Art of Style

Maximilian Davis: the new designer making a big impact for SS21

His breakout collection has enraptured the fashion world – here, new name to know MAXIMILIAN DAVIS talks to GRACE COOK about tailoring, translation and how his Trinidadian roots inform his striking designs

Maximilian Davis

“I remember telling my dad that I would never wear a suit, and that I didn’t like tailoring,” laughs the Manchester-born designer Maximilian Davis, whose lauded debut collection for SS21 ironically includes strict suit jackets with sharp shoulders, leg-lengthening tailored pants and red-carpet-worthy evening dresses playfully urbanized with slashed skirts and cut-out racer backs.

Davis is the buzzy new name on the London fashion scene. Having launched his brand digitally with Fashion East in September last year, his brand quickly garnered traction for its seamless blending of femininity with androgyny, and wearability with sexiness. His tops contain daring cutouts, while blazers with oversized proportions are sculpted at the waist to purposefully enhance the female silhouette. “The pockets are placed on the waistline, which makes the waist seem smaller,” Davis says of this conscious approach, likely influenced by his older sister, who used to make her own clothes. “It’s a bit more flattering than just wearing a man’s jacket.”

Early sartorial influences clearly became fruitful inspiration for Davis: his dad wore a suit every day, even on vacation, while his mother had a personal tailor. His sister’s homemade clubbing outfits, meanwhile, manifested themselves into his collection in the form of micro-mini hemlines. Raised in Manchester by his Jamaican-born father and Trinidadian-born mother, he spent his vacations in the Caribbean, where his sisters would go “from the beach to the bar”. He was also endlessly inspired by his grandmother. “I was always aware of her trying to look her best and trying to make a good impression,” he says. “She taught me that you can represent yourself through clothing.”

I wanted to talk about Black elegance. There’s so much happening in the world that’s opened so many people’s eyes, and people are really wanting to learn about different cultures
Maximilian’s SS21 collection features cutout dresses, sleek tailoring and beautiful gowns

Family has always been at the heart of Davis’s designs and his namesake brand is, to some extent, a dedication to his past and present. The passing of his beloved grandmother in 2017 finally prompted Davis to launch his own label. He’d been working as a junior designer at Wales Bonner, but took a year out to process his loss. “I wanted to make a collection again for my portfolio, so I had these six looks – then we went into lockdown,” he says. Davis applied for emerging talent incubator Fashion East and succeeded. “I went into it thinking I didn’t have anything to lose,” he says. “It just fell into place.”

Unlike many designers of his generation, he’d never dreamed of owning his own brand. “I just wanted to create and be involved in the process,” he says. After studying womenswear at London College of Fashion, he found himself working on the shop floor of Selfridges department store with fellow designer Grace Wales Bonner, who then went on to launch her own label and invited him to join the team – first as an intern, then as a permanent member of staff, creating tailored pieces and commercial knitwear.

Indeed, in an interview with PORTER in November, Wales Bonner enthused, “Maximilian Davis just launched his brand recently, which I was so impressed by. It was really impactful… I don’t think I felt when I started out that I could talk to or approach people, but I think there’s that spirit of generosity and people wanting to support. A lot of work that many people are doing right now is also to create possibilities for future generations.”

Davis says he learned from Wales Bonner’s fastidious research, which has been known to take her from Black history and academic texts to art pieces. She encouraged him to not follow trends or pigeonhole himself, which manifests in his uncompromisingly juxtaposing aesthetic – glamorous evening dresses sit seamlessly alongside get-up-and-go blazers. “There’s different parts of my brand: there’s the tailoring and then there’s the denim and printed pieces. I design with both the younger generation and more mature clients in mind.”

I wouldn’t say I’m an amazing speaker or writer, but I feel like I powerfully translate my culture through my designs

His moodboard references are just as broad-ranging. This season, he began with music by Miles Davis, spanned into the culture of carnival and Trinidadian history, and was later influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement. “I wanted to talk about Black elegance,” he says. “I use tailoring to send that message. There’s so much happening in the world that’s opened so many people’s eyes, and people are really wanting to learn about different cultures and understand them. I wouldn’t say I’m an amazing speaker or writer, but I feel like I powerfully translate my culture through my designs. I hope my clothing makes people feel empowered.”

The designer draws inspiration from Trinidad’s carnival costumes

The models featured in this story are not associated with NET-A-PORTER and do not endorse it or the products shown