Born To Be Wylde

ROLLING STONE chats to fashion's eternal wild child, Paula Thomas, about creating costumes for Cameron Diaz in Ridley Scott's latest thriller, The Counselor

Thomas Wylde founder, Paula Thomas
By Claire Carruthers
Oct 31, 2013

It’s 8 p.m. LA time and Paula Thomas, the one-time model and founder of anarchic fashion brand Thomas Wylde, is still in the office. Since launching her own label – a rocky, anti-trend, ready-to-wear line with printed silks, luxury leathers and mannish tailoring at its core – in 2006, she has continued on a steady trajectory, growing the business ‘behind-the-scenes,’ away from buyers and the furor of fashion week; and, hefty man hours aside, it looks like doing things her way has paid off. For Thomas is no sell-out, and she’s no conformist either. She acts on instinct and collaborates with like-minded creatives on projects – the photo book Ten Times Rosie shot by Rankin, and her most recent stint creating costumes for Ridley Scott’s The Counselor, for example – that fit both her personal vision and the underground aesthetic that she has skillfully carved out for her brand.

You’re based in LA but you’re originally from Birmingham (U.K.), is that correct?
Yeah I’m from Birmingham but I’ve lived abroad for such a long time that the accent has sort of gone, except when I get really pissed off it tends to come out [laughs].

Tell me about your involvement in The Counselor – how did the collaboration come about?
Well, the Scott family I’ve known for a long time actually: Tony, who passed about a year and a little bit ago, was the godfather of my daughter and Jake, who’s Ridley’s son, well we kind of grew up together in that mad Eighties and Nineties cultural thing in London – we were part of a clique I suppose you could say. Of course though I was completely shocked and honored when I got the call from Ridley; I mean if you look at his masterful chunk of work it’s such a huge honor for me.

As this is the first time you’ve dabbled in wardrobe design, was it a long process?
They were literally going to film in three or four months when I got the call, so I wasn’t given a lot of time at all, but the funny thing about reading the script was that I realized a lot of what I’d already done in previous collections fitted [Cameron Diaz’s character]. So I went back into the [Thomas Wylde] archives and you know, Ridley’s known my collections for many, many years. When you look at who he’s used in the past – the two biggest sources that he’s tapped over the last decade – it’s Gucci and Armani, so it’s crazy but great.
The character of Malkina is a bit of a badass ­– not a role you would normally associate with Cameron Diaz.
That’s the beauty of it. When Ridley and I were talking on the phone he said, ‘Listen, you’re gonna love Malkina; she’s a very powerful woman and she’s got two cheetahs as pets,’ and I thought, ‘Yeah, she’s right up my alley [laughs].’ She’s incredibly cold, incredibly calculated and she really has no problem doing the things that she does: She describes herself as completely soulless and she is. She uses all of her facets – her sexuality, her mind, her body and her wardrobe – as a kind of distraction from who she really is deep down inside. You know what’s fascinating about Ridley – and Bladerunner is a good example – is his ability to take a character that on the page is comic book-esque and inject a human element into them. Malkina is very much like that.

Tell me about one of your favorite looks from the film.
There’s one scene in particular that is quite shocking – I definitely don’t think it’s going to go down well in the Middle East, in fact, they’ll probably cut it – but it’s where Cameron wears this minidress from one of my older collections called Cuba Libre [for Spring/Summer 2011] and it’s like bullet holes shot into leopard print. Again, it just reflects who this character is. There’s this yellow Ferrari in the scene and both Cameron’s and Javier [Bardem’s] characters are very affluent and over-the-top: they kind of have this Russian flair to them because they like beautiful things but they also like to stand-out. So Javier is wearing gold Versace most of the time and he’s got this wild crop of mad spiky hair – they’re very flashy in the way they present themselves.

Wardrobe is obviously an important asset for an actor, so did Diaz have much input into the looks that were selected?
She did, you know. I was given three hours with her and she ended up spending the whole day here. I pulled out all my archives ’cause I wanted her to have numerous options and to be able to completely lose herself in the wardrobe. She arrived already developed in the character – she really knew Malkina – but I think once she saw the wardrobe she was able to fully grow into the role. I see the wardrobe as being a crucial element; I always think about Barbara Streisand in A Star Is Born, ’cause in every scene she was right on, and then also films like The Untouchables or Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in Scarface – the fashion element is key, you know?

Agreed. In terms of style Pfeiffer’s Elvira Hancock is iconic.
She was just wickedly dope in every scene and everything was thought out; plus it was the Seventies so the fashion in general was just so brilliant. But Barbara Streisand for me is another one, in actually every single movie she’s ever done – she just knew her character and how she wanted to be portrayed, and she also loved fashion, you can tell.

So what did you enjoy most about the project, and how did you find the experience in comparison to the work you do day-to-day as a designer?
What I like about film is that you get to focus on one woman and one idea, whereas with fashion I’m trying to accommodate the globe, which is very difficult. For example, for the Middle East when I’m designing I’m thinking about cultural differences and religion and what women can and can’t do, but also how to be fabulous and fashion-orientated. The beauty of doing a character is that you really get to immerse yourself in who this person is.
In terms of Thomas Wylde what do you have coming up?
There’s a couple of things in the pipeline: I’m launching my first flagship store mid-Feb 2014 in LA, which will be more of a lifestyle, conceptual store – I’m a bit of a control freak so I’ve built it from the ground up. I’m also launching a denim line next year; denim is a big market and very competitive but there’s a lot of fashion components that get left out, so there’s this big hole to fill – it will definitely have a basics focus but with a limited-edition entity to it.

A packed schedule then – multi-tasking must be second nature to you.
Yeah, because I’m also trying to stay focused on the DNA of the brand; the problem for designers at the moment is that we’ve got four seasons a year, which creatively I think is the worst thing that could have happened to us. I’m finalizing Pre-Spring 2015 right now, so I’m actually going to be dead two years before my time [laughs]. I think where a lot of brands struggle is the fact they get lost in trend, which I avoid like the plague: If you’re doing yellow, I’m doing green, that’s just the way it’s going to be.

Is that why you’ve done collaborative projects like Ten Times Rosie, to satisfy your more avant-garde side? For a luxury fashion brand, Thomas Wylde is certainly left of the mainstream.
Primarily with projects like The Counselor and Ten Times Rosie, the reason I do them is because I want to create things that are timeless, that someone can pick up in 10 years time and go, ‘Wow, it’s still great.’ But yeah, I have a bit of a thing, like I wanna go rogue – I don’t want to be part of the pack. I understand that can be detrimental to me in some areas but I think in the long run I’m going to hang on to my voice a lot longer: The minute you get on that treadmill, you can’t get off.
So, for example, when it came to spending marketing money I was very specific about where I placed it, so I didn’t go to Vogue U.S., I went to Vogue Paris, because although it has a lower distribution, it’s more inspiring and, creatively, they really do push the boundaries. I think if you wanna encapsulate fashion as a whole though, you’ve gotta now look at Vogue China, which is tremendous – you’ve gotta look to territories that want to evolve fashion, not plateau it. When people get instilled with fear I think they lose their voice and that’s the most harmful thing to creativity. If I wanna be rogue, I’ve gotta get on that road less travelled.