Paulina Reyes is a creative director based in New York City and originally from Mexico City. As a multi-disciplinary creative, she touches on and expresses artistry, collaborations, and projects through various mediums, including textile design, painting, mixed-media, art direction, and more. Her twenty-year portfolio includes a breadth of work with established firms in fashion, media, consumer products, and design: Jones Knowles Ritchie, Refinery29, Plated, Chobani, Mother New York, Collins, Kate Spade New York, Louise Fili Ltd., Duffy Design, Laurie DeMartino Design, and Artes de México.
Paulina's eclectic personal and professional experience has informed her creative process and leadership approach, whether working on personal projects or partnering with agencies, in-house at brands and media firms, or in start-up environments. She also dedicates much of her time to educate and foster creative learning environments, leading lectures, workshops, and seminars to students and young professionals at FIT, CENTRO in Mexico City, the Cooper Hewitt, and more.
As a multi-disciplinary creative, you lead designers and creatives on dynamic projects across fashion, art, media, and much more, collaborate on projects and produce your own work, including textile design. Where do you glean your inspiration and creativity?
For me, inspiration and creativity have a lot to do with a way of being in the world. It starts with observation, curiosity, exploration, and expression, but it is in relationship to the challenge one is responding to where creativity really takes shape, and it is always a process!
At work, a big focus for me is on building teams of people whose work I find interesting and who have a unique point of view and experience in the world. I strive to set an environment where we can all feel safe to ideate and create. This allows for collective creativity, and from the team comes most of the inspiration. Here I serve more as a guide, helping narrow in ideas, and give feedback to shape the projects. The longer I've directed creative work, I have learned to trust my instincts and my expertise to make sure the work is intentional, clear, and will answer client needs in an engaging manner.
If I am doing a collaboration with a client, such as a textile print, I will learn as much as I can from them and what their vision is for the project. I will then do a lot of visual research that might come from art, design, travels, architecture, nature, etc., and then I'll start making. I always like to make a lot of stuff and not be too precious in the process, almost as an intentional improvisation that becomes a dialogue. As much as I am super particular about detail, I love a simple, expressive aesthetic, and for me, this generally involves getting a bit messy in the process.
When doing my own work, my emphasis is mostly on discovery and exploration. There will be times when I have a specific subject matter in mind, such as I did in 2018 when I woke up with an image of a snake after leaving a job and spent a year exploring snakes in different media.
Passion drives purpose, and you wholeheartedly embrace your work. How did you come to identify the importance and values of passion-based work?
I've had an intimate relationship with my work ever since I can remember. As a kid, I used to think it was amazing that something could live in your brain, and you could actually translate it to real life. I was fortunate to take a lot of art classes, from painting to dance, and took it super seriously. I think the passion has always been there; in many ways, art has been a constant companion throughout my life.
With time I really started to see my work as my contribution to the world. I think in the last ten years, that contribution for me has really taken shape in mentoring. I love being in touch with people that have been in teams I've led in the past and knowing I had a positive influence in their lives and careers.
Share with us your teaching and mentorship work? How did you begin lecturing within the design community? Do the connectivity and community fuel your creativity?
I come from a family of academics, so the value of education was a core part of my upbringing. The first time I got the opportunity to teach was when I graduated university and moved to Minneapolis, where I was invited to teach at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. It was a wonderful experience and also so hard! I remember asking my parents why they never told me teaching would be so difficult. I got another chance to teach many years later at the School of Visual Arts here in NYC.
Though both the experiences were very rewarding and made me learn a lot about myself, I realized I felt much more useful and at ease doing smaller workshops, lectures, and seminars, where I could work with students in a much more focused manner, and they could really benefit from my specific expertise and all the life experiences I have had in my professional career. I have a very personable approach and am very honest about the struggles I've faced through the years. Students love hearing the stories as they can often see themselves in them; I think the conversations actually make them feel more hopeful about their own paths and experiences.
Every time I participate in a mentorship opportunity, I grow a lot in the process, from the students, other lecturers, and all the people I meet. I have been fortunate to collaborate with The Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC, CENTRO in Mexico City, The Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, AIGA, The One Club for Creativity, amongst others.
How are you honoring the crucial moments for yourself to rest and regenerate?
During the most difficult months of the pandemic, this was really hard. I experienced a form of solitude I had never experienced before. Leading a team over zoom was also really exhausting, particularly as I knew we were all affected by the pandemic in different ways; I kept having the feeling of getting disconnected from my own life. I got through it by staying close to my friends (who are basically my NY family), my family and developing new habits I could do from home.
I signed up for a master's in Ericksonian Psychotherapy (which uses altered states of consciousness to help people heal), joined my cousin's yoga classes in Mexico City via zoom, and started drawing every weekend with groups in the UK that have been hosting life drawing sessions online. These activities gave me some sense of community, pleasure.
Now that everything feels safer, I am prioritizing spending time with the people I love, have gone back to dancing tango, and am exercising as much as I can, which is always a source of joy.
How Mexico City has influenced me:
The warmth that surrounded me growing up enabling me to become a nurturing leader; the great art, architecture, museums, and cultural influences - providing me with a rich cultural library from a young age; the incredible manual labor and beauty in indigenous craftsmanship, our great printmakers, sign makers and all types of artisans inspiring me to always love making with my hands; the wonderful colors in our landscapes, art, architecture, and food inviting me to love color and be brave about it.
How New York has influenced me:
The cultural richness of people of all kinds sharing the same space leading me to expand as a human and giving me the ability to build diverse teams where individuals make each other grow; the fact that you can find people here that are the best at what they do in pretty much any area allowing me to continue learning from great teachers; the speed of life and demands of the city teaching me to be more resilient, effective and efficient; the fact that a lot of people here are far from their families allowing me to form intimate and deep relationships with my friends.
Relationships and intentionality are pillars of the AUDRA brand. You value both of these, particularly how you choose to make statements in the way you dress and who you are supporting. How do you emphasize your style through your commitment and engagement with artisans, designers, and fashion brands?
I wear what I love, and by the people I love. I have always had a preference for the handmade and the authentic. I love traveling and finding unique pieces that I can tell came from somebody's intimate connection to their work and their environment.
Some US brands that I love:
AUDRA- She's not only a great designer and lovely human but cares profoundly about supporting other women, ethical production, craftsmanship, and quality. WHIT- I worked with Whitney early in my career at kate spade. I've always loved her as a person, and her work is just as great. I love her bold sensibility and the way she integrates art and fashion. I have been fortunate to create a few prints for her, and she's also a wonderful collaborator. Kathleen Whitaker- She's a great jewelry designer, and I just love her pieces. Her work is simple and unique at the same time, and it all works together. If you lose an earring, you'll be fine because another of her earrings will work in perfect harmony with it.
Some Latin American brands that I love:
Carla Fernandez- She's a Mexican designer that works closely with indigenous communities honoring their traditional craft while innovating through her own eyes. Maria Ospina- She's a designer based in Oaxaca that creates beautiful simple pieces that tie around your body in a very natural manner. She also makes her pieces using natural fibers and dyes, which makes them really unique. Escudo- This Peruvian band is really cool; they work with local artisans and materials to craft all their pieces.
What we wear has the power to tell an expressive story and signal to the world. What are the tenets of your personal style?
Natural and simple- I usually keep my hair short as it feels most like myself; my nails are short, tidy, and unpolished as my hands are my tools; I take good care of my skin and wear minimal make-up.
Not too fussy, not too big- I am really small, so I prefer dressing for summer when I can wear fewer clothes and wear soft fabrics that drape close to the body. Clothes with a lot of structure don't look great on me, and I've never been one of those "bundlers" a lot of clothes make me claustrophobic.
Eclectic- I'm really not a purist of any sort; if I like it, I wear it, and my wardrobe really is a mix of color, pattern, and styles.
Dance inspired- I love styles inspired by dance, simple fitted turtlenecks, tops, wrap sweaters, and dresses. And tango shoes, of course.
Unique accessories- I have many pairs of glasses, love earrings, and necklaces, but only do one of them at a time.