Designer Maximilian Raynor on London, literary tragedies and rebellious schoolboys

Raynor is one of nine student designers part of the Dr. Martens partnership with Central Saint Martins…

Even though he’s still a student, Maximilian Raynor’s designs barely get to know the walls and rails of his classroom. Most seem to be sketched, made and pulled for shoots and celebrity appearances faster than you can list the titles and faces that have sported his anti-structure silhouettes. 

Rita Ora, Clara Amfo, Bimini, Precious Lee, Maya Jama, Birdy, Shygirl and more have all at one point or another been snapped wearing Raynor’s materialised visions that linger delicately between ethereal sub-oceanic organisms and, in his words, ‘London-esque drama’. They’re garments that separate themselves from the crowded closet that is London’s fashion scene based not only on their distinct silhouettes, but on the attitude Raynor weaves into his work. 

Up to now, the designer has presented a singular collection as part of Lulu Kennedy’s Fashion East showcase at the Royal Opera House (with his sights firmly set on officially showing at London Fashion Week in the future). Returning to Central Saint Martins for his MA in Womenswear, Raynor has been selected as one of nine other designers selected to be part of the London university’s continued partnership with staple footwear brand Dr Martens. 

Dr. Martens is, of course, known widely in the fashion world as a sturdy option capable of flattering most outfits, picked up by Comme des Garçons, Jean Paul Gaultier, Yohji Yamamoto and more, and for becoming a trademark of punk dress. The brand will award £5,000 to the four winners of the initiative, headed by a panel of judges including Kennedy herself, Darren McKoy, Erin Magee (VP of Design at Supreme), and Fabio Piras (Head of the CSM MA Fashion Course). 

Here, Raynor speaks to HUNGER about his chosen design for the Dr. Martens project, the power of London, and his upcoming MA collection…

Ry Gavin: Hey Max! How’s CSM going? Any exciting projects you’re working on at the moment, other than your work with  Dr. Martens? 

Maximilian Raynor: Deciding to come back to CSM has really pushed me to re-challenge myself and delve deeper into the research process of my design practice. After the success of my BA collection and subsequent whirlwind of different opportunities I was involved in, I found myself churning out piece after piece and rarely devoting my time to being engrossed in a book cover to cover, or to devising a whole new design universe. Whilst I am still juggling my personal work in order to pay the uni fees, the MA has given me a structure within which to take that deep dive, and I am so excited for the next collection.  

I also just presented with Fashion East at The Royal Opera House. It was an amazing night and I am extremely grateful to Lulu, who also coincidentally was a judge on this Dr. Martens project!  

A nice shoo-in! Tell us a bit about where you’re from / life in London? 

I grew up on a farm in Derbyshire, roaming the fields doing flip-phone photoshoots with neighbours and dressing myself up in dog blankets or curtain couture! I was always a big dreamer and sketched entire collections everyday. I wrote to all my idols, most notably Vivienne Westwood, who invited me  to spend a week with her aged 10. Her advice and acknowledgement marked a real turning point in my life. London was always my dream too and I moved here as soon as I left school. Now I live in south East London where I have my studio.  

So you learned from one of the best… You’ve said before that your work and the audience your work has garnered encapsulates the chaos and beauty of London simultaneously. Does that mean London as a city will always be at the heart of your work, or do you plan to ditch this place for somewhere less expensive? 

London’s multifaceted mayhem is a daily inspiration. To me, London embodies rebellion and houses the most subversive individuals you can find. I think London will always be my home but I’ve spent long periods of time in Paris too, which I admire for its beauty and the style of its inhabitants. If the right job came along I’d move anywhere, because London can be in my heart without me physically residing there. I’ve often considered moving back to Derbyshire for my studio to save money (I love the countryside, nature and to be with my family), but I strongly feel our environments are absorbed and mirrored in our creative work and it’s important to surround yourself with likeminded, boundary-pushing people.  

Is that why so many great designers are coming out of London at the moment, do you think? 

I think there’s great designers all over the world and becoming too London-centric is risky. Accounts like Fashion Scout (who invited me to Rwanda to present alongside designers from Jamaica, Nigeria, Kenya and more for a show for King Charles) have proven time and time again that international talent deserves a voice and genius can be found on every continent. Obviously the London fashion schools are a conveyor belt for great work because London is a magnet to those who want to challenge, subvert and elevate, but it can also be a self fulfilling prophecy. If suddenly everyone decided a school in Derby was ‘the best in the world’ or the entire fashion press took their seats at the University of Lincoln’s show, then maybe we’d be speaking about the Galliano’s and McQueen’s of those establishments. It’s all an echo chamber of legacy, legendary alumni and the pilgrimage young talent takes to study at the same place as their idols. Or maybe that’s all too deep and it’s simply because London is just a bloody fun and fabulous city to be in. 

Whose work has always been a lasting inspiration to you? 

The aforementioned Galliano and McQueen as well as Vivienne Westwood have always been my north stars. They’re all storytellers who challenged the status quo, envisaged characters and took their audiences into whole new universes with their work. I’d add Dries Van Noten for his prints, Lagerfeld for his knowledge and taste, and Tom Ford for the glamour and sex.  

Are there any notable pieces of literature, art, film or music that inspire you? 

Gosh, where to start! Anyone who knows my work, knows that literature, art and film drives everything I do. My BA collection centred a lot around tragedies and romances such as Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and The Great Gatsby as well as dystopian films like Pasolini’s Salo and Blade Runner.  Right now I am fixated on faded glamour and a very 1970s aesthetic; the Chelsea Hotel, glam rock, Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick. All my designs are an amalgamation of all these cultural references and I’ve described it before as being like a chef, cooking with all these ingredients to deliver my take on well-loved classics.  

An eclectic mix for sure! What else is important for you as a designer? 

Rich research, a good eye, a strong sense of self and being an advocate for your team. I can’t stand the lack of crediting in the industry and have always pushed to create a positive, inclusive environment with everything I do. I enjoy being the director. I think I’m good at it, but I cannot stand those who fabricate the notion that they do it all by themself. Only the least confident treat people poorly. So beyond all the ideas, creativity and success, establishing a foundation of joy, support and community is important to me as I grow as an emerging designer.  

The ever important question: How does sustainability come into your work? 

I don’t want to greenwash myself and say I am a sustainable designer, although many of my textiles and design choices incorporate sustainable practices. I was vegan for 7 years and I have been vegetarian my whole life, so animal products are never used in my work but I’m the first to acknowledge the PU [Polyurethane] alternatives can be equally damaging to the environment (at least they don’t rip the skin off an animal’s back). I also collaborated with Pinatex, a pineapple leather company who generously donated some of their vegan leather to me. We’re all flawed and I’m conflicted on a daily basis. 

I developed a feathering alternative using hand cut organza and my ribbon-textile is zero-waste, but I also use synthetic fibres, plastic beads and cut patterns in copious amounts of paper. I am responding to this interview from Italy where I flew on a budget airline… You get the picture. One thing I do pride myself on is the social sustainability of my ‘brand’. I feel I have created a genuine community of individuals  who are listened to and appreciated. The production scale is all one-off and the customers receive a personal, bespoke service. This model will be challenged as I grow, but for now it’s a very solid and  sustainable way to work and interact with people.  

Talk us through your design for the Dr. Martens project… 

My concept for this collaboration began with the memory that Dr. Martens were banned at my school. I imagined this fictional schoolboy character who returns to school the day after being scolded for  wearing his Docs, in the ultimate DR. MARTENS look. I took the stereotypical uniform and mashed it up with my signature tape/ribbon textile and the iconic yellow topstitching of the 1460 boots. 

The campaign strapline ‘NO DR. MARTENS, NO FUN.’ stems from a list of school rules; no chewing gum, no hair dye, no piercings, NO DR. MARTENS, no fun. This character embodies the rebellion and freedom of expression that Dr. Martens is synonymous with. 

What can you tell us about your thought processes for your Dr. Martens 1460 design? 

My boot design is stud-on, stud-off and launches the idea that existing Dr. Martens customers can return to select stores to have their boot studded with four negative studs. Then each season Dr. Martens collaborates with a different artist or designer to customise the removable positive stud gaiter idea (collab zero being with Maximilian Raynor). Because the boot is so durable, all the people I knew bought one pair of Docs that lasted them years and years. This idea was my solution to get customers purchasing from DM more regularly and generate exciting buzz around each new drop.  

A lot of your work is characterised by big silhouettes, almost whimsical off-shoot designs that really show enjoyment and playfulness through the materials – how did you hope you could transfer this into your work with Dr. Martens? 

Although the Dr. Martens look is not as big-scale as some of my other work, it’s definitely got the same extreme sense of characterisation and narrative. I always approach things through storytelling and I think the story of my rebellious schoolboy is one many could relate to. There’s a cheeky playfulness to the dodgy raw painted details, a romanticism to the makeup and styling and an overall sense of anarchy, drama and fun.  

On top of this, objectively there are plenty of elements in your work of the seascapes and sub-oceanic shapes – how did you aim to apply something so fluid to a robust shoe structure? 

Although I’m known for the sculptural ribbon and tape textile looks, I hope my aesthetic is equally London-esque, dramatic, and edgy. I think Dr. Martens is a very good fit with my  world, and vice-versa. I was thrilled when CSM announced the project because I align myself with the subversive and punky yet universal energy of Dr. Martens.  

Talk us through the patterns you’ve put in your designs? 

The print I used on my customised 1460 boot is taken from my recent pre-collection which was the  prologue to my MA collection ‘The Hotel for Heaven’ which will be released in February 2024. It’s a distorted digital leopard print using scraps and offcuts from garments in the pre-line up. To me, the print conjures a seedy world of faded glamour and hints at the new setting I’ll take my audience to next year. 

Although you’ve already created some great traction in London with your designs, what mark do you hope to carve in the industry? 

In the short term, I’d love to show officially at London Fashion Week. In the longer term, I hope to keep inspiring the younger versions of me all across the world. I get many lovely messages from budding designers and fashion lovers, and this is often more affirmation than great press or prestigious clients.  

That’s a great note to leave it on.  Thank you, Max. Good luck with the competition!

ImagesCourtesy of Dr. Martens
WriterRy Gavin