David Koma has had a seemingly charmed career. The Georgian-born, London-based designer was just 25 years old and fresh out of graduate school the year Beyoncé, Rihanna and Cheryl Cole appeared in his dresses at high-profile events — Beyoncé at the 2009 MTV Europe Music Awards in Berlin, Rihanna for a performance and Cheryl Cole on The X Factor — making his name immediately known to the fashion press, as well as to buyers from department stores like Browns and Harrod’s. From the beginning, he has cited designer Thierry Mugler as one of his chief influences, and in 2013, he was offered the role of creative director of the house — something he felt was “meant to be.”
Of course, Koma is enormously talented, as a single look from his latest collections for either his eponymous label, shown at London Fashion Week, or Mugler’s, shown in Paris, attest. His clothes are sexy without being restraining, and the precision of his tailoring is second to none. It’s little wonder, then, that Lady Gaga and Selena Gomez have also become fans of the designer, and that Mugler’s magic has become such that both Rihanna and Tracee Ellis Ross have both appeared in vintage designs this year, building upon Mugler’s long legacy of dressing leading music artists.
Billboard sat down with Koma in his London studio to discuss his growth plans for both Mugler and his own label, the importance of celebrity dressing for both businesses, and how music informs the design of his collections.
How important was celebrity dressing to kickstarting your career, and how is it important to your own label and to Mugler these days?
For me, the celebrity dressing was never a focus or intentional, I never really believed in a kind of one-hit story… [Though] it does help to get some extra attention to your brand. I appreciate more long-term relationships with different actresses and celebrities. If you are focused on what you are doing and you see over the years so many incredible, extremely successful actresses and performers supporting you and wearing your clothes, that gives you this extra confidence. They can have everything they want in the world, choosing you means you are doing something really right. We don’t [pay for celebrities to wear the clothes].
Are you ever directly inspired by music artists? Do certain figures ever appear on your mood boards, either for your own label or at Mugler?
I would not name directly anyone, but what very often inspires me is when I see musician having so much power, so much influence, so much energy. You can see a few musicians, they’re like amazing artists, amazing human beings, kind of amazing mothers at the same time, when you see all of that come together in one strong female, that’s inspiring.
How much are you involved in the show soundtracks? The appearance of the “Jaws” theme song in your last Mugler show was a hit.
That idea came to me, and people were like, are you really going to do that, it’s so cheesy, I wanted to smile, I love that movie and that soundtrack, it was the right time to use it. I work with [music collective] Mode-F every season to create the soundtrack. They have a very particular and very intimate way of writing the music for the collection, starting with a kind of mood board, then we edit it into a couple of songs. The way the collection gets styled and edited, the same happens with the music, it gets a little touch ’til the very end, it’s a cool process.
There’s been a lot of momentum at Mugler lately — you have the new flagship store in Paris, you’re pushing more into daywear, and soon you’ll launch e-commerce. What does the future of Mugler look like?
I’m super excited about the accessories line we launched last year, it’s doing really well, and I’d like to focus on that and take it to next level. Right now it’s mostly handbags, but shoes and jewelry will come. E-commerce is [in the works], and so are more stores. There is a lot of work to do.
You said a year ago that London “is the best place to be for a designer.” Do you still feel that way now that the UK has voted to leave the EU?
I don’t know, the Brexit vote hasn’t really affected me yet. I do believe London is the best city for a young designer to start his or her career — the education system is one of the best, if not the best, and then there’s this whole support system for young talents to establish their labels. The British Fashion Council helps at the very beginning, when you are no one, they discover and believe in and support you. I remember when I graduated from Central Saint Martins, I won a few awards that let me show at London Fashion Week, got money support, mentoring, got to travel all over the world meeting people and buyers — no other city has that. But it’s easy to start… you then need to work super hard to maintain the attention that you get, to turn your creativity into a proper business.
How do you balance your responsibilities at Mugler with your own label? Which one gets more of your attention?
At the very beginning when I started, I had to build up a new team at Mugler. Now, since my team is complete and perfect, I’m fully enjoying this experience of working for two different brands in two different cities. I love the train journey [between London and Paris], switching off every other week. Once that system is part of your life, it’s not that difficult. It’s actually inspiring.
And what are your plans for your own label?
It’s my own baby, it’s growing every season, and getting bigger and bigger and more global. I’m really expanding and making sure that it’s visible and exists everywhere that it deserves to be.