Always Moving Forward: Discussing the Past, Present and Future with Damir Doma
Always Moving Forward: Discussing the Past, Present and Future with Damir Doma
- Words Asaf Rotman
- Date December 12, 2018
Born in Croatia, Damir Doma is a complex amalgamation of his European history. Constantly on the move, the designers evolving aesthetic is equally informed by each of his makeshift homes. Every time Doma has relocated–first from Croatia to Germany, then to Belgium, France and most recently Italy—his style has moved with him, creating one of the most complicated brands in fashion.
Doma's fashion journey began as child. He grew up in his mother's atelier and surrounded by tulles and sewing equipment, for a young Doma, there was never really another option. Following fashion school split between Munich and Berlin, Doma relocated to Antwerp in 2004 to pursue apprenticeships with his heroes—Raf Simons and Dirk Schönberger. While he idolized the Belgians, Doma’s personal ambitions could not be contained, and in 2007 the designer struck out on his own, setting up shop in Paris. His eponymous brand, Damir Doma, quickly made waves. Following a debut show as part of Paris Fashion Week: Men’s, accolades came rushing in, with comparisons to Rick Owens and Yohji Yamamoto and a flagship store on the prestigious rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré opening in quick succession. By 2010, Doma had launched a women’s line, as well as a men’s diffusion line, SILENT, with dozens of stockists worldwide.
Yet, in 2015, it was time for a change. Given the current state of the industry—and feeling pigeonholed by comparisons to household names—Doma relocated and reinvented the brand. Now based in Milan, Doma presents collections that are warm, no longer limited to his once dark color palette. Three years later, the designer is more content than ever. We spoke with Doma on everything from his humble beginnings to the big move and what the future holds for the new Damir Doma brand. Read our conversation below then shop the designer's personal archive of rare Raf Simons, Rick Owens, Margiela and more.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Images courtesy of Guglielmo Profeti.
Your mother was a designer and ran an atelier in Germany when you were a child. How big of an impact did that have on your career? Has fashion design always been an obvious choice for you?
I believe that watching my mother work was definitely crucial for choosing my own path—I basically followed in her footsteps. I cannot even say that it was a choice. I never stood at a crossroad and had to make a decision on which way to go. I was always very passionate about creation and in particular the process of creation.
You are Croatian born, raised in Germany, trained in Belgium and, currently, based in Milan. How have these disparate influences shaped your aesthetic?
Don’t forget the nine years I spent in Paris where I really learned about sophistication and elegance. I consider myself above all European. Each of these cultures is crucial to my identity as a person and consequently as a creative. I don’t feel that I fully belong to one or the other, which brings me to a point where I can freely choose and mix references. The outcome is always something both new and personal.
After finishing fashion school you worked for some prolific designers—notably Raf Simons and Dirk Schönberger. What did working with these designers teach you? At what point did you realize you had to strike out on your own?
I must admit that during—but also before—my fashion studies, designers like Raf and Dirk were my heroes. My only dream at the time was to live in Antwerp and somehow work for one of my idols. Looking back I cannot really say if I was a good or bad assistant. My dream of creating my own brand was so strong and present that I probably never fully committed to the work I was doing for anyone else.
In any case, working for Raf and Dirk showed me the reality of the fashion business—something nobody explains to you at fashion school. It’s a tough environment and most independent brands are constantly going through ups and downs. At the end it’s a fight for survival. The most important lesson I learned while in Antwerp though was that there is no right or wrong path, and there is no standardized way to success. The truth is that it’s about finding out who you are and where you want to go.
At the beginning of your career (2007), there was a sort of lull in menswear following Slimane’s departure from Dior Homme. Everyone was doing “skinny.” Your first collection went in an entirely different direction. Was that simply self-expression or were you tired of seeing so much conformity in menswear?
It’s really true. Then, the skinny silhouette was omnipresent and people started to look for something new as fashion is always about change. For the first few years of my career, my way of thinking and working was probably closer to the mindset of an artist than to that of a designer. My collections were all about self-expression.
My first collection was very much inspired by womenswear and by the idea of a draped and soft men's silhouette. This concept was indeed contrary to the skinny and very tailored looks of Hedi at Dior. At the end of the day that collection marked my footprint on the fashion map. I did the right thing at the right time and I would say that essentially is what my brand is about.
After your first few seasons, your brand was, to some extent, boxed in—characterized as gothic or dark fashion. Did that characterization bother you? How did you respond?
I really hated being boxed in. I wanted to pursue my own vision and I did not want to accept that people could just throw me in a box with 10 others. Looking back I must admit that it was a big compliment to be boxed in with designers such as Rick Owens, Ann Demeulemeester, Yohji Yamamoto and so on.
In any case I think what happened was around 2010 I chose to go a different direction. On the one hand it was a reaction towards that characterization, but on the other, there was a strong evolution in my aesthetic. I simply wanted to move on.
You have stated you consider yourself a minimalist, however your collections have ranged considerably over the years. Do you still think of yourself as a minimalist? What does the term mean to you?
I definitely consider myself as a minimalist, but I also believe that we have to reformulate minimalism, as opposed to how it was viewed in the ‘90s. I want my minimalism to be warm and human. My focus is shape, material, comfort and detailing. I want my creations to be functional and rational.
In 2015, you left Paris and relocated to Milan. Why did you decide to leave? What prompted the move to Italy?
To be honest, it just felt like the end of a cycle for me. I spent nine years in Paris but it never really felt like my city. At the same time I started spending lots of time in Milan during this period. It simply became a decision pro-Milan and in retrospect I can say it was the best decision I have ever made. I met the love of my life in Milan in 2017 and our little son was born here. I could not be more happy.
Today, you present your collection as part of Milan Fashion Week. Unlike London or Paris, Milan is considerably more traditional and sartorially focused. Do you feel like an outsider on the calendar?
I couldn’t agree more—and that’s precisely why we decided to not only move operations to Milan, but the fashion show as well. Paris is getting more and more crowded and it became very difficult to stand out amongst all these big shows. Ultimately, the goal is to stand out and get as much attention and coverage as possible.
I think it’s a big opportunity to show the collection in Milan and as Tim Blanks said “the move to Milan means Doma is a stand-alone, that’s what you get when you offer underground minimalism to the Milanese.”
Has the “Damir Doma man” changed in the past 10 years?
The DD man has definitely changed and evolved over the last few years similarly to how I have changed and evolved. To this day I design the mens collection for myself and for the people around me and in the last 10 plus years we all grew up a little bit.
Many of the items in your sale are samples from prior collections, while others are items from your personal archive. Why are you selling these pieces?
Internally we started to discuss the idea of a Grailed feature more than a year ago. I am a passionate collector and wanted to share some items I have picked up over the past 20 years. The Margiela trench coat, for instance, I wore while I was a fashion student. The Raf pieces are obviously from my time in Antwerp. I also chose to add a few DD archive pieces which personally still feel contemporary and relevant.
I put together a collection of items that have personal meaning and to be honest I wouldn’t be upset if some of these pieces don’t sell. I think this project is a great opportunity to show some insight and in a way speak to people on a more personal and authentic level.
How did you discover Grailed?
I have followed Grailed since the beginning, simply because lots of friends and colleagues are on the site. For me, Grailed can be a source of inspiration, a tool for research or simply a great online store.
I personally am a bit tired of today's fashion landscape so it’s really exciting to rediscover vintage pieces on the second hand market.
What are your plans for the future of Damir Doma? Given the current status of the industry, what will the brand do moving forward?
It’s hard to give a clear answer, but at the very least I can give an honest answer. The status of the industry is unclear and things are changing rapidly. What used to be is no longer and we have yet to find a replacement for the old system. Not long ago we were complaining about the rigid fashion system so in a way we should all be thankful given the new situation. The system is breaking, there are new opportunities and new potential.
It is our task to adapt and be flexible in order to take advantage of these new communication and distribution channels. Overall, I see a bright and positive future for the industry but also for myself and the Damir Doma brand.
I firmly believe in focusing on construction, materials, a new sophistication and real creativity. For me, that is the only way forward.