The first time Clash meets Olivia Pietroni she is setting up a makeshift Walthamstow Market stall in a tunnel under Waterloo station, invited by Louise Gray to partake in the House of Vans exhibition the brand is about to launch.
We enquire about the name of her clothing label – Maxine. Clothing Co – to which she responds, “It’s quite sporty and quite strong, but then you associate it with Coronation Street”, a curious assertion but one that totally works in context.
Speaking over email a month later, Olivia expands on this, telling Clash: “I respect people that design under their own names – but I find it impossible to escape the idea of being a brand, I don’t feel like Olivia Pietroni as a brand name really represents my work… It’s a bit more aspirational Italian eveningwear.”
Maxine on the other hand, is the character she designs for.
Back in May she presented her final collection at the infamous St Pancras Hotel (think Spice Girls doing ‘Wannabe’), one of just 22 students from the BA (Hons) Fashion Design course at Middlesex University asked to do so.
While her name will no doubt shine as a ‘Class Of…’ member, she is quick to dispel too much association, having swapped the classroom for the industry several years ago, only deciding to complete the last eight months of the course on a whim.
It was during this period that she joined New Power Studio, the menswear label set up by Thom Murphy and Ebru Ercon in 2009. They presented on the fashion week schedule back when menswear was given a single, solitary day at the end of London Fashion Week, as well as producing a capsule collection with Topman.
“It was the most intense way to learn the fashion industry – I was working as Thom’s head designer after only interning there for about six months,” Olivia offers. “We always used to laugh about the ‘steep learning curve’ being more like a vertical line. We didn’t know how to do anything ‘properly’ so we made it up as we went along – but we knew what was cool and new and sexy and funny and rolled it into an amazing jersey dream with a ridiculous soundtrack twice a year.”
“Menswear has a lot to thank Thom Murphy,” she decides, “as do I. It’s a real shame New Power Studio isn’t around anymore, I miss the fashion stunts.”
Today though, Pietroni is reinventing herself as a womenswear designer, having always hoped to translate the menswear she designed into clothes for girls (“I think I had built up a lot of frustration by this point!”).
Her first collection – the one she debuted in May and that’s shown above – was inspired by women in bras, women in fights, women in fight proof bras, women with guns in their bras, women on the phone, women with phones in their bras, women in pants and tights, women in jockstraps and 1976 Californian car interiors.
The outcome, part soft velvet maxi’s part tough sports bras, bears passing resemblances to the aesthetic of designers like Nasir Mazhar and Astrid Andersen, most prominent in the undertones of sportswear and streetwear; other details include cut out shapes, playful elements, rich shades, visible branding, a high quality finish.
She respects what Mazhar does, naming him alongside Cottweiler, Christopher Shannon (“his womenswear collection made me feel like I want to be a real girl”) and Hood By Air (“it’s like a pure subculture of 2014; (they’re) completely changing the game and everyone is so ready for it”) as contemporary designers she admires.
Asked what excites her most about the fashion industry, she’s hesitant, admitting she’s unsure.
“I think the most confusing thing right now is that I’m actually really struggling with the fact that it’s not an exciting industry to work in. I can’t understand the requirement to produce huge collections seasonally and try and sell them to major department stores – it makes no sense for me to try to be a globally dominating high end label when I’ve just rolled out of school and I’m broke.”
She adds: “It feels like a slippery fashion treadmill that I don’t want to get on, the only way I can make it exciting is to step backwards a bit and try and remember it’s just making clothes for people.”
Currently that means producing costumes for Black Gold Buffalo’s lead singer Keziah Stillwell and teaming up (separately) with Dominik Ridler, Anna Howard and Luis Lopez-Smith, as well as building a website and an online shop. In five years time? She hopes to own a yellow Audi.
And that House of Vans stall: “Honestly, (it) mostly confused! It was a pretty incredible opportunity; I might have taken it a bit too far. People thought it was actually a shop, but with no staff, so therefore a free shop… Oh well, I spent most of my teens obsessing over Stone Island and stuff wishing I designed clothes that people wanted to nick, I guess I can cross that off my list!”
Words: Zoe Whitfield
Photographer: Takanori Okuwaki
Styling: Lee Trigg
Make up and hair: Stephanie G-M using NARS and Bumble & Bumble
Make up and hair assistant: Chloe Campbell
Model: Baylee Soles @ FM London