Good design never dies. Fashion comes and goes. Both statements are true; they are not contradictory. It’s in the nature of fashion to shed skin twice a year and show new trends for consumers to buy into. Sometimes, though, those trends come to define a brand. A certain look or a particular garment becomes
the designer. It might be lucrative at the time but, in the long run, it most certainly will have some sort of negative impact on the brand and its credibility.
It’s impossible to talk and write about Hardy Blechman’s maharishi brand without mentioning the rise and fall of his classic drawstring SnoPants and dragon-embroidered M65 jackets. In the late ’90s and early ’00s, those garments were at the height of cool fashion. But what goes up, must come down. That’s as true in fashion as physics. Around the mid-Noughties, maharishi came down. With a bang. But Blechman, a living camouflage encyclopaedia, continued to believe in his vision and churn out his collections. It paid off. Since a few years back, and with the Spring/Summer 2015 collection Blechman recently premiered on a London Collections: Men catwalk, Blechman is once again presenting strong pieces with a coherent theme and consistent quality. Wisely, the idea of trends and hype products, like the SnoPants, are no longer the focal point: maharishi makes casual and contemporary streetwear that’s not logo-based but designed around well-researched prints and patterns. As such it has less of an immediate impact but it gives the brand longevity.
Why did you decide to do a show now?
This is the first time we’ve been involved in London Collections: Men which itself is only four or five years old. I’ve done shows once or twice but generally it’s not the context that I’d really present in. I guess I’m getting older and more accepting of some of the mainstream fashion protocols and for a long time I just thought shows were over-dramatic events that didn’t really present wearable clothes and wasn’t relevant at all to what I’m doing. I guess eventually I just realized that I can take my own attitude to it and I don’t have to put people in frilly ball gowns.
maharishi is not a traditional show brand – how did you approach this fashion week event as a way of showcasing your collection?
I think, in general, I design the collection for it to be worn, it’s pretty casual – so I played a bit with it in the last couple of months, having already designed it. I added a few pieces that were a little bit more dramatic than I would normally include. But at the same time I was still trying to hold onto the idea of wearability. The camouflage ponchos are a good example of that.
Did the show have an impact on fabric treatments as well?
In the last couple of years I’ve been working a lot with organic cottons but coating them and seam-sealing them. I use Schoeller technology from the Swiss-based textile mill, we worked with them to create waterproof and Nanosphere-coated cottons. So I played a bit with the colors and a couple of silhouettes in the show, I still think it’s likable and wearable but maybe a bit more dramatic than I’d be tempted to do if it was just a showroom collection.
Because generally speaking your brand is based around functionality…
Yes, they’re primary about utility, functionality, essentially wearability and, beyond that, durability.
What’s the main thread going through this collection?
It’s based on the Italian artist Alighiero Boetti’s work. I discovered his works during the research for my camouflage book 15 years ago. I discovered him because he was the first artist to take military surplus camouflage fabric and stretch it and put it in a gallery. He bought the Italian camouflage fabric rolls from a flea market and stretched them and now they sell for millions. Camouflage was created by natural historians, as it’s part of nature, and it was developed by artists. The military kind of hijacked it so a central part of my work is using camouflage in a non-military context. I do that by applying reflective inks or using it internally in pocket bags – basically any way that isn’t intended to conceal ourselves in order to destroy members of our own species.
Sounds like there were lots of similarities between you two and your work?
Yes, me and Boetti are 100% on the same page there. As I investigated his work I discovered a lot of other crossovers. He died 20 years ago, exactly when I started the brand. He traveled a lot to Afghanistan and worked a lot with crafts people creating embroidered maps and Afghan rugs. I spent a lot of time in India working with embroidery as well so we have this similarity and then, finally, when there was a Boetti retrospective at Tate last year I discovered his work in more depth and found that he wrote a series of letters that he sent himself where he played with a formation of stamps, and I found myself doing the same thing aged six. I started sending myself letters with stamps on them in weird formations. I probably did it from age 6 – 10 but to discover this guy did the same was quite weird so we have all these kind of crossovers.
How did he inform the collection?
The collection was initially inspired by Boetti and his travels to Afghanistan – that’s why there’s a lot of drop-crotch trousers, overly long T-shirts and hoods that are a bit bigger and more pointy – a bit Arabesque. I’ve also looked towards American camouflage as they seem to be spending far too much time in Asia; they’ve been both in Afghanistan and Vietnam since the ’60s and ’70s and going forwards. They should have learnt their lessons in Vietnam but they went back in again, so the third part of the inspiration is Vietnam. Quite a few recycled pieces in the collection are mixtures of U.S. Army Vietnam-era uniforms and Telo Mimetico camouflage. The black and white is inspired by another series that Boetti did in Afghanistan of black and white rugs series, and the blue chambray patchwork is inspired by the c-mat bases of the maps he created.