How a 27-Year-Old Built a Global Fashion Empire from Adelaide

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Jul 03, 2017

Fashion designer Paul Vasileff, the 2017 Young Australian of the Year, speaks with Kate Barracosa about winning the award as nominations open for the 2018 Australian of the Year Awards.

Building and running his international fashion label, Paolo Sebastian, out of Adelaide means Paul Vasileff knows the challenges of striving for goals that seem unfathomably distant. But winning the 2017 Young Australian of the Year Award has made the 27-year-old designer even more committed to mentoring young creatives. “I was always looking for guidance from people in my field and there wasn’t a lot,” he says. “But I was fortunate in my journey so I want to help students.”

Inspiring young people 

The Award recognised Vasileff for growing an international brand while supporting local manufacturing and jobs (his gowns are still made in Adelaide). He found it hard to wrap his head around the honour until people started getting in touch. “I received letters from many young people saying that my story had inspired them to follow their passion,” he says. “We have so many talented people here in Australia so if I can create a space for that, I’ll be really happy.” 

Building a passion into a business

Vasileff sewed his first dress at 11, guided by his nonna, and became the go-to for friends wanting a formal dress. He staged his first fashion show while in Year 12, working on the collection until three in the morning. “My dad was building sets, my mum was hand-sewing dresses and my friends’ mums were around the kitchen table, stitching and sewing hems with me. It was the most wonderful experience of my life.” 

The future

Since then, the graduate of the Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan has showcased his ethereal gowns in Paris and on the red carpet. “I see [the Award] as a great opportunity to tell my story and inspire others who’ve been in the same position.”

Nominations for the 2018 Australian of the Year Awards are open until 6 August. To nominate, go to australianoftheyear.org.au.