“I don’t like to regard my garments as ‘sexy-sexy dresses’, I see them as seductive, you know? They are a window into the body but it’s not necessarily about skin”.
The interplay between surface and depth was cited often during Sleek’s conversation with Marios Schwab, the Greco-Austrian designer who has been called a “topographer of the body”, thanks to his tender mapping of the curves and spills of feminine forms. Tracing contours like an expert surgeon, Schwab taken up some of the world’s most beautiful figures and patched them up in crêpes and silks. A nip here, a tuck there, dash of baroque embroidery or evanescent beadwork and voila! A modern goddess, ready to sail through a storm of flashbulbs.
But Schwab is also keen to talk about the woman beneath his breathtaking dresses: personality is key to the Schwab customer, he says. “I’m not interested in the surface or the face only. I admire women who are opinionated, who take a different perspective”. Certainly, his work’s potency lies is in the dialogue between power and delicacy. He first seduced the industry in 2005, drumming up attention with collections notable for both their elegance and strength. His sensitivity to depth and charisma has provided him the challenges of collaborating with larger names, from luxury brand Halston in 2009 to capsules at ASOS and Debenhams today. “The Debenhams customer is such a different one, she engages with fashion in a completely different way,” he notes. “Of course there are limitations to consider with each brand, but it’s so interesting to supply the characteristics of your work under these restraints”.
The breadth of Schwab’s fanbase, from high street shopper to red carpet starlet, is testament to his broad insight into the needs of women, but most impressive is his ability to retain the creative DNA of his own label within new contexts. He describes his process as “something quite technical but also poetic. I like to challenge the inside layers with the outside layers of the garment. You create a depth within the piece and for me that’s the game, I love that”. He also thinks designers “need to have a vision of things to come, even if you’re more into the conceptual side it’s still interesting to challenge the material” and is often experimenting with crafts foreign to fashion – laser-cutting or automobile painting technology, for example.
That curiosity has led Schwab across the world. He grew up in Athens before stretches studying design in Salzburg, Berlin and finally London where he works from a two-floor studio in Dalston. Schwab’s mild Greek accent is inflected with the subtle East End drawl of his adopted home; his mother is “Mum” rather than “Mom” and the phrase “not everyone’s cup of tea” surfaces at least once during our conversation.
Escapes closer to home include regular trips to the cinema (Pedro Almodóvar is a favourite) from which he draws plenty of inspiration. On being asked about a foray into costume design his voice lifts: “I would love to do that! A project like that takes time but… oh, I’d love it.” As an accustomed collaborator, perhaps his seductive fusion of power and femininity and this concept of “windows into the body” would indeed make an exciting transition to the silver screen – maybe Mr Almodóvar might think of giving Mr Schwab a call.
Text by Ella Plevin