CPH FASHION WEEK: MAIKEL TAWADROS
Copenhagen Fashion Week is over. For the first time in a very long time it is like the city has taken a deep breath and the streets are noisy silent and empty in the early morning mist, even though I’m walking around in the very inner city. I am excited – today I will get a glimpse of the world behind the universe created by the half Egyptian, half Danish-born designer Maikel Tawadros.
He makes me feel comfortable from the moment I cross his doorstep. He provides me with a big cup of black coffee while I chitchat with his boyfriend, who carries their cute little dog around in the stylish apartment; a small apartment, but every single detail is well thought out – just as the brand’s DNA. It is so beautiful and streamlined that I half expect the designer to tell me all the anecdotes he thinks I want to hear – like a true perfectionist. Instead Tawadros tells me about his brand and thoughts in the most honest way I could have imagined.
Tawadros started his career in fashion on the opposite side of the field: in the sales department. His official title reads International Sales Representative for Annhagen in Paris, an exclusive Danish fashion house that is unfortunately now closed. Before settling at Annhagen he was interning at the Danish fashion house Bruuns Bazaar and working as a buyer for the Danish fashion store Apair. It did not feel right or comforting for him to work in the sales department, but it gave him a lot of irreplaceable knowledge about how the business in fashion works. Even though he did not design for the brand it is possible to find similarities between Annhagen and his own brand – the colour palette, the careless and effortless attitude and the flair for quality is consistent. When Annhagen closed down in 2009 Tawadros couldn’t find any reason to stay in Paris, although the city is known as the fashion industry’s hard beating heart. Appreciation and acknowledgement are more important to receive from friends and family than from people you have no personal relation to.
Tawadros moved to the apartment him and me are now located in – a little bright star in the grey streets of the inner city in Copenhagen. After a hard time working for the ailing Annhagen he was physically and mentally fatigued – a new base in Copenhagen was the fresh start his body and mind were screaming for. He wanted to nurse his original passion – designing and creating his own pieces. Consequently, he began his studies at Copenhagen Academy of Fashion Design, which made him feel he had found his right niche. In-between working in Paris and beginning his studies he had to work in a clothing boutique in order to pay his bills – and he hated it. It brings my thoughts back to the legendary artist Jean-Michel Basquiat that would not allow himself to work in the service business even though he was literally starving – he was placed on Earth to create true art (even though Tawadros refuses to speak of fashion as art).
As for Annhagen, Maikel Tawadros is attracted by a special group of customers, even though he is presenting his collections in the city hall of Copenhagen.
“I have a hard time placing myself into the Danish fashion business; Barbara I Gongini has her own niche and troop of fans, but I’m still an outsider, although I am lucky enough to have the best people around me. In other words – I am still placed on the ‘off schedule’ list of the shows during Copenhagen Fashion Week. What’s that all about? Off schedule is by Danish Fashion Institute defined as the commercial brands such as children’s wear for example. But Lisa Anne Stuyfzand, fashion editor of Dutch Elle, told me she loved my new collection, so I’m gonna be all right.”
Through our interview Tawadros slowly makes me think deeper of how the Danish fashion industry is screwed together. Is it actually that open-minded and embracing at the end of the day?
“The Danish fashion industry can be very commercial and still have room for designers as myself and Freya Dalsjø. I like that we are available to such a broad audience – but everything is still about money. If CIFF and Revolver (fashion fairs) weren’t here no buyers would visit Copenhagen. We really want to be included in the circle of key fashion cities, but we never will. It will always be Paris, Milan, London and New York. To me it seems like Copenhagen is forcing it too much. Yes, Style.com might have put Copenhagen Fashion Week on their list of coverage, but why can’t we just be the way we are? Scandi-cool.”
Tawadros believes his best market is not to be found in Denmark – his style is simply too special and different from brands like Designer’s Remix or Malene Birger and the more commercial fashion houses in Denmark.
“I am very proud of being Danish but my main focus is on the Asian market right now. They dare to do more and they don’t care. I like that. They take more chances and their economy is different. Sometimes Danish design is actually too cheap for the Asian market price-wise. The Asian market is better at understanding deeper aesthetics. It is very hard to get into that market – the social culture is different from the European and even just handing over a business card can be a long, complicated séance.”
No success without defeats. Maikel Tawadros had a very good customer in Asia who bought his entire first collection for a cool boutique in Seoul. Unfortunately it was impossible for the store to sell the Scandinavian brands and they never bought another collection of his.
“The money I received following a few big orders from Asia no longer exists and my parents had to invest in my business in order to keep it running. It is unrealistic to think that I can make a profit from my brand right now, but I wanted some kind of break-through within three to five years. I really hope that something big will happen soon. Fingers crossed.”
Tawadros knew from the beginning he founded his fashion brand that it would be extremely hard work, but admits that he was naïve when entering the fashion scene. Running a brand is about so much more than the actual creative execution. Maikel Tawadros knows how hard it is to work as a fashion designer. He finds the creative process and drawing most fun and speaks of the practical work as ‘a killer’, but realizes that it is an unavoidable part of running a business.
“It is impossible to receive any kind of financial help when working as a fashion designer in Copenhagen. If you don’t have friends and a kind family that want to help you, you’re screwed. That’s a shame. When being in the middle of the process it can seem rather chaotic. If I knew the things I know today I am not sure I would have done it. It is a hard job and I must admit that I have had some tough breakdowns – you need to have a certain psyche to do what I do. I bring so many emotions to my work. On the other hand, when something good happens it is a really, really great experience. I have learned I lot since my journey began and I had my first show. I met the people I work closely with today at that time. The tree has grown. It is important to have the right people around you. Backstage before my show I took a deep breath and thought: ‘all these people are here because of me – how crazy is that?’ I am very embarrassed and humble.”
Tawadros has a clear way of working: his collections have to be understandable and reader-friendly for everybody. This includes his latest collection as well.
“I am very conceptual and I like simplicity. This collection called The Nomad is very much influenced by my heritage even though it is not something that I think hard on in me in my daily life. I have tried to bring a few, Egyptian elements that I find important into the collection. It merges with the Nordic elements and I think it creates something beautiful altogether.”
And Tawadros did create something beautiful; a collection of beautiful leather, fur and knits in the colours of an autumn forest. It had a masculine touch to it; baggy pants and heavy coats, but when styled with slim leather pants and the thinnest, transparent chiffon it made sense.
Maikel has not yet kicked his way through the style.com-door – but one day he will get his big breakthrough and probably be considered in the same league as the people he admires: Ann Demeulemeester, Ann-Sophie Madsen, Rick Owens and Haider Ackermann.
“The world is not just waiting for you. I believe that hard work will pay me back in the end.”