Some fashion collaborations are simply meant to be, and David Koma’s appointment at Mugler is one of them. “I always wanted to be artistic director at Mugler and I said it aloud, I guess, about 10 years ago,” says the Central Saint Martins-trained designer from the sleek building that houses his own label’s HQ in east London. In addition to taking the reins at the prestigious house of Mugler, David has been running an eponymous label since graduating in 2009, and dressing the likes of Beyoncé, Rihanna and Natalia Vodianova in the process – not that he would namedrop.
“It is very separate. From the beginning I made a decision that no one from my team would go to [design at] Mugler,” he explains. “As much as I love Mugler, my brand is extremely important to me and I would never do anything to harm the business I have been developing for so many years.” It’s clear he already feels comfortable in both roles, spending three days in London and three in Paris, adding or subtracting days depending on which show is closer. (Not to mention fitting in family time with his 11-month-old daughter.)
His inspiration, he says, is simple: strong women. “I love when a woman is mature, when she is confident, when she has a sparkle in her eye. I always love when women have incredibly successful careers, but at the same time are successful in terms of being a mother,” he says. The David Koma aesthetic is sexy, sassy, sculpted, svelte and built around the idea of female adoration, so it made sense when, in December 2013, he was announced as artistic advisor at Mugler, following a reshuffle that saw Nicola Formichetti, the former advisor and more sensationalist designer, move to Diesel. It was a no-brainer for David, who had been obsessed with the brand from an early age.
“I started to be interested in fashion when I was eight and I remember watching a documentary about Mugler,” he recalls. “I was really obsessed about it and recorded it. I watched it over and over and it was the biggest fashion moment.” And when that phone call came? “I was super excited and comfortable at the same time,” he says. “I guess with those offers, a lot of designers go through a lot of questioning – whether it’s the right house, the right move, should I do it? I’ve had different offers with those thoughts, but not with this one.”
Signed, sealed, delivered; and a new chapter in the house’s history began. It was a different story fromFormichetti’s vision, which saw Lady Gaga on the catwalk and women seen as angels and otherworldly beings. “I didn’t want to look at what went before me or analyse it at all,” David explains. “When you’ve been given your dream job and a house you know by heart...” he trails off. “If it’s something you don’t know, then you research and investigate it, but I just trusted my instincts. Right here, right now, I feel what is right, without overthinking it.”
His instincts have stood him in good stead so far, with two collections – a pre- and main line – under his belt, both well received by buyers and press alike. “The first show was quite minimal, very clean tailoring,” he says. “Obviously, I love the body, so it was respectful to the female form. Then I defined the direction of the new tailoring, which is minimal, less extreme, quite modern. Obviously there are the Mugler codes that I’ve used, like the hardware and stretch chains.”
How would he compare his aesthetic to that of Thierry Mugler himself? “I would say Mugler is more about the sharp tailoring, trouser suits and much more masculine, whereas David Koma is more about dresses than tailoring, and slightly younger,” he muses. “I know it inside.”
The other key factor for him to bring his vision to life was the models. Cue a glamazonian Karlie Kloss striding down the Paris catwalk in a scythe-slit tux and, to close the show, a cut-to-the-thigh skirt and stomach-baring halter, all strength and sass. “We worked with incredible girls who looked fresh and powerful,” he says. “So it was a celebration of female beauty, which was my idea of new Mugler. The house is very personal to me. I just want it to be successful, bring it back on track.”
It may sound simple, but years of running his own business have contributed to David’s self-assurance. He knows what is required to make a brand successful. And beyond the clothes, for Mugler, that means tackling fragrance. “Thierry Mugler was a fashion house and then came perfume, but because the brand stopped for quite a while, the perfume became more famous,” he says. “We should not forget that it is a fashion house, which is why we launched ready-to-wear. We’re not doing fashion to support perfume, we’re doing it because we believe in it and we think it will lead to a new perfume.” This clothes-first vision was reflected in strong, stripped-back catwalk shows – no bells and whistles – and in the pre-collection. New fragrance can come later, as will bags and shops.
Despite the inevitable stress, David appears to take his new responsibilities in his stride. But then, as a student – BA and MA – at Central Saint Martins, he has been well trained for this life.
“I had the best time of my life there,” he remembers, eyes lighting up. “I enjoyed every single day. I was living in a city I love – I am obsessed by London – and I was doing fashion at a college where I wanted to be. My student life was great. I was lucky enough to be taught by Louise Wilson, who was my idol. I can’t thank her enough and am extremely proud to say that she was my friend. I wanted to make her proud.” He likens his time there to being part of a club. “I can’t even describe how happy I am that I am from that college,” he says.
When we speak, it is less than a month until his two autumn/winter 2015 collections are unveiled, and David is back to Paris tomorrow for Mugler. “I like to sketch a lot, but the main decisions are made when pieces are arriving,” he explains. “When I see new pieces come in, I get more inspired. I think it’s a case of, when there is no more time, we stop.” And with that, I get out of his way so he can get on with it.
Text by Jessica Bumpus