Berlin-based fashion designer and business woman Malaika Raiss, whose name means Angel in Swahili, spent her childhood wandering around the globe, falling in love with the colors, prints, cuts and fabrics popular in different cultures and collecting feelings and ideas that she would later integrate into her own designs. She has released eight womenswear collections so far, all well-received, all unique. Here, she discusses the importance of combining comfort and fierceness with a touch of fun and retro, as well as the unbeatable power of her Dinosaur lucky-charm.
Hi Angel. Give us an idea of yourself, your personal and professional experience.
Yeah, you got it right, my name "Malaika" means "Angel" in Swahili – a name I can thank my parents for since I grew up traveling all around the globe.
I am 29 years old now and launched my eponymous brand four years ago. Before that I worked as a designer and consultant for several Berlin based brands, as well as teaching textile technologies at ESMOD fashion school, which I still do now. Ideas kept on growing in my head, so I decided to start my own collection. By now, there are four girls on my team, Malaikaraiss is sold in fifteen stores in Europe and Asia and our own online shops ship worldwide! Our business is constantly growing new categories like jewelry to our portfolio.
How do you see and define Berlin's fashion and where do you think your work stands within it?
From my perspective, Berlin has its own very individual style. As a designer, I see absolutely no limitations for my ideas, no boundaries. The city is a creative melting pot, there´s so much going on within the art and fashion scene that contribute to the city re-inventing itself every day. My collection and my work don’t have an exclusively commercial approach but it is really important to me. Being creative and experimental is wonderful, but a collection that actually sells and that women all over the world love to wear is even better!
From your creative perspective, what style do your latest designs exemplify? What is it most influenced by and who did you design it for?
My collection is high-end fashion but always with a fun-feminine twist. It's mostly inspired by the powerful women surrounding me but also style icons from the past decades, especially from the 70s. I try to integrate those vintage details into my designs to then blend them with very modern and sophisticated styles, hoping to create something unique along the process. My designs are made for a type of strong, multitasking woman who likes to feel comfortable yet fierce in what she is wearing.
How do you integrate jewelry design into your creative development? For example the dinosaur necklace- what does it contribute to the collection?
That's what I would call the “fun twist” I was talking about earlier –the little things and tiny details that make us girls smile and which are affordable as well, are so important. Pieces like the Dinolove necklace just happen naturally. I grew up watching Jurassic Park and thus surrounded by T-Rex action figures, so somewhere along the way a stuffed dinosaur became the team’s lucky charm. It would sit in the front row at each one of our runway shows, when one day we were goofing around in the office and just thought "let’s turn him into a necklace". And guess what? Now he’s our best-seller!
Can you tell me a little bit about your typical working methods? How do you usually design and realize a piece? What are your favorite fabrics to work with?
I don´t have a specific, set-in-stone method. As an artist, your work is always influenced by one’s everyday life and the good and bad things that happen. I collect mood pictures or little snaps and bits of fabric in my sketch-book and from there I sketch most of the final looks, which I then send to the girls in the studio to develop the patterns from. Some of the challenging designs take up to twenty fittings until we can declare them perfect. I'm obsessed with surfaces and thus like to develop new structures and patterns, working and playing with contrast. Silk Crepe and fluffy yarns like Angora or Alpaca are my favorite fabrics but I´m also into high-tech fibers.
A journalist described you as having something elvish. Do you like the idea of this image in regards to your last collection and its pastel color palette, the flow and subtlety in the designs?
Maybe that's a first impression when you meet me or see the soft shaded color range in my collections…but if you dig deeper you'll find many strong and edgy characteristics and details about me that fit the collection just as well.