Against type

Saturday 16 February 2013

Designers

PHOTOGRAPHY BY YARA DE NICOLA
WORDS BY ALEX FURY

The dying art of writing: it’s not a mood-board must-have you hear every day from designers, even when plumbing the hidden esoteric depths of London’s finest. But Marios Schwab has made a habit of breaking the mould ever since his first Fashion East show back in 2005. After all, who would have expected sophisticated Alaïa-like mini-dresses from a young designer fresh out of college? Well, back then you wouldn’t have.

But seven years is an awfully long time in fashion, and Marios Schwab has become a fashion force to be reckoned with. He’s the bloke who kick-started that body-con ‘Result Wear’ revival that so defined the end of the last decade, but he’s moving on and away. His past few collections have slanted towards Hollywood glamour: red-carpet dressing via intricately embellished and constructed evening gowns sparkling with crystals. It’s a formula that Schwab has somehow managed to make cool again.

“We mix romanticism with something quite bold,” is Schwab’s take on his winning evening look, and there’s plenty of that for AW13. It’s mostly on the drawing board when I visit the Schwab studio: gossamer-fine dresses intricately scrolled with embroidery; velvet column gowns in rich claret, peridot and a regal blue. Schwab has medieval and Renaissance portraits pinned up around his sketches – give them a second glance and you recognise something of the Van Eyck in the drape of a cape, or a Da Vinci heroine in a high-bound collar.
But back to the dying art of writing. This season’s starting point was calligraphy, specifically the calligram (making a picture from words, don’t you know). Schwab’s picture, naturally enough, was the female body, via a collaboration with septuagenarian Tunisian artist Nja Mahdaoui. Mahdaoui created calligram artworks on which everything – from Schwab’s embroidery and lace (specially created for the designer in Switzerland) to the seaming of the dresses – was based. As with so many Schwab collections, while that inspiration seems implausible, the designs themselves make perfect sense, calligraphy scrolling around the topography of his dresses to frame the body.

Topography of the body has always been Schwab’s thing. Growing up, he “was obsessed with dance – I wanted to be a ballet dancer. I also had a connection with architecture… I was very, very obsessed with drawing buildings… so I was fascinated with the body and the linear works of buildings.” Add a Greek mother and Austrian father and you have a fashion equation that sees Teutonic rigour meeting Mediterranean sensuality. There’s something of that mix in AW13: when Schwab shows me slashed details on his knitwear, I remember that the Renaissance craze for slashed doublets was triggered by the German mercenary soldiers, the Landsknechte. Reportedly, they paraded battle-slashed clothes and the ladies of the court swooned. Just as ladies will swoon over these frocks.

At 34 and after a decade in the business, Schwab’s press-worthy Greco-Austrian backstory (with a stint as the only boy in a hardcore Hausfrau sewing Schule in Salzburg) has been often told. The favourite fashion fact? That his dad was an engineer at an underwear factory – because Schwab’s success is built on the fact that he cuts his frocks to cup and lift. He’s the London King of Cling, although I’m sure he’d wrinkle his nose at the moniker. What Schwab manages to do is fuse sexy with cerebral, as he’s always more interested in what’s going on inside your head, rather than inside your dress.

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