Imagining A Fashion Future Rooted In The Distant Past: Meet Maximilian Raynor
© Maximilian Raynor
Investigative craftsmanship and unadorned sensuality, the garments ideated by Maximilian Raynor are the voice of an intuitive mentality.
Fashion has always run through the veins of Maximilian; “as soon as I could speak, fashion became part of my vocabulary,” and he has since grown into one of the most promising designers on the London scene.
Prior to embarking on his final year in the BA Fashion program at Central Saint Martins, he had already garnered a wealth of experience and accomplishments. He was sponsored by Tommy Hilfiger through a mentorship program, spent a week working in the studio of the late Dame Vivienne Westwood when he was just eleven years old, served as a menswear assistant at JW Anderson, and established a close professional bond with vintage icon and Rellik co-founder Steven Philip.
But there is more to untangle in the story of the young designer. Inspired by the greats: Galliano, McQueen and Westwood, Maximilian fosters an innovatively fragile, yet powerful, aesthetic centred around “debauchery, drama and theatrics.” Ribbons and folds coexist seamlessly to create designs, and moreso a fantastical world that explores the frivolous, glamorous lifestyles of reimagined archetypes.
We had the pleasure of rummaging through the entangled wardrobes of Maximilian’s unparalleled pleats and chat to him about all things Central Saint Martins, his design process and the future of fashion in this ever changing AI, digital world.
So, you graduated from Central Saint Martins (CSM) last year - congratulations! How much of an impact did CSM have on you and your design skill?
At CSM, I felt like I was in an incubator; it felt like this place where you are surrounded by people that have a lot of ambition and contacts. It is, definitely, a place where you either like or loathe it.
For me, I had a strong skill set when I arrived but what CSM does, as opposed to some of the other institutions, is that it really does make you totally think outside the box. When you do good work at CSM, they don't congratulate you but instead, they say ‘ok what’s next?’ or ‘I have seen good work before, how do we make this new?’ You never settle for ‘good’ because good isn't good enough!
You have mentioned that you often use literary characters and classical art as inspiration. What is it about looking to the past that inspires you and why is it important to take references from history?
History, to me, is this toolbox and library of ideas. I don't think you can create something new without referencing or being inspired by what has already been. People have done amazing things before so how can I learn from that and make it new?
Also, I think things were more interesting in the past. I know that is a sweeping statement but there seemed to be more attention to detail. As things have become so globalised and industrialised, it is very hard to have that detail in the same way - everything is too expensive to do it that way. If we look to history, we can create something more bold and ambitious and fantastical.
In all, history, to me, is escapism. It's going into the lives of amazing people and then creating new characters from the future inspired by those old ones.
How did you start planning for your graduate debut collection and what is your general process when designing?
I always design with characters in mind, certainly, when it is a big project. I was working really hard in my placement year with J.W Anderson and for an archivist called Mr Steven Philip.
Steven actually encouraged me to just remove myself from the fashion industry for as long a period of time that I could afford.
So, I went with some savings and a leaving bonus from Steven, to Paris and did nothing. I went to the Cannes film festival with one client but other than that I was just walking around, going to museums, consuming art and looking at people. I wouldn't say the inspiration was direct, but what I did have was a fresh mindset and a clean slate, unsullied by the stresses of London and the stress of comparison with peers.
I was basically dreaming, like a writer who would go away to just write. I went away to dream and to create these characters and I started to develop this narrative of what became the ‘Ballad of Two Lovers in Three Parts.’ It is a story of these star crossed lovers who are separated through circumstance. There are Shakespearean references of Romeo and Juliet, there is the element of sickening privilege from Gatsby and there is the tragedy of death from Moulin Rouge.
Because I have done so much trial and error in the past, my collection was just an evolved reiteration of ideas that I had already explored and so I loved doing it. It was never a stress - this isn't rose tinted retrospect - it genuinely was, save once or twice, a joy to finish doing it!
In a lot of your designs, you play with silhouettes using innovative textures and textiles. What does the human body represent to you and why is it important to you to play around with the human silhouette?
If you distort the silhouette, you create an ambitious shape that feels new, fresh and exciting to people. But, I think you'll notice in my work that it is always very complementary or acknowledging of the human body. This is just a taste thing, but what I cannot stand is when people design these blobs, these shapeless forms that don't acknowledge how people actually look.
My designs work on multiple body types and they are designed deliberately that way, but not in a kind of ‘this is a one size fits all garment’ as I find that kind of insincere. It is usually about creating something that isn't necessarily so fitted that it can only be worn by one person. For example, the widow in my graduate collection has been worn by Precious Lee on the cover of Perfect Magazine, who is a plus size supermodel, and it's also been worn by Marko Vrbos in the show, who's the skinniest, tall, queer human.
Maybe it's not for me to say how I approach the human body? I think it is just this handwriting that I have that will further develop. I am not that self critical - everything's meant to be in that moment.
The fashion industry has recently definitely stepped a foot into the digital world and many say that the metaverse offers the opportunity for inhibited creativity. What do you think of the metaverse and will you ever venture into the metaverse/NFT’s with your designs?
I think it is naive to say that, as a designer, I won't because you will show me this article in 10 years time and I would have done it, so I am going to say absolutely - I will do it! You are either a luddite (someone scared and angry about technological advancements) or you're an artist. You have to embrace the future!
But, I do think there is a lot of danger to it too. I was speechless when I discovered what AI could do with visual imagery. It was the first time that I ever really thought that my job is in danger, in a way that people in factories have felt in the past - there is a machine that does what I do now.
I always felt that artists were kind of in this fortress, where we were never going to be touched by technology in that way because ideas are the one thing that a computer could never have and now they do. It is scary, but I have embraced it and now I use it as a visual tool. For my last project, I didn't even use a library - I just put in my ideas and buzzwords into an AI generator to create inspirational imagery.
As a fashion designer, how would you define your role in society and what do you, ultimately, want to achieve through your designs?
I think it is about entertainment, for me! Entertainment does not just come in the form of music gigs, films and tv shows - I think there are a lot of people out there that want fashion shows and images and for me, as a boy, that is what sustained me and what made me feel like, not to be dramatic, but that life was worth living.
My role is not to clothe people, my role is not to put clothes on rails, but I think it is about creating a fantasy where people aren’t as gendered, or aren’t restricted by societal norms.
It is always about glamour as well, for me. I wish my life was more glamorous, I wish all our lives could be as glamorous as the characters in my stories! But, I also know the danger of glamour and the danger of money and luxury.
Ultimately, it is about putting a mirror up to the times we are living in. If we don't comment on the world and the danger of things, but also the pleasure and joy of things, then what are we doing?
In our privilege of living in a western country that is at peace and ‘free’, I think it allows people to not have to go work in an office but actually that there is an appetite for people to do things they actually enjoy. There can be people like you that write articles about people like me doing what they love so that people like the models that wear my clothes can feel amazing. It's about joy, drama and theatrics and all of those things!
Yes, it's not saving lives and it's not necessary but what's the point of being free if everything has to be necessary?
What’s next for Maximilian? How do you see your future being both creatively through your work and personally?
If I was to look where I was a year ago and look now, it has been very quick but also hasn't felt quick because I have felt like I have been doing this forever. I like where I am at and I feel that I am in a good place.
There are a lot of people that I idolise and love that I would love to dress. I would like to do more red carpet and to dress some Hollywood stars. I have had a lot of near hits with some really big stars and I would like some of them to come to fruition. I nearly had Beyonce and Lady Gaga. Not that they are the absolute be all and end all because they are not, but I have admired, certainly Gaga’s work for a very long time and to get that close and not quite dress her is a goal for this next year.
Also, I want to start to produce stuff that people can buy. At the moment we are completely hire only apart from a couple of drops with a pop up shop over summer called ‘Fabootique,’
So, let's see! But, I don't believe in necessarily being too strict with what you want to do next because then you just get disappointed. I have learnt through the last three years of working and growing through this industry to never get too excited but never to become too cynical.
My goals are to keep learning and to grow, within reason. I want to stay in control and I want to direct my own vision whether that is under my name or for somebody else, whatever! I just like control of what I am putting out there.
Maximilian has carved a brand that exudes elegance, speculation and unexpectedness; characterised by its narrative and theatrical charm. His designs read like sequences of dream images or fantastical visions where one can sense a daunting link with the past, while the sight remains on future innovations.
From his studio in Woolwich, London, Maximilian continues to grow and evolve as a designer and I, for one, cannot wait to see what the future holds for him.