Malaika Raiss has been running her self-named fashion label for seven years now. The young designer has long been an integral part of the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Berlin. We spoke to her beside the catwalk.
Malaika Raiss has long become something of a household name for fashionistas. The Berlin-based designer founded her label in 2010 with her feminine designs catching on in a big way, right from the start. A native of the German state Hesse, she studied fashion in Mannheim and worked as an assistant for Lala Berlin and Sabrina Dehoff. We spoke with her about her label, the daily challenges of the fashion industry and the question of whether femininity and power are seen as something of an odd couple.
She’s Mercedes: Malaika, your collection is called “No. 13”. Could you reveal a little more about how you arrived at this name?
Malaika Raiss: A collection is comprised of a host of different themes. We thought it was a shame to always just pick out one aspect for the title. So now we use numbers. I want the collections to tell a continuous story. It’s important to me that each customer creates her own look, independently of any trends. Our garments are designed to win hearts.
One shouldn’t allow oneself to be coerced into following a certain fashion role model – especially when it comes to office looks. I believe a woman must be allowed to be feminine.
What defines a woman who refuses to be guided by trends? Do you see this as a sign of strength?
Yes, absolutely. A woman who declines to allow her look and her views to be dictated by short-lived trends is always strong in a special way. She knows exactly what she wants and won’t be told what is the “done thing”. She has her own agenda and sticks to her guns. She does not dress for others - neither men nor women. She wears what appeals to her taste, thereby revealing how she sees herself. One shouldn’t allow oneself to be coerced into following a certain fashion role model – especially when it comes to office looks. I believe a woman must be allowed to be feminine. Many women think that showing femininity is detrimental to being taken seriously. But that is not the case at all.
Is it more difficult for female designers to assert themselves in the fashion industry?
A woman has more of a struggle on her hands, yes. I also believe that men really are better at networking. Also, many women reach a point where they have to decide whether to have a child or to pursue their career. It is difficult to combine these two roles in an industry that involves heavy and seasonal workloads. However, those women who have pulled it off show markedly more continuity in their careers than many of their male colleagues. Take Isabel Marant or Phoebe Philo, for example. That is an important point. There’s a lot of coming and going at fashion houses but these women hold their own. One reason being that they produce fashion that sells because their customers identify with it. This is hopefully appreciated by the companies’ male CEOs.
What advice would you offer up-and-coming female designers?
Firstly, get some experience behind you before you set up a label of your own, as this is a very difficult move without financial support or the backing of a fashion group. But above all, it takes dedication. Investing time and money in the fashion sector does not always yield fast rewards. It takes patience and you can only stay the course if you passionately believe in what you are doing.
Have your partnerships – such as early on with brands4friends or most recently with Edited – proven advantageous to you?
Definitely. Partnerships provide access to totally different target groups. That is important to enable one to grow. We also enjoy doing projects that allow us to push back the design envelope. The “Star Wars” jewellery collection is a good example. That was very good for the internationalisation of the brand. Today, we sell to Denmark, Japan, USA, Australia – it’s crazy. This collection brought us a great deal of attention. Jewellery also offers a perfect opportunity for our customers to become acquainted with the brand. Not everyone is able or willing to spend 400 euros on a coat. This way, people can carefully try out what the brand has to offer.
From where do you draw your inspiration for new collections?
I soak up everything – exhibitions, films, music, encounters. So my ideas don’t spring from any fixed pattern. I collect things throughout the year. When I then set out everything in front of me, I usually already have the makings of a new collection. A long process still lies ahead until the models work and match the ideas in my head, though. I’m a perfectionist after all. I expect a lot of myself and of the people who work with me. But you nevertheless have to learn to compromise if you want to work along market lines.
I’m the quiet type, really. So Fashion Week can sometimes be a bit of a strain for me. But it really touches a deep chord within me when everyone is beaming after the show. That’s the loveliest thing about my job.
Now that we’ve talked so much about your work: How do you recharge your batteries after all this stress? How do you recuperate?
I’m rather a quiet sort of person. I enjoy sitting on my sofa or my bed and drawing most of all. I socialise when I have to. So Fashion Week can sometimes be a bit of a strain for me. But it really touches a deep chord within me when everyone is beaming after the show. That’s the loveliest thing about my job. Above all, friends and family help to keep me on an even keel. I’m often at home. In the summer we all go on holiday together. We also enjoy engaging in long political discussions. That’s always a pleasant contrast to all the fun of the fashion circus (laughs).