Issue 28 / Q&A With Eveningwear Extraordinaire Fashion Designer Christopher Paunil

Q&A With Eveningwear Extraordinaire Fashion Designer Christopher Paunil

Dec 19, 2015

Fashion has always been a part of eveningwear and bridal designer Christopher Paunil’s life. He recalls sketching a lot of dresses as a child and pushing the boundaries by wearing his own creations on the days he didn't need to wear uniform in high school.

“My first experience around a sewing machine or with fashion was when my grandmother would sew dresses for herself. I remember being intrigued by her fabrics and the patterns that she made," Paunil says. His gown designs are intricate and unique with the way he plays with fabric. The style, modern and classic. Paunil’s ultra feminine silhouettes have graced the red carpet by Canadian supermodel Stacey Mckenzie and Hockey Wives star Martine Forget. 
We got a chance to chat with the designer to learn about his journey and get some exclusive tips on choosing the best eveningwear.  
Tessa Johnson: As a graduate from George Brown College's Fashion Design and Techniques program, what tools did you learn throughout your studies?

Christopher Paunil: At George Brown, I learned many valuable technical skills from pattern making to construction to fit, just to name a few. I think being able to understand how a garment is created from concept to execution is a really important skill. I also learned that the fashion industry is much more fast-paced than one would imagine. Like in school, in the real world we constantly work with tight deadlines. If they aren't met, the repercussions are usually much greater than a late mark that one would get on an assignment. 

TJ: When did you decide to become an apparel designer and launch your own fashion brand?
CP: It was at the end of 2009 that I decided to launch my own brand. It didn't happen overnight and a lot of thought went into it. Lots of weighing my options, pros and cons lists, and encouragement from Chalo, my business partner. Previous to launching my brand, I'd been working in the industry for various companies, earning a salary and getting a regular paycheque. So you could imagine how scary and stressful it would be to quit your full time job and start a business. 

 Designer Christopher Paunil (right) at 2013 Toronto Fashion Incubator's New Labels Award Gala.
Photo Credit: Lee 


TJ: Which companies have you worked for in the past and what was your position?
CP: I feel it’s really important to work for others before launching our own brand. (Some of the companies are not around anymore so I’ll keep my comments generic). When I got out of school I worked for more than seven years for others. My first job was for a dancewear company. That taught me about big orders and dealing with intense customers. We used stretch fabrics, knits, so this gave me a lot of perspective. I then worked for a bridal gown designer in Toronto and learned about the global bridal markets. I’ve worked for a uniform company, which taught me more about the business side of fashion and industrial processes and using digital patternmaking. It was a big factory. One time an actual dead snake fell out of the HVAC system! Yes, this was in Toronto. 
TJ: Also, how has it/or did it prepare you when setting up your own business?
CP: The experience as an employee was huge in preparation for being my own business owner. I got to see the mistakes others made and try and avoid those for myself. I was exposed to bridal markets and selling. It also taught me how to deal with people and deadlines.

 Christoper Paunil's Fall/Winter Collection 2015
Photo Credit: Christopher Paunil

 Christoper Paunil's Fall/Winter Collection 2015
Photo Credit: Christopher Paunil

TJ: When you start to design a new eveningwear collection for the season, is there a process you go through that leads to the completion of your collection?

CP: Well I always think of my customer, the Christopher Paunil woman. For us we help transform inspired women into super heroes through fashion. Think a modern Bond girl. Our dresses are glamorous but they have stretch so you can easily do a high kick if needed. I then get really inspired by fabrics and start sketching and the rest is a mixture of structured and unstructured creativity. This can drive my business partner Chalo crazy because a lot of it’s in my head until it comes down the runway. But we trust each other a lot.  
TJ: You are a design instructor for three fashion institutions. What do you advise new designers seeking a break in the fashion industry?
CP: I always tell my students that you have to be really passionate about this industry in order to make it. Having high standards, and a thick skin also helps. Aspiring fashion entrepreneurs will often times face difficulty as there is a lot of competition and critics can be very cut throat. It’s about finding your voice and that takes time. Like any business owner knows, it takes blood, sweat and tears and a lot of luck . . . and a large investment of time and money. I’ve been lucky to have some amazing mentors and so paying it forward is a vital part of our brand DNA.
TJ: What are some of your favourite eveningwear trends for the season?
CP: In recent years, there has been a large splash of sheer fabrics, peek-a-boos and other aspects of nude illusion, which I am a fan of. I love to play around with this look, which can be difficult to achieve, as there can be a thin line between wearing something soft and sheer, and looking like an ice dancer. Also, for me, I love using fabrics that are traditionally used more for sports- active wear and apply them to an evening design application. Think lightweight scuba with sheer mesh cutouts in a glamorous gown. Women love the fact they can machine wash some of my gowns — great for travelling.

Christoper Paunil, Fall/Winter Collection 2015
Photo Credit: Christopher Paunil

Christoper Paunil, Fall/Winter Collection 2015  
Photo Credit: Christopher Paunil

TJ: The fashion industry has lost a few prominent designers this year. Do you feel pressured to always remain and stay ahead of the game?
CP: I think with fashion it's always about relevancy. I don’t try and focus too much on comparison or the competition. I make beautiful dresses for amazing women. My goal is to keep building my following and design for the Christopher Paunil woman.
TJ: Do you have any tips or tricks for us gals who are looking for the perfect dress for New Years?
CP: 1. Know your budget and keep within 10 to 20 per cent max outside of it.

2. If you are on a tight budget, a gown that you can easily dress up with accessories to change the look will give you the most mileage.

3. If you are seeking a strapless style or one that isn’t bra friendly, make sure it is properly structured with boning and the right supports. A little bit of stretch for comfort is also great if you’ll be sitting for long periods of time, or munching down on a really amazing dinner!

4. Make sure you feel comfortable in your gown.  If you are fidgeting, or feeling uneasy, or constantly pulling it up to keep it from falling down, or constantly tugging on the skirt to keep it from riding up, people will see your discomfort and you won’t present yourself as the fabulous person you are!

Tessa Johnson


Tessa (@tessajstyle) holds a diploma in Fashion Business Management from George Brown College and has Fashion Coordination and Styling certification from Ryerson University. She has been ANOKHI Magazine’s Fashion Editor for the last four years covering the runways from Toronto to India. Her love...


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