Last year, emerging designer Maximilian Davis exploded onto London Fashion Week’s newly digitised platform with a SS21 collection that felt markedly – and remarkably – grown up.
The 25-year-old Mancunian presented his co-ed, debut collection as part of Lulu Kennedy’s talent incubator, Fashion East. It was all drama, made up of slashed suede dresses, sharply tailored halter necks with skirts and trousers to match, asymmetric cut out vests, a skimpy swim set and, best of all, a goose feather skirt.
Oozing with elegance, sex appeal and nods to the east London dancefloors frequented by Davis pre-pandemic, the collection also paid homage to his Trinidadian roots and the yearly carnival that takes place there. “My family used to travel to Trinidad three times a year,” Davis explains. “I wanted to understand why the carnival exists and what we were celebrating.”
The London-based designer was also richly inspired by 19th century paintings and their depictions of tailoring, following the passing of the 1834 Emancipation of Slavery Act. “In my mind, there are two types of tailoring,” Davis continues. “One is more historic and the other is just what my parents used to wear. I had this idea of wearing a frock coat and mixing that in with things I remember from Trinidad, like Y2K mini skirts that my sisters wore back then.”
Davis’ creative process comes naturally and marries meticulous tailoring with DIY – skills he has developed since graduating from London College of Fashion in 2017 and working as a junior designer alongside Grace Wales Bonner. For the collection’s suits, he sought help from a family friend who has been fitting the Davis’ for well over a decade.
Meanwhile, he got to work painting on second-hand trousers, as seen in his hypnotically printed Harlequin jeans – a skill he’d use to his advantage at university to make a bit of extra cash. “I’m still learning, trying to source sustainable, deadstock fabrics, which can be difficult when you’re just starting out,” he says.
There’s a measured quietness and humility about Davis, which stands in stark contrast to the dramatic, larger-than-life nature of his clothes.
“I feel like there aren’t many young designers that are doing what I’m doing right now,” he continues. It’s a fair observation to make. Davis applied to, and successfully became, a part of the Fashion East family during the UK’s first national lockdown in March 2020.
“Everything was done over Zoom and Instagram DM’s,” he points out. Sure enough, there aren’t many designers who can say they launched their career at the height of a global pandemic. But this hasn’t posed a problem for Davis or his process. If anything, it’s only strengthened it.
Fresh out of Lockdown 1.0, he met with Kennedy to discuss how they would bring his collection to life. There was talk of a film and a lookbook, both of which posed a challenge for the young designer.
“I had to overcome my fears and learn to communicate with my audience through visuals, video and film,” he says. “I’m so used to not talking, and now I’m having to do all these interviews!”
The film Davis released to accompany his collection was a vision. Directed by Akinola Davies Jr alongside a warped, compulsive beat from London-based producer SUUTOO, the two-minute film nailed the brand head on: slick, sexy and every bit as mesmerising as his debut collection, with models dancing seductively in slow-motion against a distorted backdrop.
But, quietly reserved, how does Davis feel about all the newfound attention following his breakout collection?
“Overwhelmed,” he admits. “I’m so grateful, obviously, but I started doing all of this in my bedroom. To see people responding so well and to be in conversation with magazines that I used to read when I was younger… It’s crazy.”
For now, Davis is set on doing what he wants (“Some great advice from my friend, Mowalola”) and seeing where his own label takes him, which will no doubt be far: Essence magazine’s January/February 2021 issue already features Rihanna dressed head to toe in Davis’ gorgeous mass bra and feather skirt, as part of a photographic collage series created by artist Lorna Simpson and Rih herself.
Still, Davis won’t rule out heading up a big fashion house one day. “It would be nice to be a Black designer in that position, which is very rare,” he says. “I would just love to see everyone wearing my clothes. The whole fucking world.”