Designer Makin Ma takes couture in a fresh direction
Designer Makin Ma works like a filmmaker and that's where his ambitions lie, writes Pavan Shamdasani
MAKIN MA DOESN'T consider himself a fashion designer. Despite the fact that his eponymous collections are stocked in Europe and Asia, Hong Kong-born Ma still doesn't think of himself as part of the fashion world.
In fact, he says he's a filmmaker. His autumn-winter 2013 line may be premiering in stores, not cinemas, but his collections are actually a testament to his love of movies, and his unusual methodology mirrors the film medium's creative approach, he says.
"I build collections based on characters. I spend time developing each character, their personality, the way they think, the music they listen to," he says.
"I imagine their whole life, and then I imagine what kind of clothes they'd want to wear. I want to make films, so in my head I'm growing as a filmmaker by creating these characters."
His latest collection is based on two characters, a boy and a girl, each in their 20s and both with a definite hipster slant. Their choice of clothes is unisex and often interchangeable: oversized jackets in earthy tones; leopard-print and plaid jumpsuits; and crisp monotone shirts.
Born in Hong Kong, but based in the UK, Ma attended London's prestigious Central Saint Martins college. But he didn't study fashion; his discipline was graphic design.
"I've always been fascinated by fashion, something which stems from my dad having a fully tailor-made wardrobe," he says. "But before I went to college, I took a couple of summer fashion courses at Saint Martins and I felt very intimidated - everyone was so competitive and unfriendly, and I didn't want that for the next three years. I wanted to have fun, make friends and experience new cultures."
It was chance that brought him into the fashion world. After graduating, Ma began working on an avant-garde film, writing the script and - due to budget constraints - designing the costumes. Some Japanese friends came across the mock-ups and asked if they could borrow them.
"At the time, I had no idea what they meant, so I said sure," he says. "Two or three months later, they came back and said, 'We've received all these orders, so find a factory and start producing them'. And that's how it all started."
The Guts autumn-winter 2013 collection.
Giving his brand the label "Makin Jan Ma" - the middle name being a college art collective he was part of - he was encouraged by his newly acquired agent to create further collections. And he did, learning along the way, and following traditional methods of fashion design for his first few years.
Then four years ago, all of that changed. "You design a collection based on what's in your mind, but the agency pressures you to change things because it's commercial - it becomes for the market, not for yourself," he says. "That was dangerous for me, and I decided I didn't want to follow that system anymore. I started approaching it my own way, which wasn't exactly the most practical way."
Ma started to focus on his fictional characters and the costumes they'd wear, and within a matter of months, he'd created three separate collections. His agency was far from happy with the strange methodology, but they took a chance on one of them by releasing it in Japan, and it quickly became a success. Ever since, Ma has continued with his distinctive approach.
"I feel what I'm doing is something beyond fashion, not just part of it," he says. "I use graphics as a means to communicate, using them to talk about relationships, dreams, definitions of yourselves. I try to make all kinds of things - animation, paintings - and I use them to communicate, because that's what I believe in."
His experimentation with different media and forms is what, he says, separates him from others in the fashion world, and provides him with endless inspiration.
For example, Ma is also an accomplished photographer.
"I do a lot of photo shoots. For me, it's about constructing a shoot, working with people and models, and searching for what's unique in each person," he says. "It's about searching for the character - when you get into a personality, you also reflect how to the people think, and that helps me create characters."
But photography, like fashion, is once again just a testing ground for his ultimate love: film. While he might be knee-deep in his spring-summer 2014 collection, he has given himself two years before he fully embraces the world of cinema. Which ultimately begs the question: will fashion have any role in his future life?
"I don't want to go all the way too fast, I want to take my time and understand how I feel about the filmmaking process," he says.
"But fashion is part of the whole process - if I have characters that need clothes, that'll be where fashion comes in."
Makin Jan Ma is available at Novelty Lane noveltylane.com
The Jody autumn-winter 2013 collection.