Erika Maish is drawn to Americana and weird people living off the grid

Erika Maish is drawn to Americana and weird people living off the grid

Tell us a bit about yourself where are you from, how did your interests develop?

I’m from the suburbs of Los Angeles. I was always interested in art and design growing up I did theatre and took sewing class for years when I was at Topanga Elementary. From there, I started learning about designers and about Central Saint Martins, deciding for certain at the age of about 13 or 14 that I wanted to study there. I did my BA in Textile Design and my MA in Fashion at CSM. I’m now based in LA, working on producing variations of my MA collection for Opening Ceremony, trying to push the techniques further and work with more textile designers.

There are so many stories and histories in the US that are really weird and interesting to explore in my work. I approach these with the same method from MA Fashion, which focuses on this question of “who are you, and what do you like?” I’d pick any random images I liked, not worrying about any kind of concept, and would note correlations between everything. I went on lots of hugely inspiring road trips around the Southwest during summers. I realised how drawn I am to weird people in the US living off the grid   people out in the middle of nowhere doing things like building houses to live in out of bottles! I love that idea that you can make the world how you want to see it, that these people use what they have and embrace how eccentric they are to follow a not necessarily normal structure. 

People out in the middle of nowhere doing things like building houses to live in out of bottles!

How does the ‘Americana’ aesthetic look to you now, compared with previous decades? Have you seen it change in the time you grew up in Los Angeles, left for London, and came back to start your brand?

I’m really drawn to nostalgia. I do think a lot of things in LA are like that, very 60’s and 70’s influenced. It’s strange to live amongst an embraced aesthetic that’s not specific to this current period. But I don’t want to be just reproducing things that are “60’s and 70’s,” even though I love it and it’s still so prevalent here. If you unpeel this vibe, the way people dress becomes yoga clothing-heavy, very LuLuLemon. Juicy tracksuits have evolved into LuLuLemon since I’ve been away! 

How do you decide upon and source your materials – your thousands of little tiny bits?

My materials are all from eBay sellers. They’re used and dirty when I get them. I don’t know how people end up with 100,000 can-tabs, but they do! Having a background in Textile Design, I wanted to challenge myself in my MA collection to have everything refer back to how stuff is constructed and what materials you can use. The can-tab technique is a DIY children’s technique. There’s so much content on Pinterest of little kids making their Halloween costumes with that technique, and so many crafty can-tab handbags on eBay and Etsy. I actually really like stuff that is crafty in a bad way (“That’s so crafty, that’s not fashion!”) but I think they’re such cool techniques, and I wanted to elevate them and show that they can be used in a nice way. 

It’s strange to live amongst an embraced aesthetic that’s not specific to this current period

You marry materiality with tailoring in such a harmony, which not many textile-focussed designers are necessarily able to achieve. Is this a talent or something you’ve had to work at?

From the beginning, I wanted to keep it super simple with the clothing. At the end of the day, my samples could be what they are and be really abstract, but the research imagery of clothing I liked are of politicians like Jackie Kennedy and the Prada woman. This is something the MA really helped me with. Having a really cool concept and idea is great, but at the end of the day, am I making stuff that I even like, and that I personally would like to wear? I wanted a suit, for example, to be visually identifiable as a suit. The big challenge was making an actual collar out of can-tabs, or attaching a sleeve, or putting a pocket in. How I could make a highly shaped, retro swimsuit out of my beading technique. It was really an exploration of materials. 

Tell us about Positive Fashion at LFW September 2019.

The exhibition was meant to highlight designers that feature several strategic “pillars” in their work, including mindfulness of the environment. They invited me to build an installation of my pieces along with several other designers. Since then, it’s been a challenge to be labelled as a “Sustainable Designer.” I wanted to do fashion because I never wanted a “serious” career like medicine, which is directly responsible for life and death situations. But we really are, in an indirect way. 

Having a really cool concept and idea is great, but at the end of the day, am I making stuff that I even like, and that I personally would like to wear?

How is it to be an emerging designer in LA compared with London?

London has so many young designers and it’s such a creative city, it can be really overwhelming mentally to be there. When I’m in LA, it feels almost as though my life in London never existed   do I not have a degree, did I not do all this amazing stuff? They’re two completely separate worlds.

It’s also so hard to find good models in LA! There are tons of fake, grungy art people that who have tried to charge me $1200 for a day-long photoshoot. And they never want to use hair or makeup that doesn’t make them look typically beautiful. But because there isn’t as much going on here fashion-wise, I feel like there are good opportunities in certain ways. For now, I’m happy to be back especially during election time, but I plan to come back to London especially as healthcare here doesn’t seem promising, as of now I’ll lose it when I’m 26!

Photography: Kristen Jan Wong
Model: Sarah Wilson
Assistants: Matea Friend and Leann Huang

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