My digital encounter with Maximilian Welsch happened over Skype one Friday afternoon in early October. Staring at me through my Mac screen, the recent Antwerp Academy MA graduate was sitting next to an open window, French shutters swung back, a peak of blue sky, sipping water from a huge pint glass.
Fascinated by all things art and design we spent over an hour talking about his recent collection “Semi-Formal.” Craftsmanship is the quality of design and work shown in something made by hand. A quality disappearing amongst many designers due to the supply and demand of fast fashion. To Maximilian, craftsmanship is essential to everything he does, and this is made evident from the start of our interview. “Art and fashion are two of the only escapes we have from what can be a tough world. Designers can’t compete with fast fashion, we have to have an artistic approach rooted in craft. Fashion needs to have its value given back to it if we are going to survive.”
The concept of Maximilian’s MA collection was to curate a collection of garments inspired by the mundane, soul-less, style-less and generic garments people wear every day. He looked closely at how most people wear their clothes, and how the same person can look totally different in an identical piece due to their size and shape. He is fascinated by the idea of natural errors in people’s clothing, for example how it is distorted over their thigh or pulled too tight over their chest. Maximilian experimented with different ways of representing these errors and recreated them in a controlled and delicate manner; “Mistakes and natural errors in the way people dress fascinate me. I really looked into this idea of flawed beauty and what it was that didn’t look or fit right.”
Originally from a small village in the German countryside, Maximilian moved to England at 17 where he studied for his A-Levels. After school, he didn’t spend long back home in Germany before moving to Paris to attend Parsons. Growing up in a fashion household with a mother who herself is a designer with a commercial womenswear Label (Annette Goergz), and a father who has a fashion retail business in Dusseldorf, Maximilian was programmed to do something creative. “I grew up being very involved with my parent’s practises. I learnt so much from them. When I applied to Parsons, I only had 3D work like sculpture and pottery. I thought I would be a product or industrial designer but it felt natural to try fashion because of my background.”
Despite this immersion in the fashion world, he really struggled at the start of his fashion course due to his lack of pattern cutting and sewing skills. “I knew a lot about the business but I didn’t have the knowledge needed to make a garment.” But he quickly got his head around the sink or swim nature of the program.
He reminisced very pragmatically about how the Antwerp program was extraordinarily creative, learning to be independent from the start is key to survival “I learnt how to let go of a garment very quickly, you can’t work on it forever. You start to understand the best way for you to work and approach a project.” Most people at the academy work from home, as the school has no facilities on site. “If you want anything you have to go and find it yourself. You are really pushed out of your comfort zone. You have to define your own guidelines and boundaries for each project. When you don’t have all the possibilities given to you on a plate it makes you more creative, inventive and intuitive.”
More often than not inspired by fine artists, his womenswear collection took influences from artists like John Baldessari to create his version of a print. Using language as a way to add personality and character. “I didn’t want the print to be blatantly obvious so I used name tags instead. They pulled and shaped the garment naturally giving interesting shapes and what I like to call my version of natural errors. There was a piece called The Conversation Piece, and another called The Every Day Suit. Language can help the audience to relate to the show and pieces, it is important to me that the garments have a unique sense of character.”
Playing with the idea of language in his work, Maximilian is trying to produce more than just another catwalk show. “In one way, I wanted the collection to be a critical exploration of fashion and its importance in society and culture, but also highlight the fact that most people don’t care about it. However most of the industry’s profit comes from these people who don’t care. I also wanted it to be a celebration of the emotional connection we make with clothing and its transformative power.”
If you were asked to imagine an old fashion book with explanations for the reader on how they should dress for each season I would imagine something along the lines of ‘In Autumn, you should always wear browns, oranges and dark mustard. This way you will coordinate beautifully when you take a Sunday stroll in the park..’ Maximilian got his colour palette from these sorts of cliché books. Fixated on this idea of impersonal clothing he chooses to avoid contrasting or bold colours; sticking to a subdued palette that makes all the clothing look like a uniform of the mundane. He then added subtle textile details and unusual pattern cutting to make the pieces come alive with energy through the cut, silhouette and subsequently the wearer. Sticking to this idea of human error creating flawed beauty he explains, “You have to get up close to my work to see all my man-made errors. I use digital print on silk and treat fabrics to create the illusion of mistakes. By focussing on the body, cut and the way the fabric moves and drapes, I could recreate the natural flaws you see when for example a skirt does not fit across a woman’s hip. It is important to me that you can move in my designs, I want the wearer to feel free, but I also want you to be able to feel the garment on you.” He manages this tricky combination of both freedom and awareness of the garment by creating twists in the pattern pieces so they work against each other creating unnatural tension.
The idea of identity and fashion is an everlasting debate. Everyone wants to be part of a tribe yet they also want to feel like they are distinctly individual in their choices. Two people can have the exact same proportions yet you put them in the same thing and it will give you two completely different energies. Maximilian’s explains to me the importance of identity in this collection: “Everyone has their own language, everyone brings their own life and experiences to a piece. I always have to see a garment on a body, not on a doll. I will put it on one person and hate it, and then on someone else the next day and love it, fashion transforms from person to person.”
So many people use fashion as a facade and a uniform, and there is always more going on below the surface. It is fundamentally important to him that he makes clothing that gives you a feeling when you put it on. “I want to make the mundane sexy by making the wearer feel something not because the garment itself is obviously sexy. For me, it is all about the sensation for the one who’s wearing it rather than the one viewing it. The relation the owner has with the product and that intimacy is what I always strive to create.”
For the foreseeable future, Maximilian has no immediate plan to start a label, “Maybe I will do something in the future with others in a collective, but that’s all plans at the moment. I want to work for a few more years and get to know the industry. I want to experience the madness of Paris, London and NYC.”
Words Naomi Barling
Images Alexey Shlyk