WHAT ELSE? is a series for Highsnobiety by writer/director Paul Black. What’s it all about? Call it the “What Else Factor,” a person with something else besides the thing(s) he or she is usually known for. What else is on the cards? What else should we know? The style of each piece is spontaneous and intuitively responsive to the Voice of its subject at the time of the interview. Next up, Hardy Blechman of Maharishi.
Avid collecting is where it all started for Hardy Blechman, founder and Creative Director of Maharishi. His dad was an antique dealer who had a knack for unearthing unwanted treasures from bequeathed estates around Britain. Things like rare stamp collections, coins, postcards, medals and medallions gave Hardy the bug at the age of three. His passion evolved to record collecting, of course, then he tuned into military uniforms, and that’s what he credits as the roots of Maharishi.
Listening to Hardy talk about the roots and evolution of military apparel is like attending a lecture by an esteemed professor with a PhD in the history of formal attire and disruptive pattern material (otherwise known as camouflage). His insight and knowledge is both technical and practical, and it explains why the clothes he designs and manufactures in his own factory are so smart and clever, and useful!
In a nutshell, the common man was turned on to elegance by the military uniform. The promise of nobility. A tailored suit that made you look noble. Think of Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman. Try on some Maharishi. You’ll see. Hardy knows his stuff. I call it “noble streetwear.”
You don’t have to go much further than the stairwell of the Maharishi offices (above the store on Great Pulteney Street, London W1) to see what Hardy means when he says he has far too much of everything and doesn’t quite know what to do with it all. There is a lot of stuff, no doubt. But you get the distinct feeling he’s doing exactly what he should be doing with it – an office stairwell like no other, a living, working, breathing, ecclectic museum of contemporary iconography. You get the sense that Hardy knows exactly what to do with all of it – love it, celebrate it, share it.
This unconscious contradiction is symbolic of Hardy’s core humility and kindness, and it comes through in his clothes. They’re like gifts. Truly. Few designers have this. The fine detailing, the intuitive form, the subtle handle, it all just kind of makes sense. When you find the pieces in his collections that seem right, you take it personally, like the designer is addressing you directly. It’s almost like bespoke.
My connection to Hardy began with my first pair of embroidered Snopants® back in the mid-90s, and continues today with a Loro Piana waterproof cashmere mac, the 2319 Flight Jacket in Loden Steiner virgin wool, and a few other bits. I’ve always been a fan. Now that I know the man (a little), it’s very easy for me to throw out compliments. For my taste Hardy Blechman is one of the coolest, encyclopeadic-smart, nerdy, eccentric, hip, kind-of-odd-but-not, totally normal West London half-Jewish visionary icons; warm, kind and empathetic, a surviving and still-thriving leader of contemporary British streetwear for the noble at heart. True original? No shit.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I called him last year to ask for some insight into technical fabrics for a Highsnobiety magazine article called ‘Waterproof for the Sartorialist.’ I knew he was into disruptive pattern material, the iconic embroidered Snopants® and upcycled military wear for the pacifist. I could see from his collection that he was using all kinds of “technonaturals.” I didn’t know until we got into it that his love of hemp led him to develop the first waterproof hemp cloths with the Italian mill ITS Artea, the founder of which spent twenty years designing cloths with Massimo Osti of CP Company and Stone Island fame. Together Hardy and ITS developed hemp bases with PU coatings that gave performance, whilst being 95% natural fibre.
I knew his clothes were as clever and wearable as they’d ever been (since the Maharishi show began in ‘94). I knew he was a visionary. I always had the feeling he wasn’t interested in being famous, but rather known for improving your experience. What I didn’t expect is just how generous a spirit he is. Keep in mind, this is London. Dog eats dog. You just don’t expect guys like him to be so human.
When we met and I told him about my own love of military apparel and the fact that it had always drawn me to his gear, he gifted me a signed, first edition of DPM (Disruptive Pattern Material), his 944-page encyclopeadic art book charting the history of camouflage. A seven-year exploration, his magnum opus, it weighs in just slightly more than my three-year-old daughter! I was kind of pissed at him for the rest of the day because I had to schlepp this thing around the West End of London, getting psyched to shoot my WHAT ELSE? | Sir Paul Smith film, but I got it back to Berlin and I’m totally enthralled.
944 pages. You get the feeling camo is important to Blechman. It is. He has created special iterations for Northface, Nike, Penfield, Quicksilver, the Andy Warhol Foundation, G-Shock and more. If the Snopants® put Maha firmly on the streetwear zeitgeist map in the late ’90s, it’s the camo and pacifist military orientation that clearly underpins the brand’s survival and evolution.
Note: I haven’t seen his financial books, but there are mythical stories of truckloads of cash at the sample sales.
The most curious thing about Hardy is this sense you get that he’s kind of wandering without any sharp focus, spontaneuously following his instincts, casually and almost randomnly sharing his insight and vision – in person, and at large, through his stuff. Of course, without all these things there would be no other way to be an intuitive designer who “gives” you this second skin, this sense that the garment was “meant to be on me.” But you also get a sense that his path is very much planned, that he’s as sharp as an arrow and there’s a grand design, a business to run, and an unwavering sense of purpose to stamp a message on the collective consciousness.
It’s on his shop window: MAHARISHI AIMS TO CONVEY A STRONG ANTI- WAR SENTIMENT THROUGH ITS USE OF CAMOUFLAGE – RECLAIMING ITS SYMBOLIC VALUE AWAY FROM WAR, BACK TO ITS ROOTS IN NATURE AND DEVELOPMENT BY ARTISTS AND TO HIGHLIGHT OBJECTIONS TO CONTINUED 21ST CENTURY WARFARE.
Maharishi is definitely a business that seems to be thriving. There was a time when it looked like Maharishi had all but disappeared. In a sense, it did go very quiet. He dropped womenswear and he lost his love and passion for the work. That should have been the death-knell. But he owned the factory and he kept producing gear for Maha and other strong brands, like Folk for example.
The business of making clothes never went away, including his own, but the feeling to embrace it in the way only Hardy knows (obsessive attention to quality, detail, love, heart and soul) came flooding back about eight years ago, and there still remains very little to rival his noble streetwear. It’s better than ever, and not as expensive as it seemed to be back in the early days. In fact, pound for pound you will not find anything better.
So what else?
Well, there’s the short documentary Hardy made at the behest of Damon Albarn, who asked him to come along to Kinchasa, capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and shoot the project he was undertaking as part of his DRC Music inititiative to produce an album for Oxfam. In true artist fashion Hardy, without any practical knowledge of filmmaking whatsoever, made a lovely little short that totally captures the spirit. He also did the artwork for the album with conceptual and abstract menswear designer, Aitor Throup.
On a personal level it turns out we have a great mutual friend, Chris Landoni, a truly original character, an artist who sadly passed in 2005. I had no idea Hardy and I had this connection, but when it came up, it all really started to make perfect sense. Chris was double-special with sugar. Sweet, wandering, truly lost. RIP. Hardy made a Maharishi T-shirt in honour of Chris. It’s my newest cherished possession.
He’s also obsessed by Sacred Geometry, of which one his favorite symbols is the Vesica Piscis – two circles overlapping in their centres, creating a thrid central shape, that of the human eye. It represents shared vision, mutual understanding, the place where people see ‘eye-to-eye.’
There’s also another book coming. I’m physically, if not mentally ready!
Written by Paul Black for highsnobiety.com.
- Photography: Jon Mortimer for Highsnobiety.com