Steven Ma's one-of-a-kind designs, with their instantly recognisable square-toe boots and architectural bags, each encrusted with a natural malachite stone, put the soul back into accessories - pun intended. SHOWstudio's fashion critic M-C Hill spoke to the designer to find out why his collections stand out in a crowded market.
M-C Hill: Where did the accessories idea come from?
Steven Ma: I am always passionate about creating and designing in general, especially for fashion. I see more opportunities in new luxury accessory goods rather than clothing, and I have lots of ideas and inspirations in my head, so creating accessories help me to set my ideas straight, to be more concentrated. For me, sometimes having restrictions and limits is more thrilling, for example I need to compress a lot of ideas, shapes and colours onto one pair of boots, and I enjoy the process very much.
Hill: Having been educated in New York and based in London, how did those cities' shapes and structures inspire the architecture within your designs?
Ma: I lived in New York City for 6 years and it was really fast paced, the city is literally a concrete jungle. It was difficult to slow down and look at things from a deeper perspective. The architecture within my design is very much an extract from my deeper emotions in reflection of my interpretations with shapes in architecture and the natural environment. Being in London really helps with my designing process as there are more natural environments and it's closer to the rest of the Europe so it's easier to travel and connect with more cultures.
Hill: Colour contrasts and geometric brutalism seem to guide your designs. Those stacked heel boots instantly come to mind. What interests you about this?
Ma: Things that have contrasts in life always attract my attention, even the littlest details, and that's what I find beautiful in life and designs. I think I love the contrasts because of the conflicts, but beauty, within them. As in my opinion, the focus was functionality in the beginning, brutalism in architecture, and the use of straightforward giant shapes, and the materials are a contract between humanity, nature and other architectures.
Hill: As shiny leather boots from Collection 1 move on to denim and suede versions in Collection 3, can you discuss your use of textures?
Ma: There are too many textures that I want to work with and it's really fun to experiment with them. In Collection 4 that we are launching in June, we are introducing rubber, sustainable vinyl and more textured leather like embossed lizard. In general, I just like to experiment new materials and textures and try to mix them into 'new luxury'.
Hill: Let's consider trends and influences. What separates your own Chelsea boots and angular toe loafers from various options in the market right now?
Ma: I have my first sketches of my shoes from 3 years ago when squared toes weren't much of a trend yet. And though people do follow 'trends' and 'influences', I rather not believe in it. Every shoe I make, even for the new collection with slimmer toes, I have an angle of the front toe to distinguish my shoes with other brands. There is a natural malachite stone on every single shoe in my collections to make the shoes unique.
Hill: The height of Collection 3 footwear has literally grown overnight. What inspired those thigh high waders?
Ma: I personally put comfort before anything else when I design, but most of the feedback from the buyers about the shoes are the heels need to be taller. What is selling well are the shoes which are taller; the brand needs income and to create not only what I want the world to see but to cater to the commercial needs for the customers as a young brand.
Hill: How did enlisting photographer Casper Sejersen and stylist Ellie Grace Cumming to translate your vision come about?
Ma: I am extremely grateful to have worked with Casper and Ellie. And I really admire them for taking the risks to work with emerging designers like me and to guide me through my first campaign. It feels amazing having them appreciating my designs. Ellie was there two years ago to turn my designs on paper into reality and she was very patient and an amazing mentor.
Hill: Lastly, what ever happened to Collection 2?
Ma: I don't know if I am allowed to say this but I am a very spiritual person and I've always hated the number 2...