“There is a lot happening on the topic of gender fluidity in fashion but there is still a lot more that can be done!”

Here at GAY TIMES we’ve had the pleasure to explore the unique mind of luxury bag designer Max V. Koenig. The young designer puts his ever-curious spirit and cosmopolitan lifestyle at the heart of his designs. The result is a collection of elegant bags that follow the natural structure, grain and mobility of leather. Born in Austria to French parents, Max V. Koenig grew up between Nice and Vienna, this cross-cultural upbringing and passion for travel have had a significant impact on his design signature ever since.  At the heart of Max V. Koenig’s design is an exquisite attention to quality. Max has provided us an insight into his story of craftsmanship, textures and refinement.

How did your creative journey begin, do you remember some earlier points of inspiration? 

I would say the creative journey started when I moved to London to study fashion jewellery. During my studies I shifted more and more towards using leather as a main material. The move to bags was a natural transition to me as my interest in leather as a raw material became increasingly present in my design process. Craftsmanship and pushing the boundaries of artisanship has always drawn my attention and that is something you can see in every collection I design

When it comes to inspirations I have many references. When I was young I was the biggest fan of Babar the Elephant. I am not sure he ever was as big as he was in France in anywhere else in the world. He was my very first style icon with his bright green suit and red bow tie and gold crown! Later on I started to draw inspiration from traditional saddle making with its hand stitching process. This craft runs in the family, my late grandfather was a jockey and repaired his saddles himself. The very first bags I have made were completely hand stitched. I didn’t have a sewing machine at that time and it was the only way for me to make my samples.

When approaching the luxury fashion market, what gravitated you towards accessories and bags? 

Accessories are a key element of styling. You can wear a very clean and simple outfit and make it into a striking look with the right shoes, jewellery or bag. I see accessories as something very personal. For instance a bag can become an everyday companion, a partner in your daily life. I like the idea of a bag as an extension of yourself. A bag carries all your most valuable and personal belongings.

You’re heavily inspired by your travels, how does this feed into your work? 

I travel a lot for work and in my free time. Coming from a family living both, in France and Austria and myself living in London I am in constant motion. Travel is one of my key inspirations when I work on my collections. I would say I draw my inspiration mainly from the process of travelling and my experiences in the places I visit. During escapes like this practicality and functionality are key and this is a strong element in my designs. The staple products of the Max V Koenig brand are the large Orion tote and the Aquila bags. Both are ideal for a short trip abroad or a spontaneous getaway.

How important is it to you to work closely with the factories and manufacturers, is there a conscious effort to support small businesses? 

Having close relationships with my work partners is very important to me. I have a very close relationship with my factory and leather suppliers, we are like a family and constantly in contact. I am the designer but they are a key element in the process of bringing the product to life. Nowadays it is difficult to find small leather factories. The majority have gone out of business or have been bought out by big players. I am very lucky to be able to work closely with small businesses to source my materials and this is something that is deeply rooted in my brand philosophy.

What are your views on sustainability? As fashion consumers do we have a responsibility to make environmentally ethical choices? 

Luckily in the past years we have seen that sustainability is not a fashionable trend but an imperative. The fashion and garment industry is one of the most polluting sectors in the world. This is why with my brand I encourage my customers to buy less but better. I ask them to make a sound decision on investing into a long lasting product rather than buying as a quick fix. Max V. Koenig as a brand sources as much as possible materials locally, looks to reduce the carbon footprint and manufactures with companies that pay fair wages to their employees. We are also having a project in the pipeline that will involve organic handwoven fabrics.

As it’s currently the summer of pride, what does pride mean to you? 

Pride is an important celebration every year for me! It has become a tradition for me to meet up with my friends to go and participate in the parade in London. This year’s pride month was unique as we celebrated Stonewall at the same time. I was also lucky enough to be in Vienna, while the city was hosting the Europride. The atmosphere was incredible!

It is also a celebration that is steadily growing and expanding on various levels. Every year there are more things happening around the pride month. This year for example a couple of magazines and retailers such as Bloomingdales in the US had their social media taken over by selected LGBTQ+ spokespeople or the strong focal point on educating the broad mass through the screening of LGBTQ+ movies and documentaries on various channels. The pride month is more and more trickling into mainstream and I think this is overall a very positive step forward towards more acceptance.

 Do you think fashion is becoming more fluid and inclusive or is there more that needs to be done? 

There is a lot happening on the topic of gender fluidity in fashion but there is still a lot more that can be done! I think its great that we surpassed the stage of using androgynous models and expanded the spectrum to using models and influencers of all sizes, colour and genders. I was very excited to see some big established fashion and couture houses using trans models for their catwalks.

I have just presented my Resort collection in Paris and for this collection, which is a little different to my core range of products, I have made the deliberate choice to shoot my new campaign as a video with a friend of mine who is a drag queen from London as my muse and protagonist in the shoot. I wanted to do this project for a while and the theme just fits perfectly with the mood of the new collection. The aesthetic is very camp and tongue in cheek.

From a personal level I never had a lot of time for gender specification in the fashion industry. If I see something in a store that I like, I buy it no matter what the tag says. There has been more than one occasion where I ended up stealing my sister’s oversized coats and she would take some of my stuff in exchange. This is also something I try to convey with my brand and collections. I have a large range of products that work well for both women and men. Max V. Koenig should be seen as a unisex brand.

What can we expect in the near future from the brand? Are there other areas you wish to explore? 

I have just launched a fun and playful collection with a lower entry price which has a strong focus on functionality – with waist bags, small bucket bags and pouches. The collection is launching this fall!  Besides that I don’t want to say too much but you might see a couple of collaborations popping up soon and there is a rumour that you will soon be able to accessorise your Max V. Koenig bag with some shoes…stay tuned!

Shop the collection at maxvkoenig.com