The renegade designer who made a stupendous impact at Łódź Fashion Week 2012 continues to break the bounds of art and fashion with designs that are entirely out of the ordinary, yet still perfectly functional
How does a young man from a small town in southern Poland rise up to the ranks of the most enigmatic and sought-after designers on the fashion scene? Granted, while the industry in Poland is still in its early stages of development - it will be quite a few years before it rises to the heels of Paris, Milan, London or even Antwerp - the group of ambitious new bloods determined to put a new spin on attire and personal style is growing fast and formidable. Maldoror may well be the enfant terrible of the group, the Gaultier of his day. His presence is slightly on the fringes of fashion, with his soft-spoken ways, wariness of the mainstream. In spite of his reluctance to bask in this moment of glory, the spotlight has been focused on him ever since his impressive debut at Łódź Fashion Week in the spring of 2012. It wasn't just the clothes that made an impact; it was the utterly cool presentation of the line that caught the attention of editors and fans. Doing away with the traditional runway format, the designer set his models up against the wall and invited the public to come up and take a look at the clothes from up close, to touch the fabric and inspect the make. Not only did such a move shatter the long-established hierarchy of seating arrangements and privileged access that has dominated the global fashion industry for decades, it was proof of the designer's fearlessness in the face of scrutiny.
Born Grzegorz Matląg in Nowy Sacz in 1986, he started out studying horticulture. He avers he had not discovered a real interest in fashion until he moved to Warsaw to continue his studies and was exposed to the more style-minded community of artists in the capital. "I was never interested in fashion", he explains. "As a teen I always dressed terribly. My mother bought my clothes and I just wore what she chose for me. It wasn't until High School that I began choosing my own clothes and my look was usually different what the other kids were wearing". He still didn't consider fashion at first, deliberating between chemistry and biology after moving to Warsaw, where the intensity of a burgeoning social life put his academic life on hold. People began to take notice of his look - he was sewing his own stuff instead of buying what everyone else was buying - and suggested he try making a name for himself in fashion. He took the advice and started a course in fashion design, but before he even managed to graduate he had already begun designing some his first signature pieces.
The response was instantaneous and he gradually began to build up a solid fan base. In the end, he had to quit his fashion course because his career as a designer was getting in the way of his education - which is just as well, perhaps, since the refreshing quality of his designs is that they break most of the basic taboos in the book - an approach that a proper education might have tampered with. Maldoror, having carved out a niche for himself as the "king of low couture", isn't afraid to combine a military theme with a club-inspired shape or unisex pieces with a neo-Nazi edge. He breaks ideological boundaries, while still maintaining a sense of minimalism. Each collection builds on the one before, the designer going a bit further into his subject, like an artist poring over his canvas for several years before it is complete. He takes the inspirations that are closes to his heart - Berlin club culture, psychedelic experiences, LGBT alliances and even fetishism that dip into the most unlikely areas of pop subcultures and combining them, from neo-Nazi punks to hip-hop. It is a style that verges on the edge of Goth and disco, a mix of Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez and Amy Lee. Maldoror does the impossible by making all these seemingly foreign worlds collide.
"In the '90s there were a lot of skinheads in Poland, they've almost disappeared. They must still exist, only the dress code is different. In Berlin some people still dress like skinheads", he says. And it's this fascination with the blend of different groups of people who come together to enjoy the same music, pop the same pills and sweat together on Berlin's techno scene is what drives the designer's imagination. Everything is fused together and then tapered down to the bare minimum. It's a global approach to fashion and its symbiotic relationship with pop culture.
The process of blending the daring with the practical was a gradual one. "At first was thought of as a designer who designed clothes that couldn't be worn", he says, "which is a bit unfair, I think. But for the past two years I've been focused on the functionality of clothing , taking into consideration how certain pieces might be worn and what how they are worn with other pieces".
The pieces in question vary from sheer organza tops, slippery military bombers in black, silver and orange silk, vinyl leggings, flowing silk cargo pants, maxi dresses made of parachute material, raw wool shifts and black hooded capes. Working out of his studio - a smallish open-space setup filled with reels of fabric, sewing machines and racks of samples - he keeps us production as clients and editors filter in and out of the place. He says his focus isn't to mask flaws, rather he is working to create something beyond fashion, something that works so well with the wearer's own personal style that it takes on an entirely new life.
His attention isn't limited to the commercial world of fashion. He recently began designing costumes for the theatre, most recently for a production of contemporary Noh theatre from Japan directed by Kaya Kołodziejczyk and Karolina Wołkowiecka at the Centre for Contemporary Art at Ujazdowski Castle, part of the Crossroads (Rozdroże) dance festival. The performance (6th-7th of November 2012) of Oh Noh fits into the Japanese theme of this year's event. The Universal Law of Impermanence performance group takes on the Japanese drama Izutsu, written by Zeami, one of the leading playwrights of the classic Noh theatre school. The show blurs the line between reality and fantasy, with an intriguing score from the Kinematic Ensemble.
The most surprising part of the job was the director's insistence that he create costumes that would dictate or even hinder the dancer's movement - an approach that very much out of tune with the traditional approach to dance costumes, which are typically meant to give way to the dancer's movement. The inspired forms of this form of theatre, historically has been restricted to men, draws upon surrealist themes that take the absurd and impossible into account, providing an ideal platform for Maldoror's fancy to take flight in dramatic, avant-garde forms.
"I don't want to do classics. That's been done. I don't want to repeat something that's already been perfected. I wanted to do something different, something subversive", Maldoror explains. "The theatre provides a new context for clothing, which I find very interesting".
As a personality, Maldoror is as humble as they come, soft-spoken and polite, fiery-ringlets framing an angelic face. As for the name, it's a biblical reference meaning pure evil. "Not in the moral sense, but rather an ambiguous one", he explains. It is an ambiguity that pervades the collection, conjuring up a sense of mystery and the unexpected within the context of the everyday. After all, he's one of the few designers to take the tracksuit and make it sexy.
Łódź Fashion Week S/S 2013 is on in Łódź between the 18th - 28th of October 2012. For more information, see: www.fashionweek.pl
The Crossroads Festival is on in Warsaw between the 23rd of October - 7th of November 2012. For more information, see: csw.art.pl
Author: Agnieszka Le Nart, October 2012