It’s been a blockbuster year for Maximilian Davis.
In an 18-month span he’s gone from a bootstrapped T-shirt operation to rising fashion star. His designs have been worn by Rihanna and ASAP Rocky, and by Naomi Campbell on the cover of i-D magazine. His label, Maximilian, has been picked up by Dover Street Market, MatchesFashion, Browns, Net-a-Porter and Ssense. A capsule collection designed exclusively for Browns drops today.
“There’s times when I just sit back and I’m like, what is going on?” said Davis.
Davis, whose grandmother is from Trinidad, is part of a new generation of fast-rising designers of colour shaking up London’s fashion scene. His designs are a compelling mix of technical skill, sleek design and a clear point of view that draws on the designer’s cultural heritage.
His first collection was an homage to his grandmother and her love of music. It drew inspiration from Trinidad’s annual carnival, combining micro-mini skirts and large feathered headpieces with luxe tailoring. It debuted online via a striking lookbook featuring an all-Black cast posing against vibrant primary coloured backdrops.
“There’s a maturity [and] elegance [to Davis’ work]. His collections have a finish, they’re really polished,” said Fashion East founder Lulu Kennedy. “I haven’t seen that in a while in a young designer’s work.”
There’s times when I just sit back and I’m like, what is going on?
Davis’ clear point of view and powerful aesthetic were honed through years working with some of London’s most exciting young designers, a multi-cultural mix who are drawing on their respective heritages and histories to reimagine, expand on and diversify the face of fashion.
Davis spent two years interning for Grace Wales Bonner, who he met while they were both students working at department store Selfridges. After graduating from London College of Fashion in 2017 he spent another year working full-time for Wales Bonner followed by two years freelancing for London-based designers like Mowalola, Asai and Supriya Lele. On the scene, he met renowned photographer Rafael Pavarotti, who shot his first lookbook, celebrated stylist and Dazed editor Ib Kamara, with whom he has collaborated, and Sundance award-winning director Akinola Davies Jr, who who shot the brand’s first campaign film.
“There’s a community behind it,” Davis said. “We all want to support each other in some way or another to come together and create something great.”
Davis’ eye for fashion can be traced back to his early years growing up in Manchester. His mother was a model, and both his father and sister studied fashion design — although neither pursued a career in the industry. On weekends and weeknights, Davis would accompany his mother to her local tailor where he would ask to learn the basics of garment making.
The path to success has been a rollercoaster. When Davis decided to go it alone and launch his own brand in 2019, he was too cash-strapped to fund the fabrics or production he needed. To raise money, he designed and printed logo T-shirts; one featured an illustration of the Blue Devil, an iconic character often portrayed during Trinidad’s annual carnival, while the other T-Shirt served as an homage to a Taxi company his parents owned in Trinidad.
“I was so nervous no one was going to buy them,” he said. “I remember just seeing my PayPal balance go up. I’d been struggling for so long in terms of wanting to buy fabrics and stuff, and I’d just sat on those T-shirts that ended up bringing in the money that was gonna help me start this brand.”
By spring 2020, Davis had a collection of six looks featuring A-line silhouettes and elegant cut-outs and a shoot planned with photographer Pavarotti and Kamara for his first campaign. The timing was terrible. Covid-19 hit. Everything stopped.
“I was driving myself crazy,” Davis said. “I had all these clothes in my bedroom and I was asking myself, ‘What am I doing? Where am I going?”
Eventually the designer started looking for alternative opportunities that could help support and catalyse the launch of his brand — among them, an opening at Fashion East, an incubator scheme aimed at nurturing and supporting young design talent. And so he submitted his six designs alongside a couple of lines outlining his vision.
It was the dream application... it wasn’t just a vague goal, [Davis] knew what he wanted [to say.]
“It was the dream application,” said Kennedy. “The work spoke for itself and it was almost fully completed by the time he sent it in. It wasn’t just a vague goal, he knew what he wanted [to say].”
Kennedy wasn’t the only industry insider to think so. After his first collection launched. Davis was inundated with orders from wholesalers — Browns buying director Ida Petersson described Davis’ clothes as embodying the “perfect blend between sexy and sophisticated” — and requests from internationally-renowned stylists like Jahleel Weaver.
Seven months on, and Davis now has his own east London studio, a studio assistant and a production manager. His Autumn/Winter 2021 collection features his signature dropped-waist A-line micro-mini skirts and structured jackets in a colour palette of black, white and pink with a pop of yellow.
The collection once again drew inspiration from Davis’ grandmother, who moved from Trinidad to the UK in 1965. She “used clothing to go for job interviews and present herself a certain way,” Davis said. “At the same time I was looking at a lot of the trends from the sixties and seventies but I noticed that there weren’t any Black models that were being shot at that time.” Davis used his Autumn/Winter 2021 collection as an opportunity to rewrite the history books: his latest lookbook is populated by models of colour dressed in ‘60s and ‘70s-inspired luxe ensembles and immaculate tailored pieces.
“I would never want to say that I was powerful,” Davis said. “I just don’t feel comfortable saying that. But it’s nice to think that some people can look at my work as a powerful thing.”