Maximilian Davis Has Lived the Designer Dream: Dressing Rihanna

Photographs by Charlie Gates

Maximilian Davis wears his own clothing  and accessories.
Maximilian Davis wears his own clothing and accessories.

For our annual “The Originals” issue, we asked creatives—pioneers in the fields of art, design, fashion, comedy, activism, and more—to share their insights on staying true to themselves. Read all of this year’s interviews here.

You launched your eponymous label last fall, at 25, through the London-based incubator program Fashion East, after working as a junior designer for Grace Wales Bonner. Did you always envision your collections being so closely related to your roots in Trinidad?

I did so much research when I worked for other brands, and I felt like this was the first time I could actually do something that was a lot more personal. The first collection was inspired by Carnival, and at the time, I couldn’t travel because we were in lockdown. So I was watching a lot of videos on YouTube and listening to a lot of Soca and calypso music. And then going through my grandmother’s vinyls, just seeing the garments they would wear on the covers, the kinds of fonts they used.

How did your family react to such a personal starting point?

They were super proud. They just kept on recalling memories of me sewing in my bedroom until the early hours of the morning. I’d wake up two hours before school, making tops for me and my friends to wear to clubs. [Laughs] If I wanted to make something, I would do it.

Who was the first person who made you realize you could break the rules?

Well, there were two: my older sisters. They would sneak out and lie that they were going to a friend’s house, and then they’d go to a club or a guy’s house. That’s when I realized I could break the rules.

And also sneak out?

I actually never snuck out. I lived so out of the way from everywhere, so I had to get dropped off. I was a good teenager, I think.

What was your style like as a teen?

It started with a new rave phase: skinny jeans, high-tops, American Apparel hoodies in every color. And then I got into more avant-garde fashion, and I started wearing black clothes; a bit darker, more gothic. This was years and years ago, when Riccardo Tisci was at Givenchy. He did the leather leggings and the gold chains, and I was just like, Yeah, this is what I want. That started me on the path to the way that I dress now, and I think it also has an influence on my aesthetic and my work.

What’s the most prized possession in your closet?

There’s a tuxedo jacket I made for my autumn/winter collection that’s like my baby. I really went to town with the tailoring and construction and applications. But I haven’t worn it yet.

Why not?

I’m too scared! Like, where am I going wearing this? I haven’t had the right event yet.

Do you have a style icon?

When I was 4 or 5, it was Usher. But when I was really getting into fashion, it was the Olsen twins.

Maximilian Davis, in his London studio with model Sienna King, who wears looks from his fall/winter 2021 collection.

Sienna King wears Maximilian designs and her own shoes.

Makeup by Mattie White for Saint Luke Artists using the Nue Co.; photo assistant: William Richards; model: Sienna King at Tess Management.


What was the most valuable thing you learned from working with Grace Wales Bonner?

The way that you can use literature, music, or anything, really, as a form of research. It’s something we weren’t really taught in university, and I think no one else has really explained or shown that kind of method.

How do you personally do your research?

I’m not going to lie, the starting point would probably be Google. And then films, music—but it really varies. Sometimes even food could be research.

What did you grow up listening to?

My dad was really into the Arctic Monkeys, Jay-Z, Chet Baker. My sisters were going out and listening to house music. My music taste was all over the place, and it still is.

Is there a musician you’d most want to dress?

I feel like I’ve done it: Rihanna. That was the best. The best!