MHI by Maharishi

Format loves military inspired fashion. So, when we found out that fashion label maharishi (which means ‘great vision’ in sanskrit) started out by reworking recycled, old military gear we were sold — an interview was a must! Set up in 1994 by now Creative Director Hardy Blechman, maharishi has developed into a global name and spawned a successful second line entitled MHI that seems to have become every bit as recognizable as its twin. We managed to break Hardy away from his creative duties to discuss the rise of maharishi/MHI, his thoughts on musical name-checks, Action Man, and what the future holds for maharishi as a creative force away from the fashion world.

“Of course it always feels good to get name-checked or see somebody you respect wearing something you designed or created.”

Format: With maharishi being such a successful and global name in fashion, what was the thinking behind the second line, MHI?
Hardy Blechman: When maharishi started in 1994, it offered reworked, recycled military and industrial work-wear surplus and hemp styles inspired by utilitarian design, and was well received by street-wear stores. As the collection developed, I began to use more luxurious cloths and hand embroidery, and the interest from high-end designer stores started. The collection continued to develop organically and eventually lost many of its original street-wear accounts as the price point rose. Paradoxically, by the time maharishi won the British Fashion Council’s Street-Wear Designer of Year in 2000, it was no longer sold in any real street-wear stores.

Mid to late nineties releases of limited edition products with Rostarr, Sharp, KAWS and others went over the head of many of the designer boutique buyers, so when I invited Futura 2000 to be a guest artist for the winter 2000 season, it was for maharishi and newly formed MHI. An abridgement of maharishi grammatically and physically, MHI is based on the core of maharishi, with a perspective most relevant in the street-wear market, and with an understanding that the mainline price point is out of many people’s budgets. A good jacket is luxuriously cut in embroidered Italian waterproof cashmere, but it’s still a good jacket when cut in printed cotton.

Format: Is it important to have a complete contrast in styles in terms of the two lines so that MHI is seen as a totally separate entity?
Hardy Blechman: There are natural differences, compounded by organic growth and development. If it’s true that there must be a complete contrast in styles, as you might be suggesting, then I’m fucked!

Format: MHI’s emphasis is on graphic-based design. With the fashion industry so into graphics and having their clothes ‘say something’, how do you go about being different and setting/creating new trends?
Hardy Blechman: maharishi means “great vision” which was always the intention in fashion. I’m less interested in setting new short-term trends than exploring the use of organic, natural fibres and recycled products, and producing at a level of quality and consideration in design to allow for long-term usage.

Format: maharishi seems so out-there, as opposed to the obvious military inspired designs with some of their work; you see ‘Camo’ influenced garments all the time in fashion, but some of maharishi’s pieces look like they wouldn’t be out of place on the front line in Iraq. Where do these influences and designs come from; are they very much a product of your military history?
Hardy Blechman: One of the main successes of my mid-nineties military surplus trading was the US Army Snow Camouflage over-trouser. Designed to be worn over full combat uniform, the pants were way oversized and had the longest crotch known to man. The low-priced baggy style was well received by the street-wear market, dyed in bright colours from the snow white, relabelled maharishi and sometimes embroidered. The pieces retained their original military labelling, and the fact that they were fashion recycled from tools of war subsidized by defensive budgets appealed to my vision for maharishi. The demand for the over-trouser exceeded availability of vintage supplies so I undertook to remake the pant, which I had been wearing for a couple of years, correcting any aspects of the original design that didn’t suit my practical needs.

The baggy leg was great, although if ever playing football or practicing martial arts (anything that involved kicking), a rolled up leg would keep falling down. This inspired me to add leg buttons at the 3/4 and short length. I had worked in design and production for commercial brands who weren’t interested in offering natural fibres. They thought that the fabrics created from them weren’t developed enough and feared that if they shouted about a small part of their range being environmentally sound, then they would attract attention to the rest of their not-so-green product range. I began maharishi (literally translated as “great seer” or “great vision”) with the vision of a brand beyond basic festival sack cloths, but in sustainable materials. I am yet to receive any official invitations to design military combat uniforms.

Format: How good does it feel when musical figures such as Lupe Fiasco name-check the brand in songs that will be played worldwide? I understand that he is a very big fan of the label.
Hardy Blechman: Of course it always feels good to get name-checked or see somebody you respect wearing something you designed or created. There has been a long history of supportive and often collaborative relationships between MHI / maharishi and musicians and artists of all kinds. I always prefer these kinds of relationships to flow naturally and be based on mutual respect; Lupe Fiasco is a superstar.

Format: Despite the recognition and accolades, could maharishi & MHI still be classed as underground clothing lines due to the fact that maharishi is still a privately owned company, and that it goes against the industry norms to a certain extent?
Hardy Blechman: Yes, depending on how you see the world and how you define underground.

Format: Advertising is an important issue within the fashion industry. Magazines play a big part, but has the internet helped the rise in popularity of maharishi & MHI? The Internet seems to have helped other underground brands become popular or at least make people aware that they exist. Would you agree?
Hardy Blechman: The internet has been a bit of a double-edged sword in so much that it has been great for cheap and easily accessible promotion and helped engender a do-it yourself ethos, much like punk did with the music industry. The other side of this is that the sheer number of people ‘doing it themselves’ has resulted in a swamping of the market with a fair amount of very average derivative products and has unfortunately provided a research tool and platform for a few good half-hearted copiers.

Format: The maharishi flagship store in London’s Covent Garden is very much a high concept design; it’s more than just a clothing store. After all, there is a gallery inside. But in terms of the arts and culture, how does maharishi plan to stay at the cutting edge of the scene? Do you see the long-term future of the label branching out past clothes and exploring different areas such as interior design?
Hardy Blechman: maharishi is a good vehicle to explore all areas of arts and design. I have been experimenting for a while now with interiors, including a Tibetan tiger rug, and with releasing editions of existing products with disruptive patterned graphics from cushions to B&W speakers.

Format: MHI’s autumn & winter line ‘Deus Ex Machina’ literally translates to ‘God in the machine’. Where has this inspiration come from?
Hardy Blechman: Our use of the phrase was more a comment on the literal translation than the ancient theatrical device it is more commonly used to refer to. The collection is intended as a comment on our current over-reliance on energy-hungry machinery and the over-mechanisation of modern life.

Format: What can we expect to see from maharishi & MHI over the coming year or so? Have you got any big name collaborators coming up?
Hardy Blechman: I know it’s not of interest to everybody, but Action Man was a part of my childhood, and somehow aspects of the uniforms and the 1:6 scale in general remain resonant with me. Action Man had its fortieth anniversary a year or two back and invited forty artists and designers to produce a piece for a charity auction, customized from a re-issue of the first Action Man created. I submitted Ghandi, the Inaction Man, with Indian handloom cloth from Shaila Gaikwad; it was sculpted in London by Neil Holdom. We are now releasing Ghandi, the Inaction Man in edition of fifty, each handmade in London. Spending much time playing with camouflage, in part in an effort to reclaim its symbolic value to reflect its roots in nature and art, maharishi may be mistaken for supporters of war. It’s important for me to release products like the Munitions Skip and Ghandi.

Ben Williams

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