Maison Magenta: Beyond Bespoke
Fashion house Maison Magenta is making a stand for sustainable style while bringing a little bit of couture to Canterbury
Paris, Milan, LA, Tokyo… Canterbury. The fashion capitals of the world. Don’t scoff; for as we have already proven in ‘cene magazine, Kent’s only city is brimming with creative talent, especially when it comes to textiles.
Maison Magenta, however, is something completely different. The fashion house, set up by Anastasia Kuatkhina, is a sustainability-focused, high-fashion business creating pieces currently being picked up by the great and good of Europe and beyond.
Anastasia, originally from St Petersburg in Russia, has recently been interviewed for the Sydney Morning Herald and the New York Times, and now, sitting down with ‘cene, you could be forgiven for preconceiving just how she came to be here. But you’d be wrong.
The former Simon Langton Girls School pupil has built a reputation for creating one-off design pieces worth thousands of pounds, despite battling chronic fatigue syndrome (M.E.) and some negativity from her family on her chosen career path.
Sipping a hot chocolate in The Abode Hotel, Canterbury, Anastasia took us through her story, from the design competition she won as a child that inspired her vision, to studying at Central St Martins University Of Arts London – the institution that spawned the creativity of the likes of music’s Jarvis Cocker, Paloma Faith and M.I.A, fashion designers John Galliano and Stella McCartney and filmmaker Joe Wright, to name but a few.
Studying textiles and specialising in knitwear, Anastasia found her passion for working with natural materials.
“Just designing clothes wasn’t enough,” she says. “I wanted to work with textiles and create something original. So, I brought extra, weaving, knitting and printing skills into my work.
“I find it really important to use natural materials. Before sustainability became a fashionable trend, I was always brought up to wear natural materials because I am very sensitive to products and synthetic fibres and perfumes.
“I’ve always had to be careful what I wear. So, I am glad everybody is now understanding why it is better for us and our skin. It lasts longer, yes, but is also very easy to biodegrade back into the cycle.”
While textiles was her thing, it wasn’t until she landed a dream internship at Christian Dior (yes, that one) in Paris, that the passion for fashion took hold.
“I fell in love with the city, the old couture (high level hand sewing) way of working,” says Anastasia. “Working on the knitwear team with Raf Simons (Belgian Fashion Designer) I learned a lot. It gave me that drive to carry on and specialise.”
Sometimes, as they say, you have to take a step backwards before you can move forward.
After a stint in Milan with renowned designer Angelo Marani – look him up – Anastasia was forced to return to England where she was diagnosed with M.E.
“It took me a year to recuperate and I lost all my confidence,” says Anastasia. “Just as I was starting to recover, my therapist said that I would struggle with the usual work timetable and working full time; recommended no more than three hours a day to start.
“I thought ‘no one is going to hire me with that kind of work ethic’.
“In fashion you are working around the clock, overtime and weekends. So, I thought I would set up my own company instead.”
And so Maison Magenta was born in June 2017 – but, 18 months and five fashion shows later, Anastasia is preparing a new series of looks as well as specialist designs for customers including Miss Monaco amongst others.
Those looking for a piece from Maison Magenta need to know two things, one, it doesn’t follow the regular seasons of the fashion industry and, two, it’s not cheap – for a very good reason.
“My collections are not seasonal,” says Anastasia. “I design as I go, as I get the ideas. For example, I was fabric sourcing for a client in London and saw some red satins and velvets for a ball gown design I have got. Then I found this purple, mohair offcut, and had to buy it. And now working on a cape or coat to do with it for colder months.
“I design through feeling and necessity.”
Scouring textile epicentres markets like London’s Berwick Street, as well as across Europe, to create outfits, Anastasia uses an interesting route to market to bring interest to her pieces.
Firstly, the 28-year-old attends high profile events such as the Russian Debutante Ball in London, or perhaps Burns Night Celebrations in Edinburgh, wearing her latest designs, becoming her own live model.
“Most of my clients come through recommendation or they have seen me wearing something from Maison Magenta,” says Anastasia. “Sometimes, it’s not directly from the event but through a friend of someone who went.”
Using social media to show off all of her outfits, Anastasia will take up to 27 (her age at the time Maison Magenta was created) orders of each garment she creates.
“People still want exclusivity,” she says. “And if they go to a bespoke designer, they don’t want something the high street will go and copy immediately.”
Anastasia will then recreate the piece to the measurements of the subject, even lengthening the arms or changing the style as required.
“It is all made from the best materials, so it will last longer and hopefully they will treasure it.
It takes time, and the client appreciates your work more. It saves on energy, resources and waste.”
The whole ethos and way of working takes Maison Magenta away from the damaging trends of ‘Fast Fashion’.
“I want to stay away from the high street. Everyone is marketed so much to be blind to the ethics of fashion production. People should question why the cup of coffee in your hand costs the same amount as the top you are going to buy.
“Synthetic materials are super cheap, but they are not going away anywhere. They are so toxic. It’s a very hard battle to fight.”
Fans of Maison Magenta can see videos of Anastasia cutting up leftover silks and cottons and putting them into her garden compost heap.
“It’s all natural so it can decompose and go back in the ground. My fashion is all about appreciating the full cycle.”
A multi-linguist – she writes in French, speaks Italian and English, and her phone is in Russian – plus having lived in major European cities, so, why has Anastasia made Canterbury the home of Maison Magenta?
“I love living in Canterbury, because it and gives you peace of mind and space to think and to work,” she says. “There is so much more outside of London with nicer environments. But it is an easy commute, too.”