located in the former Hermés, next door to Nieman Marcus — back in November. It was supposed to be a three-month gig, but after her sales almost tripled she decided to stay put through the end of 2018.
What I find interesting about Hian is that she’s managed to stay afloat through the toughest of economic times. Her career took off back in 1986 when she won an international fashion competition (and subsequently landed one of her dresses at the Louvre).
Like the world’s preeminent fashion designers (Philadelphia’s own Ralph Rucci comes to mind), Hian is beyond stubborn. But in a post-recession era that slayed many designers who reluctantly took on investors (Rucci comes to mind, again) classic hard-headedness is what probably saved Hian’s business.
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The Paula Hia brand has always remained independent, so when Hian wanted to turn on a dime and change her collection of blousy wovens to fitted, fine-gauge knits, she only had her self and her mom, the late, leather-clad Ruth Hian — who we all know really ran the company — to answer to.
“I’m kind of glad now I never did seek investors,” Hian said. “Huge, huge backing is good, but one miss could be a bigger fall. One miss for a zillion times worse for them.”
Other than NBC news personality Natalie Morales, who wore Hian on the air in 2015, and Taylor Momsen who wore a Hian bubble-hemmed frock back in the aughts on Gossip Girl, Hian is mum about who really wears her clothes. That’s because the ladies who wear Hian revel in expensive originality, but do not like to disclose that information. After all, if everyone knows who she is wearing and how much it costs, it’s not that special anymore, is it?
That said, Paula Hian’s spring 2018 is all about saturated pastels — blush pink, lemony yellow, and grass green — A-line dresses in shrunken jackets with matching midi-skirts.
Fall, already on the pop-up’s racks, is awash with navies and burgundies in long-sleeved, modern, chic looks.
“I’m all about reinventing myself; that’s how I stay current,” Hian said. “With knits, every season is a new discovery. That’s what I like about it, I’m always working with a new medium.”