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Punked out: Fashion with attitude rules designer’s world

Mary Snow Citizen Times
Punked out: Fashion with attitude rules designer’s world

ASHEVILLE — Asheville designer Paul Olszewski didn’t go searching for the fashion world, but high fashion found him.

While living in New York, an encounter with famed fashion designer Anna Sui put his leather on the runway in the form of pants, hats and a guitar case. Next, a flock of stars ranging from Julie Roberts in Vanity Fair and Kate Moss in Vogue magazine modeled his famous leatherwork.

“It was a crazy instant successful moment,” says Olszewski, while looking back at his portfolio full of stars from Hollywood.

“I was in New York for art so I started painting and sculpting, and then when the leather thing started to happen, that was cool because I could make money off it, but my passion was to paint.”

Whether Olszewski wanted it or not, it was just the beginning of a career in fashion.

Working from a log structure in West Asheville, Paul Olszewski crafts his leather
fashions by hand. Here, he checks the fit of a new jacket on model Aubrey Adams at his
credit: Stephen Miller

Punk rock attitude

“A lot of the stuff me and my buddy were creating was for fashion shows,” Olszewski said. “Seeing all of this stuff in the fashion show was pretty cheesy.

I grew up in Detroit, and I had this punk rock attitude toward things, and the fashion industry was very cotton candy.”

Olszewski found a way to combine his love of art and sculpting with his fashion sense.

But, after spending several years of making patterns and fine-tuning his work, Olszweski had a falling out with his business partner and had to walk away from all of it.

“When I left New York, my life just flipped and changed all for the better,” Olszewski said

Now in Asheville for several years, Olszewski has collaborated with local designers and models on several fashion shows.

“I love the leatherwork. That’s the best part, and the original hand-stitched style is really nice,” said Aubrey Adams, longtime model for Olszewski and a student

at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. “The fact that I never knew who he was when I first started working with him and then finding out over the years how much he has done is kind of overwhelming, but he is such a cool guy and a good friend.”

Olszewski sat down to answer some questions about his own personal fashion style.

Question: What piece of clothing can you not live without?

Answer: My leather pants. I wear these because they just get better each year and they are just so durable.

Q: What tools do you use?

A: I do all hand-stitched and handmade leatherwork, I don’t use any machines, unless I am casting something, like a belt buckle. My tools are a mallet, a punch and a blade to cut the leather.

Q: Where can people buy your fashions?

A: It is all custom-made from my studio and by appointment.

Q: How much do they cost?

A: Pants, $1,200. Bags, $700. Belts, $20.

Q: What is the first thing you made?

A: My leather pouch for snowboarding.

Q: Whose clothes (besides your own) do you like to wear?

A: I wear all the clothes from Inner City Raiders vs. Deth Killers of Bushwick.

Q: How do you spot trends?

A: It seems like they all come out of the places that haven’t been touched before. First of all, it comes from the underground and street. If you stick anything on a beautiful super model it’s going to look good, which is kind of sad about certain trends.

Q: Favorite fabric?

A: Velour.

Q: Favorite color?

A: Pink.

Q: If you could live in any fashion era, which one would it be?

A: The future, or I would go back to the cavemen era.

Q: If you could dress any Hollywood celebrity, who would it be and why?

A: Oprah Winfrey or George W. Bush would look great in my stuff.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: I want to create an art camp with eight studios like the one I’m currently building. I’m looking for investors to help purchase this land, and I want to have the best artists from all over the world come here and work for a month and then have a show.