Evolution, Not Revolution: An Interview with David Koma
The year 2017 was an active year full of uproar and discord, both in fashion and in the world at large. Some of this was the natural progress of time, with fashion companies moving to younger, more forward-looking creative directors in search of new visions for their brand; other changes have felt more abrupt. The Maison of Thierry Mugler, however, was, not surprisingly, ahead of the game, having appointed the Georgian-born young designer David Koma as the artistic director in late 2013.
Even a half glance at David Koma’s designs reveals his point of view and his keen attention to craftsmanship, whether you’re looking at his namesake brand or his creations for Thierry Mugler. Koma’s work is that of a trained artist: he brings a signature minimalistic edge that contours and flatters the female form with almost sculptural precision.
The collections Koma has created for both labels are consistently cohesive with a narrative approach yet they are distinct, which is no easy thing when juggling designs for two brands. Of course, this artistic approach is appropriate since he studied Fine Art in St Petersburg before moving to London in 2003 to attend Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, where he studied under the late Professor Louise Wilson, OBE.
In 2009, Koma launched his own brand after graduation from Central Saint Martins and quickly became a regular fixture at London Fashion Week, though never a predictable one. When Koma replaced Nicola Formichetti at the helm at Thierry Mugler in 2013, it felt like a natural transition in the fashion world, as Koma’s aesthetic nicely complements and expands upon Mugler’s modernism and attention to silhouette.
Over time, Koma has shown his maturity and a smart awareness of the essential business of fashion in balancing art with the wearability factor. For example, Koma’s recent AW17 collection builds upon his Romanov-inspired Spring/Summer collection, which took inspiration from his St Petersburg youth, only with a twist. This time he looked to his Georgian heritage, reinterpreting cultural costume – in this case, the chokha, Georgian warrior dress – in a new way, while still echoing his own predilection for 1960s Space Age fashion. But Koma makes eclecticism easy and beautiful, which in part explains why his designs are immediately covetable.
Glass had the chance to sit down with David Koma to discuss fashion, inspiration and what drives him to create.
The word “change” means different things to different people. What does it mean to you in terms of your approach to design?
I’m an optimist, so for me change equals improvement; I’m more into evolution than revolution, so change is all about bringing something different and new, and hopefully evolving towards perfection.
How do you focus on your own creative energies while appealing to customers’ ever-evolving tastes?
It’s good to be aware of customer feedback and commercial demands, but the key to success is believing in yourself and staying true to your own clear vision and identity.
How have you enjoyed your position as artistic director for Maison Mugler? How hard it is to stay true to Thierry Mugler’s vision while injecting your own fresh perspective?
I love my job, love my team and love dividing my time between Paris and London. I grew up admiring and learning from the work of Thierry Mugler, so it comes quite naturally to me. I just try to enjoy it as much as I can and go with my instinct.
Has your work with Maison Mugler affected how you approach working with your own namesake brand? How do you keep everything distinct?
It’s two different cities and completely different teams. My role at Mugler is to guide the beautiful legacy into a modern vision for today’s women, and at David Koma I am continuing to develop the house based on the codes that I established from the start.
Your aesthetic across both brands feels consistently sophisticated, edgy and minimalist. What draws you to this aesthetic and what does it mean about and for the woman who buys your work?
I guess it’s a taste thing – things I like in general, minimalism mixed with bold graphic statements and a certain timeless quality – it’s my DNA.
Speaking of inspiration, what drew you to womenswear rather than menswear?
I’m obsessed with the female form; when I design, I always work around the body to enhance the natural beauty of the female form. In regard to menswear – until now I have not been interested, but you never know.
What challenges did you encounter establishing your brand early in your career? How have these challenges changed over time?
There are so many challenges, but it’s all part of life and learning, and somehow I have enjoyed all of them. But I guess the main thing is to be relevant, creative and inspired whilst still remaining commercially successful. That’s the challenge that you face when you launch a brand.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting out? Any advice for emerging designers?
Starting your own label is a real commitment. You have to really want it, and be prepared to do whatever it takes.
To go back in time, how does your Georgian heritage affect you as a designer?
I have been lucky enough to live in three different countries: Georgia, Russia, and the UK (or four if we count my regular trips to Paris). Each country has influenced me in a different way and has shaped the person that I am today.
How did your education at Central Saint Martins shape you?
It played a huge role in my career; I loved every single day of being a student there. I was fortunate enough to be taught by the late Professor Louise Wilson; she was an absolute genius. Without her guidance and support I would not have been able to achieve everything that I have today.
Who inspires you creatively? Who is your favourite designer?
Thierry Mugler, Pierre Cardin, Geoffrey Beene, Azzedine Alaïa and André Courrèges.
How do you escape? Where do you go to relax and unwind?
What are your favourite things to do in London on an average weekend?
I’m based around Shoreditch, so most weekends I’m hanging out in the area. There’s a lot of amazing bars and restaurants and cool places to go, and of course I spend as much time as possible with my family.
This article was originally published for Glass.