Maharishi: The Other Trailblazing Streetwear Brand of 1994
- Words Jacob Victorine
- Date May 24, 2017
1994 was groundbreaking for urban culture. Most Hip Hop heads will cite it as the year Nas debuted with Illmatic and Biggie dropped Ready to Die. Streetwear fans will mention it as the year Supreme opened on Lafayette Street and NEIGHBORHOOD set up shop in Harajuku, Tokyo. But it’s also the year Common released his underground classic, Resurrection and Outkast changed the perception of southern rap with Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. It’s the very same year that Hardy Blechman founded the cult U.K. streetwear brand maharishi. And while Resurrection and Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik appear on fewer top ten lists than Illmatic and Ready to Die and maharishi is less coveted by resellers than Supreme or NEIGHBORHOOD, Common, Outkast, and Blechman have been just as influential as their more broadly praised peers over the past twenty plus years.
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The son of an antiques dealer, Blechman founded maharishi—meaning “a Hindu teacher of mystical knowledge” or translated from Sanskrit as “great seer”—with the idea of offering military-inspired, technically superior garments made with natural fibers through ethical, fair-trade production. While these sorts of intentions may seem like a no-brainer in 2017, they were absolutely trailblazing in the mid-90’s. According to a 2011 profile in maharishi Journal, the online publication for the brand’s web store, Blechman’s “former experience lay in the international military and industrial clothing surplus trade, started maharishi by producing hemp and other natural fibre clothing as well as recycling workwear and military surplus.” Unlike the militaristic origin of the garments, however, the brands ethos is decidedly pacifist. As stated on window of the maharishi flagship store in London’s Soho neighborhood, the brand “aims to convey a strong anti-war sentiment through its use of camouflage—reclaiming its symbolic value away from war, back to its roots in nature and development by artists and to highlight objections to continued 21st century Warfare.”
maharishi—much like fellow British cult-streetwear brand Stone Island—has been an industry leader in the development of technical fabrics and trims over the past twenty years. Blechman’s extensive experience with details heavy military clothing led to one of his brand’s earliest, and best known, design successes: Snopants®—snowboarding-inspired pants that feature a number of original design details, including the Snobutton System, which allows the pants to be worn full length, three-quarter length, or as shorts; the Snocord system, which provides a fully adjustable waist and hem; and Temple Bead, a one-part elastic cord stopper. According to maharishi fan and award-winning British writer/director, Paul Black, who spoke with Blechman in 2015, the designer’s “love of hemp led him to develop the first waterproof hemp cloths with the Italian mill ITS Artea, the founder of which spent twenty years designing cloths with Massimo Osti of CP Company and Stone Island fame. Together Hardy and ITS developed hemp bases with PU coatings that gave performance, whilst being 95% natural fibre.”
By the end of the 90’s, the label was producing collections for men, women, and children, and in the early 00’s Blechman’s recognition and creative output only continued to grow. He was named Streetwear Designer of the Year by the British Fashion Council in 2000, and, in 2001, he expanded maharishi’s offerings with the creation of a more streetwear-centric sub-brand, MHI. A flagship, DPMHI, soon followed in 2004, and that same year, Blechman published his book, DPM (“Disruptive Pattern Material,” the British military’s term for camouflage), a near-canonical exploration of the sociopolitical and aesthetic histories of camouflage.The book contains over 5,000 images—many of which previously unpublished—and charts the history of camouflage, from its “roots in nature, through to its adoption by the military and on to its current popularity and use within modern civilian culture.” Blechman continued to celebrate Disruptive Pattern Material through a 2004 collaboration with Nike that produced nearly-identical Quickstrike and Friends and Family-only Terminators featuring reflective parts, bonsai camouflage, and a white and orange color palette.
Yet, maharishi’s public and financial success began to recede within a handful of years, in part because maharishi’s embroidery and camo-heavy design aesthetics fell outside of the sartorial, workwear, and minimalist trends of the late 2000’s and early 2010’s. The brand briefly stopped producing its women’s collection and maharishi might have gone the way of its American peers, Nom de Guerre and Cloak, if not for the fact that Blechman owned his own factory, which continued to produce clothing for maharishi and for brands like Folk. Although Blechman has been consistently vague about the struggles of his company, he did offer a few telling words in an interview with The Guardian’s Lauren Cochrane following the brand’s FW15 runway show at London Fashion week: “I would say from 2009 things have been tougher [...] I’ve had to re-look at how to put our brand out there.”
Over the years, maharishi has also become known for its use of reflective materials and Asian-inspired hand-embroidered images—often dragons, snakes, and tigers—yet Blechman has mostly, if not entirely, avoided public critique for cultural appropriation, even as other designers, such as Junya Watanabe of Comme des Garçons and Daisuke Obana of N. Hoolywood, have been derided for culturally insensitive designs. This is especially surprising considering the brand’s name, concept, and Blechman’s far-reaching inspirations, including Judaic prayer strings and capes of the Knights Templar for the brand’s SS16 collection. Whether this is because of the brand’s use of ethical and ecological production methods, Blechman’s relative anonymity, maharishi’s diminished profile from the late 2000’s-mid 2010’s, or because of the brand’s consistent aesthetics and near-seamless integration of cultural images with military details is unclear.
What is clear is that maharishi is having another pop-cultural moment two decades after its debut, as demonstrated by its collaboration with singer/rapper, Travis Scott, and high-profile stockists including HBX, End Clothing, and Blue in Green; whether this moment will last remains to be seen and may very well depend on the longevity of current graphic and print-heavy streetwear trends. Blechman and maharishi have already demonstrated impressive staying power—twenty-four years is an astonishing accomplishment within streetwear and fashion in general—and the fact that he owns his factory gives the designer a steep advantage. Yet, maharishi’s designs are neither as culturally attuned as a brand like Supreme nor as timeless (read: minimal) as traditional high-end European design houses. As an emcee like Common—who took a decade and a Kanye West-cosign to gain sustainable widespread success—will attest, influence and recognition are not always synonymous. Here’s hoping that, in the case of maharishi, this time around, they are.