Designer Maximilian Raynor Is A Storyteller At Heart 

The Derbyshire-born designer sits down with BRICKS to share his creative process and tell us why storytelling is at the forefront of his practice.

IMAGES Courtesy of Maximilian Raynor

Just around the corner from Woolwich’s bustling high street sits an unassuming multi-story office block. You might never believe from its mundane exterior that the almost derelict building could contain such glamour and extravagance within. And yet, here you will find the studio of designer and creative director Maximilian Raynor. Since September of 2022, Maximilian has been running his independent fashion brand from the space in South London. In contrast to the dreariness of the building itself, Raynor’s studio is tastefully chic. The artist’s bold and intricate designs float elegantly from racks that span several walls, each ribboned and taped piece beautifully illuminated by floods of natural light that pour in from large windows.  

Despite being a recent graduate of the Fashion BA course at Central Saint Martins, Raynor’s career in fashion is far from that of a beginner. At aged 11, the young creative spent a week working with the late and great Dame Vivienne Westwood, a staggering achievement for any creative, let alone a pre-teen. Before completing his course at CSM, Raynor was named one of Perfect Magazine’s top ten young designers to watch, subsequently earning sponsorship from Tommy Hilfiger through a mentorship program. The artist even served as a menswear design assistant at JW Anderson before working with renowned fashion collector Steven Philip as the coordinator of his fashion archive located in Brighton. 

Since graduating, Raynor’s designs have been worn by the likes of Precious Lee, Tove Lo and Ellie Goulding, his pieces gracing runways from China to Rwanda and even being featured in Vogue Arabia. Evidently, his trajectory is on a steep incline and has been since childhood, when the young creative first discovered their passion for storytelling through design. Raynor cites theatre, film and literature as huge inspirations for his practice, at first finding interest in acting and directing before translating this into fashion. Raynor’s love for storytelling shines so clearly through his pieces. His textile work of transforming the everyday ribbon into a spectacular, one-of-a-kind garment gives us a glimpse into the imagination of this artist and reveals his innate desire for performance. 

Following an afternoon of filming BRICKS’s new Site Visit series, BRICKS sat down with Raynor in his Woolwich studio to discuss his love of characterisation, the most valuable lessons he learnt at CSM, and the future of the fashion industry.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Derbyshire on a farm. People don’t always hear it [an accent]. I’ve never really had a thick accent because neither of my parents do, and I think you get most of your accent from your parents, but there’s a slight northern-Midlands twang.

What were your earliest inspirations to study and practice fashion design?

Definitely my love of characters through acting, although I don’t think I knew that’s what it was at that age. That was my first entry into storytelling and characterisation, through youth groups and doing school plays. But also very early, I was designing drawings and saying it was fashion. It’s hard to put words to it now, but at that time it would have just been me drawing what was in my mind, visualising my imagination. 

And, being obsessed with designers like McQueen, Westwood and Galliano, the North Stars of design for a lot of London fashion designers. That obsession then turned into making clothes and doing little fashion shoots. I would always create a different story and wrap curtains or dog blankets around my friends and we would create a whole magazine spread and put it together on PowerPoint, pretending it was Maximilian Fashion Magazine. Then I started saying I want to have my own brand and – God knows how because my parents never introduced me to it – I became singularly obsessed with Saint Martins from the age of 10/12.

How did you find the experience of studying at Central Saint Martins?

I really enjoyed it because I got out what I put in. I think it’s a very difficult place for some people, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. It’s such a hub of the most incredible, fearless individuals that really paved the way in fashion and I enjoyed being in that environment and being part of that legacy. But, I also had been to Kingston for a year and had been to Ravensbourne for my foundation so I had this skill set from other institutions that I was then able to apply to the Saint Martins model of education. Having that double-sword approach of technical ability, as well as the ideas, really led me to have a good experience and to produce successful work. 

 CSM is such a hub of the most incredible, fearless individuals that really paved the way in fashion and I enjoyed being in that environment and being part of that legacy.

What are the most valuable things that you learnt while you were there?

A lot of it is what I’ve learnt since leaving, as a result of that experience. For example, don’t fall into the trap of worrying about your outcomes against other people or whether people are going to like your work. You just have to be totally, singularly focused on your own vision, and just put it out in the world and hope people respond to it. Don’t design for other people or what you think other people would want. 

Also, to break expectations and not settle for good work; I think I produced great work at Kingston, I was producing great work even before education and was making dresses that girls liked but that wasn’t enough. Saint Martins really pushed this idea that that’s just not enough, who cares? There are loads of people doing that. So really what I learned was to, once you’ve done something, question how it’s successful and how you might elevate that in a way that feels more challenging, more boundary-pushing and more immediate.

What barriers, if any, have you experienced in terms of accessing the industry?

For me, the barrier of having no contacts whatsoever was just so colossal. But I’m also the first to acknowledge the privilege I had in other areas in that I have parents that love me, support what I do and support my queerness as well as my choice to pursue an artistic career path, as opposed to one that might more immediately make money. So I’ve had privilege in that sense, and was already past many barriers that other people face. But, I was still in a place where I arrived in London and had literally no contacts, no entry into the industry and so I just sent a fuck tonne of emails to as many people as I could find the emails for. 

Usually that was assisting at Fashion Week, so I did a few Fashion Week shows. It’s something that BRICKS has spoken about before; once you’re in, you’re in but you need that first opportunity, which is often the hardest. I make a policy now that I reply to literally everyone that emails me, no matter who they are. I give people as much time as I can. 

Who or what has inspired your upcoming collection?

I really want to show people that I have a lot of ideas for clothes and if given the opportunity to head up a house, I know I could do that and could make products that sell. I just need to show that and not be one of those people that thinks it but doesn’t prove it. That’s the mission of the next collection. I’ll maybe make some bags, pieces that I think people might more readily consume; not everyone can wear a giant, wired electrical horse tape dress. We’re looking at a lot of Helmut Newton, slightly perverse, sexualized glamour. I’m looking at uniforms and archetypes of different characters from a retro 70s lens, which all probably sounds a bit cryptic and all over the place, but we really are at the very start. 

I know it’s very annoying to say, but we’re deciding when to show a top secret thing that’s really exciting. And it’s just about what to show for that, because I’m enrolled on the MA [at CSM], so I’ve got that show in February next year and that collection will be the biggest ever for me. In terms of what I’m going to put into it, it might be fewer looks, but it’ll definitely be the most extravagant. The one that will probably be seen sooner in June-time is a bit of a departure from what I’ve always been doing, and I’m going to introduce a few more wearable pieces; some jackets and coats, a great shirt. But, it will still be presented in that very theatrical context.

Could you describe your design process?

I used to be much more random, but I’ve developed – I hesitate to call it a formula – but a way of working that’s really successful and that’s to create a cast of characters that I then dress as if it were a costume for a play, but actually it’s a collection. I really love that because it satisfies the bug I still have to be a director or to be an actor but through clothing. 

So, at the start of every project, I’ll have this absolute array of references, usually cinematic and literary. Then, from those references, it’s sort of like when someone reads a book; everyone has a different interpretation of how that character would look. That’s why I love books. So for me, it’s then finding the visuals to show other people. Quite often the character then becomes something that’s totally unique and original. We’re not actually dressing characters that have been written by other people, I then write those myself. 

It’s also very textiles driven, so we created the tape textile, but that’s had its moment. I then made the ribbon textile and that had its moment, although it will be a signature. With the new ideas of textiles, we’ll then explore different colours and textures, maybe printing them or beading them. So, definitely textile-focused as well as narrative-focused.

What materials are significant?

The main one that I’m known for is the ribbon and tape textile. I made a TikTok about it that had a huge amount of views and responses and it’s been worn by a lot of people on red carpets. I think it’s really tapped into what a lot of women want to wear on the carpets and is definitely the thing that I get the most requests for. It’s basically made out of an everyday Christmas present or birthday present ribbon that we then sew to itself again and again to create this transparent, fluid textile. But then there’s also a lot of British, felted wools. Another signature would probably be studs. I like to use zips as well, like a metal industrial zip. There are things that keep coming back but I constantly want to keep adding to that bank of signature looks or textiles.

Who would you love to see in a Maximilian Raynor design?

I love – and I really want to make this happen – Gwendoline Christie. Obviously, she played Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones, but she’s married to Giles Deacon, one of my favourite designers. She works with Katie [Grand] who I’ve worked with regularly so I’m manifesting that, not just because of how she looks but because of how she speaks; her enthusiasm and eloquence just really captures me.  

But then also – I know it sounds a bit cliched – it is those unexpected moments from very normal people. Like, I had this sixty-year-old client in Germany find me on Instagram, she really wanted a top for this skirt. I just hadn’t imagined that this type of woman would be my customer, but I’ve tapped into something that she loves, which was this old blitz club, new romanticism that she has a nostalgia for. It’s those unexpected clients that I’d love to do as well. 

Or, not a person, but I’d love to clothe a film in a way that Gaultier did for The Fifth Element and be the consultant or the costume designer on an amazing narrative. That’s the dream.

My job is to not have people look how real people look, it’s about creating an escape, a fantasy. But, it’s about how real people love and loathe, hate and fight, and what’s wrong in the world.

How would you like to see your work develop and how are you approaching this?

I’d like to have some stockists. That doesn’t mean taking the foot off the pedal with everything else that people love from me which is not sellable, but I do want that; I want to dip my toe in a lot of ponds. If I could get one really good stockist where it makes sense, something like MatchesFashion or Machine-A, and just small numbers, I’m not interested in trying to produce too much. Then, something like NewGen, I’d love to be on schedule at London Fashion Week. Making that happen is something I’m pursuing in whatever way I can. 

In terms of the work, I want to keep telling stories and I want people to keep responding to them. My job is to not have people look how real people look, it’s about creating an escape, a fantasy. But, it’s about how real people love and loathe, hate and fight, and what’s wrong in the world. My work – I try not to speak about it too much – but it’s pretty politically charged. Like, I’m so disgusted by the current government and that does fuel a lot of the work. Maybe people think ‘Well, what are you doing? Making some nice, pretty clothes? You’re not solving anything.’ But to me, art and queerness is activism. 

The greatest outcome of democracy is somebody that can get up every morning and go into a studio and produce what they love and make their dreams a reality. There’s a tremendous amount of privilege to that, but there’s also a tremendous amount of beauty; not having to be these fucking slaves to a capitalist formula, or just making money to fuel their economies. Being engaged, and being a dreamer – those are the goals. Those two things seem antithetical, but to me, they actually can go hand in hand.

How do you think the fashion industry will evolve over the next five years? 

I had a lot of hope that we would have been there already with Black Lives Matter and with all the conversations that came from those protests and from COVID. But then, look at the runways, it’s still how it was. Wasn’t there just a horrendous percentage of plus-size models at Milan? They seem to only go for the same girls as well. It’s not enough to just have Paloma there. I fucking love Paloma, she’s amazing, but you’ve got to try and bring the new girls, guys and non-binary folks in. 

This nepo culture is a bit frustrating as well. I hope we evolve to a place where it’s not cancel culture and it’s not silence as complicity. I want that middle ground where we can criticise nepo babies but still fucking love Iris Law because she’s stunning. It’s not about ostracising those people, it’s just about having the conversation and acknowledging their privilege. 

I want that middle ground where we can criticise nepo babies but still fucking love Iris Law because she’s stunning. It’s not about ostracising those people, it’s just about having the conversation and acknowledging their privilege. 

Although the fashion industry can be tricky to navigate, Raynor’s talent and determination to succeed in the field is clear. His deep passion for storytelling is sewn into every intricately designed piece. Still so early in his career, it’s exciting to imagine what will be next for the young designer.

Liza Bilal
Liza Bilal

Liza became part of the BRICKS family in 2020, appearing as a Digital cover star for her anti-racism activism during the pandemic, and has since become the BRICKS Production Assistant and a Staff Writer, focussing on pop culture and sociopolitical issues.

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