INTERVIEW: MARIA KOCH
A Chat with 032C Creative Director Maria Koch amidst the launch of Buffalo London by 032C at Browns East
032c is more than just a magazine, it’s an entire solar system, and the constellation of projects that make 032c so special revolve around Joerg and Maria Koch. The husband and wife team are Editor-in-Chief and Creative Director respectively, and alongside Fashion Director Marc Goehring are the living, breathing embodiment of the 032c sensibility. A magazine that eschews the zeitgeist and charges directly at its own interests, 032c manages to be both genuinely counter-cultural and also extremely current. Their latest issues features both a Kristen Stewart fanzine and a call-to-arms in praise of solidarity from German sociologist Heinz Bude, a characteristically surprising and delicious mixture.
Alongside their bi-annual print publication, 032c also mount exhibitions, run large-scale events, co-own the ultra-cool 24hr REFERENCE festival, and consult with any number of big-name brands. Each member of the team also takes on a myriad of projects individually, and its hard to imagine how they find enough time and energy to fit it all in. In some ways it all seems to work because of the real sense they give off of truly practicing what they preach – somehow Maria and Joerg embody the ethos of the 032c workshop without ever feeling self-important or cliched. Every decision they make and each idea they bring to life feels like a natural and organic progression from the one before, adding to the dense and rich world they have created.
032c have dabbled in apparel for a long time, ever since they started noticing that fans were bootlegging their own merch featuring the iconic logo (the name 032c is the pantone reference for the virulent red of the magazine’s cover). In the early days they simply put out small drops of tees and other basic pieces, produced in black or white with a bold logo as the only adornment. Unsurprisingly collaborations soon followed with everyone from Stüssy to Sade, to more recent hyped launches like their limited-edition adidas GSG-9 boot. The 032c brand alone is enough to shift a huge number of units, never mind the fact that the pieces they collaborate on have always exemplified their innate style, and intuitive understanding of what their audience wants.
A fully-fledged 032c Workshop Ready-to-Wear line launched at Pitti Uomo in early 2018, followed by a London showcase last November entitled COSMIC WORKSHOP, which saw the launch of their first ever womenswear pieces. Maria oversees the RTW arm of 032c, drawing on her experience working with brands like Jil Sander and Marios Schwab to lead a team of around 20 that includes patter-makers who are also experts in craftsmanship. Having worked on unisex pieces before AW19, Maria felt like womenswear was the natural progression of their ever-expanding output.
Alongside the womenswear, a special collaboration with fellow German style icons Buffalo Boots was also previewed at the COSMIC WORKSHOP presentation. The collaboration sees the iconic Buffalo platform integrated with “archetypal elements of classic luxury footwear”. For one style the weighty buffalo sole elevates a riding-inspired jodhpur boot, complete with leather uppers and traditional fastenings. Another look sees thigh-highs that reference fetish and club-wear realised in the materials of heritage leather labels. According to the brand statement: “It’s streetwear on steroids meets old world craftsmanship, because more is more, contradiction is beautiful, and we didn’t grow up to leave our youth behind.”
Today this collaboration launches alongside an exclusive capsule of the COSMIC WORKSHOP womenswear with a special installation and event at Browns East. The RTW collection hangs above a floor-level vitrine in which the boots are encased, almost like relics in an archaeological site. Translucent white plastic curtains hang in bands around the space, making it feel like the inner sanctum of the kind of Berlin club you would never make it in to. After a preview of the installation and the pieces, we sat down with Maria at Browns Eeast yesterday to talk about the collection and the collaboration.
Maria is full of energy and an un-sentimental kind of nostalgia when she talks about how the Buffalo project came about. “It really felt very natural […] because when I was in my teenage days I was like a rave kid, like a classic Berlin hardcore rave kid, and everybody would wear Buffalos and my parents never, ever would support that ugly shoe, so it wasn’t possible! But at the same time I was very much in to dressage riding, and so somehow this is actually really these two worlds of my teenager times.” Maria herself is wearing the short jodhpur boot and is clearly delighted with the end product, which she manages to make look at once very tough and very elegant. In person the shoes very much embody the contemporary mood, where cross-pollination of subcultures is becoming the norm. Yesterday’s Horse Girl is today’s Party Girl.
Elaborating more on the idea of the Browns East installation as a club space she notes the parallel design elements like the hanging plastic and flashing lights, which mirror the AW19 Cosmic Workshop presentation. “I really always liked this club-feel where you get lost and have a warm feeling and at the same time an idea of melancholia. You know this is a very, very interesting feeling, and we tried to achieve this a little bit downstairs [in Browns].” This carries through to the fabrication of the clothes and boots – when asked about their almost protective feel, she counters: “You know, I feel at the same time they’re very, I think, tender and soft and translucent. Or like, transparent you could say. And then yes you have the strong leather pieces, so there’s really this mixture, it’s really this club vibe.” This emotive approach to the design process is highly captivating, and speaks to the sense that everything 032c creates lives inside a very real world. The person who will actually wear these pieces, and how and where thy will wear them, has been truly understood and catered for.
Emotional connections aside Maria is pragmatic as well as creative, and that is what makes the whole enterprise so viable. She understands that you can create art as a fashion designer, but, “to describe fashion as art is a weird scenario because it’s produced, it’s produced to fulfil this certain product requirement, and to sustain in a commercial market, and this is not where art is coming from.” The workshop and the rest of the team clearly think carefully about how they approach their projects; how to make them thrive in a truly practical sense that still retains the artistic vision. 032c describes itself as a ‘Manual for Freedom, Research and Creativity’ and this triad ethos is as much a part of the RTW as it is the magazine, “this magazine is really like a huge research lab […] when I have the freedom and the proper research, [creativity] is then somehow the outcome.” This is the wholistic approach to everything they create; the editorial, fashion, research and consultancy teams all co-exist in the same space. The end-product for each team has been adapted through exposure to the others, and this results in something robust and sustainable. Commerce is not the only end-goal, but its key role is acknowledged.
In a pressurised industry undergoing a huge amount of change, working from this three-pronged foundation seems to be key to keeping 032c ahead of the curve. When asked about how the RTW collection will develop Maria is very candid about how they are grappling with the traditional seasonal model. “This is the big question […] I’m not really interested in the full collections, I feel, maybe the stores will tell you this, first of all it’s boring and it’s not really sustainable to do a 120-piece collection that nobody needs. And we felt it’s good to have strong, a very strong classic collection every half a year and then do what we do with the apparel as well, some drops.” Maria wants these collections to be not just desirable but also necessary, and wanted, and it’s a savvy way to keep them from ever feeling superfluous to the other 032c outputs. She is insistent that conversations with Browns and their other retail partners are a vital part of their process, allowing them to be flexible and reactive to practical elements like budget changes as well as her own inspiration. Putting the time in to researching what the market needs leaves more freedom to create, outside of the rigors of showing and selling on-schedule in an endless loop.
Crucially though, all of this careful consideration allows her to sustain her motivation in the face of the punishing fashion calendar. “This newness, makes me somehow not sad, but a little bit, it feels heavy. I don’t think wow the new collections I feel, phew!” – everyone is exhausted right? – “Yes! But I’m not at all exhausted from fashion, I’m exhausted by the rhythm, and by what it is now. So, I feel, we’re in to just figuring out what the answer should be to that.” If anyone is capable of figuring out the answer to the big questions, it seems more than likely that it’s Maria and the rest of the 032c team.
As we say goodbye Maria reveals yet another undertaking, as if all of this wasn’t enough for one woman. She and Joerg have recently moved out of the much-envied brutalist church they rented for years and bought a place of their own for the first time. With the new house comes a garden. “I really started to study what these plants want from me”, she ponders, “what do I have to do to make them happy?!” It’s comforting to think of this incredibly prolific woman taking the time to ponder the needs of her vegetable patch, even after all the demands that her work must place on her. Something so grounding and elemental seems like exactly the right tonic to working in a world driven by ideas and innovation. “It’s very rewarding.”