When you think about it, 29-year-old Georgian-born, London-based designer David Koma was a natural choice for the creative director gig at Mugler. Heck, he basically launched his career at the ripe old age of 13 because of the eighties icon. Still, even with a vast knowledge of a house’s history, it’s not easy to revamp a heritage brand. Nicola Formichetti gave it a go when he signed on as Mugler’s creative director in 2010, only to step down three years later following a series of hyper-dramatic, Lady Gaga-infused runway shows and mixed reviews. (A brief aside: Formichetti made the right choice—he’s excelling in his current role as artistic director at Diesel.) With mega-brand revivals comes the danger of producing designs that are costumey or derivative. But Koma’s debut Resort ’15 collection for Mugler, which he unveiled at New York’s Milk Studios yesterday, was neither (see for yourself, here). Determined to honor his own vision, while subtly nodding to old-school styles, Koma set out to create a modern wardrobe rather than a spectacle—hence his choice to kick things off with a quiet Resort presentation instead of a high-wattage Paris runway show. The crisp clothes honored the saucy Mugler ethos but still felt distinctively David Koma. Sometimes, the best way to refresh an iconic label is by doing something a little different. Here, Koma speaks to Style.com about avoiding the archive, his plans for Mugler, and what it means to respect a legacy.
—Katharine K. Zarrella, Style.com
When I first met you in London back in 2011, you told me that Mugler’s work inspired you to become a fashion designer. What role have his designs played in the development of your aesthetic?
I started designing at a very early age. I saw this documentary when I was 13 about Mugler, and it had all the shows on video. I recorded it and I watched it again and again—I was completely blown away by the visual effects and the fantasy, the body proportions, the cuts, and the materials. And from that day, I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. Obviously after that I discovered different designers while moving to London and attending Central Saint Martins, but Mugler was my first big fashion impression. I love anatomy—I took anatomy classes at art school in St. Petersburg—and I love the female body and cutting and working around it to make beautiful and extremely flattering clothes. I’ve learned a lot by looking at [Mugler’s] collections and his amazing cuts. So I would say he was a really big influence for me as a designer.
Why do you think that Mugler approached you to take this job? Why did they think you were the right person?
I don’t know, but it’s weird. I always knew that one day I was going to receive the call. And then when I received the call, it felt really natural, and throughout the interview process I was myself. I really believe in faith, and it was just the right time, the right moment, and the right fit. I think they just trust me.
You told me you didn’t look at the archive when designing your first collection, which seems counterintuitive when you’re starting at a heritage house. Why did you take that route?
I thought it was really important for me to show my own personal vision for the house and to explore my handwriting for the new Mugler. I wanted to respect the house codes while creating new ones. Season by season we’re going to be incorporating more details inspired by the archive pieces, which are incredible. And I’m not just talking only those amazing couture shows that everyone knows—there’s so much more that I’m really excited to be discovering every day. But for the first Resort, I thought it was important that the collection was really me.
Was debuting your first collection for Resort, rather than during Spring or Fall, a deliberate choice?
Yes. I thought it was very important to build the range and build the collection and focus on the wardrobe rather than the images for a show, which we all love and are very excited by, but I felt it was key to create a platform beforehand. I love the idea that we’re presenting in New York at Milk Studios—I think it looks very modern, fresh, and relevant to what we’re doing right now. It felt really natural to begin like this.
How does a designer go about respecting an iconic house such as Mugler while staying true to his own aesthetic?
One of the first steps is not messing around with the archives. I love the legacy of the house from the bottom of my heart. And whatever I bring, I think doing it gently, and understanding the woman’s body in a similar way, but in a different era, is important.
This collection is much more real-world wardrobe than what Nicola Formichetti was doing. Did Mugler ask for that specifically?
No. I was not specifically told how to approach Resort. I just felt the new, modern Mugler woman is someone really active, energetic, maybe in business. She’s a cool, young woman, so it was important for me to develop the line before creating those statement runway pieces. Behind every successful business, there is a depth and a range. I thought it was the key to first fix that.
Did you learn anything from looking at Formichetti’s collections for the house?
We didn’t talk about it. And when I entered the house, I didn’t analyze, I didn’t investigate any of that. All my decisions and all my designs were purely based on how I feel about the house, what I love about the house, who I am, and what I want for the house.
Will we see some of Mugler’s signature dramatics on the Spring ’15 runway? Or are you going to keep it a touch toned-down?
It all depends how I feel at the time. I really, really love trusting my instinct and how I feel in a certain moment. I don’t know what’s going to be in the future, but I think it’s going to develop much more for the runway show and forthcoming seasons. Mugler is going to grow into something very solid.
How does designing for Mugler differ from designing your eponymous collection? Do you change your approach at all?
The design process is similar because I try to be true to myself. But I’m working in two different cities with two completely different teams. It makes a big difference. We’re really embracing tailoring at Mugler, which is very different from what I do at David Koma, so that’s a big change. But while I’m designing, the way I approach things, I’m always true to myself and I do what I feel is right.
Have you had any interactions with Mr. Mugler?
Not yet, but I’m very excited to meet him. I think we’re going to hopefully meet quite soon.
Do you have aspirations to do couture?
Yes! I wouldn’t say it’s something that will come really soon, but Mugler is known for incredible couture pieces, so at some point, why not? I think it’s very important also to have direct contact with the customer and to make some one-off pieces.
What are some of your goals for the house down the line?
For the first year, we’re going to concentrate on the ready-to-wear and making that really strong and perfect. We plan to launch an accessory line quite soon, but Thierry Mugler started with a clothing line, so we thought it was key for the relaunch to focus on womenswear. Shoes, bags, and accessories will come straight after. Plus, Mugler has one of the most successful perfumes in the whole world, and it’s interesting for me to be involved in the perfume side, and to bring clothing and perfume together. It takes time, but that’s what we’re working on. Both teams can get to know each other more and be a bit more collaborative for upcoming perfume launches, and what’s going to happen in general with the Mugler legacy.