GOOD TALKS Malaika Raiss
MALAIKARAISS has been an integral part of the Berlin fashion landscape for over ten years, creating womenswear pieces to be worn for life, not just a fleeting moment. As part of its unique curation, The Good Store has been showcasing MALAIKARAISS second season pieces for 6 years. Store owner Gerda Jünemann and journalist Eliza Edwards sat down with the designer to learn about Raiss’ personal inspirations, their female-empowering designs and what it really takes to achieve both local and, increasingly, international success.
Eliza Edwards: I’d like to start at the beginning; do you remember how and when your interest in fashion first began?
Malaika Raiss: I always loved drawing, in fact, both my grandparents were very artistic: my grandfather was a painter and I remember my grandmother had a sewing machine that you powered through a foot peddle, and I sat at her machine sewing clothes for my dolls. At 13 I started making clothes for myself and my friends, then we started playing around with photoshoots, we wanted to “professionalise” our creations. The bigger picture always fascinated me, the surrounding elements such as creating a campaign, creating photo series, I got pretty nerdy about it!
At 16 I took part in a Brigitte Young Miss (a magazine for young women) competition, they asked us to design “The Little Black Dress”. Then there was a photo shoot in Hamburg, the whole family was invited, this was at a time when there was budget for such things. Winning the competition was the final push I needed to begin my vision of starting my own brand in the future.
EE: When you were on the path to becoming a designer, who were your most significant inspirations and role models within the fashion industry?
MR: I’ve always been intrigued by figures in the fashion industry. When Stella McCartney was carving out her career I was following her in the press. I even had a folder at home, and still have, with all the newspaper clippings. And Karl Lagerfeld for sure, he is a multi- disciplinary genius. Stylistically, Marc Jacobs, although I don’t think you can compare it with the brand it is today. The standard of craftsmanship was on a completely different level than I’d seen before. Oh, and I’m a huge fan of Jürgen Teller’s work, I think that’s reflected in my aesthetic.
Now, I would say I am mostly influenced by Jil Sander and Celine (Phoebe Philo era), they are closely aligned with the essence of my own brand.
EE: When creating a collection today, where do you look to for inspiration? Are there places that you return to in your mind when creating?
MR: Travelling is my main inspiration, but it’s not necessarily the places but more specific moments. Whether it’s the colours, light, people I’ve met or even just the mood, all the aspects greatly influence my design: from the motif on a sweater to the shade of a suit. Berlin is quiet at the moment, I’m seeing the city in a light I don’t usually see, I’m enjoying this time to focus on my ideas.
EE: And how are you finding it now you can’t travel?
MR: I came back from Brazil just as this all began, I think I will be able to run off this inspiration for a while. I still have so much in my head, which I’m very grateful for.
EE: You established your independent label 10 years ago now, and have been labelled as one of the key women to have influenced the Berlin fashion industry – a unique but notoriously challenging landscape in which to create – how has the fashion scene evolved over the years?
MR: Creatively the landscape has definitely worsened, there are fewer designers who have exciting ideas and design to a certain standard. There are now far fewer brands with which I identify and feel aligned with. I miss the designers that started their brands at a similar time, they just don’t exist in the same way anymore.
EE: What do you think it takes to survive as a brand in this environment?
MR: I started with a partner who managed the business side of the brand and unfortunately, that didn’t work out. As he left the partnership I was left wondering if my business was ruined. I had to work out whether I was ready to go it alone as an independent brand. I want to be as creative as possible but it must be within a certain framework in order for it to make sense financially.
The brands that have survived are those with a strong business structure, of course the creative side is very important but you have to come to terms with certain boundaries, I’ve learnt over the years that in order to survive the numbers side of a fashion brand is very crucial.
EE: Your brand is recognised for its unique aesthetic – but I’m curious to know, how would you describe the essence of MALAIKARAISS the brand?
MR: Feminine ease is the best way I can think to describe it, but always with a twist, something quirky. The effortless style supports your own personality, not too complicated, but accents a woman’s unique character.
I don't dress for men, I dress for myself. The women who wear my pieces are not dressing for men but for themselves, the pieces have a “Man Repeller” element to them. I think that’s where we slot in, you can be taken seriously but still look “fly”.
GJ: Yes, you see this in your suits. I think MALAIKARAISS really captures this; professional but also stylish. I think that look is difficult to get right, but you guys do it really well. When advising customers in the store it’s incredible to see how they carry themselves in one of your suits.
MR: From season to season our power suits are getting more popular – that’s exciting for us.
EE: Who you think about when you think of women wearing your brand?
MR: Women who have something different about them, they aren’t necessarily societies idea of perfect, but there is something special about them. That it’s reflected in the castings we do for models, they don’t have to be conventionally beautiful, but have an edge to their look - after all, they have to speak to the language of the brand.
EE: We’re all familiar with fashion houses simply discarding their collections at the end of a season but, Malaika, you made the responsible, conscious decision years ago to partner with The Good Store to carry second season pieces. How did the collaboration come to be?
MR: We have known each other through mutual friends for a while. I remember visiting Gerda in the store in the early days of its existence and I just realised that the mood really worked with my vision for MALAIKARAISS. The curatorial direction immediately stood out, that’s where I think TGS stands out from other vintage stores. I knew that Gerda was someone who would translate the essence of MALAIKARAISS in the way I wanted. The partnership really grew in a positive way; the more constructive feedback Gerda was able to give us, the more selective we could be about the second season we would bring to her and therefore the better the sales.
You wouldn’t believe how many people contact us asking if we’re interested in bulk end-of- season selling, per 100 kg for 100€. I would hate knowing that my pieces were just shipped off, with no idea where they will land and how the clothes will be treated, particularly given the time it takes to make each piece. I remember my Grandmother had a wardrobe of 10 outfits tailored specifically for her. She would wear the pieces over years and years, treating them with great care and respect, repairing them where necessary. I grew up with this mentality and applied it to the quality of my pieces today. In terms of sustainability, of course we are always looking to improve our selection of materials, reduce packaging waste, but we embrace longevity within our clothing and refuse to bring out styles when the “trends” demand it of us.
GJ: It reminds me of the Dries Van Noten documentary, where he says: “My biggest wish is just to sit this one out”, slowing down the tempo and creating for life, not just one season. It’s interesting to observe how customers react to the MALAIKARAISS second season pieces and despite our “trend culture”, they are never interested in what season it’s from, the pieces are taken at their true aesthetic value.
EE: I also think that’s a result of the way you curate the store, how you present the pieces, you give second-hand a totally different meaning and I think the customers are good at embracing that.
GJ: Yes, we’re not a shop with big baskets filled with clothes. I want to give respect to the pieces and give them a second life. That was my mission from the beginning; the pieces need an appropriate setting combined with personal consultation and unique presentation.
EE: Gerda, The Good Store stands for quality and aesthetics, rather than a season or trends; could you explain the process of incorporating Malaika’s second season pieces into the store’s curatorial direction?
GJ: The Good Store has had a "unique" approach from the beginning. From the offset, I didn't follow the path of a conventional second-hand store. I didn't even ask myself if it would fit to mix second-hand and second season because I think more visually, not in seasons or trends or decades. A MALAIKARAISS pair of trousers, next to a vintage silk blouse, next to a Jil Sander trench from the 90s just works and conveys my message with The Good Store: celebrating the aesthetic value of each piece.
EE: The state of the industry is changing at a rapid pace, even more now. How are you feeling about the future? Are you able to see this time as a chance?
MR: I want to move out of my comfort zone. We have to take this time now to build new structures. I want to develop stronger B2C relationships with local customers, I think this will really help in terms of Berlin supporting its local brands. Many leading stores in Berlin don’t carry enough Berlin-based brands, I find that disappointing. I admire this in the Danish brands, they have an incredibly strong local community, this strong core is essential for a brand to survive. I want to listen to the customers, not the buyers who buy the collections for bigger stores because I came to realise that they have a different mindset than my customers. I want to know what they really want.
GJ: I completely agree with how important it is to create a strong local network both in terms of customers and stores carrying the local brands. We need to come together and support each other during this time and in the future.