We caught up with Blechman recently to chat about how his sustainability ideas were initially received, the evolution of the brand’s infamous Snopants and his forthcoming autumn/winter collection.
JC Report: Tell us how Maharishi got its start.
Hardy Blechman: I had worked in design and production for commercial brands who weren’t interested in offering natural fibers. They thought that the fabrics created from them weren’t developed enough and feared that if they shouted about a small part of their range being environmentally sound they would attract attention to the rest of their not-so-green product range. I began Maharishi (literally translated as “Great Seer” or “Great Vision”) with the vision of a brand beyond basic festival sack cloths, but in sustainable materials.
JCR: When you launched your brand in 1994, why did using hemp and other natural fibers appeal to you?
HB: I learned that cotton was a weak plant that created weak soil and required insecticides whilst hemp was naturally resilient to pests and enriched the soil with its long roots and quick weed like growth. No designer was offering hemp at that time.
JCR: How did the market initially respond to your environmentally-conscious fashion stance?
HB: Hemp was not a developed industry; it had been dormant for some time since it had become a common enemy of the US Drug Enforcement Agency and DuPont’s desires to spread the use of cotton (and insecticides to match).
The market wasn’t particularly interested in the hemp I used in 1994, which was vegetable-dyed (its color bled a little too easily) and quite rough to the skin. I expanded the range with reworked military and industrial surplus, which also had limited success.
After later gaining success with the Snopants and developing close relationships with mills in Italy, who influence the world’s mills, I was able to push for hemp-based cloths and developed a range of cloths with I.T.S Artea with a 90% hemp composition, the other 10% being polyurethane to allow for waterproofing.
The re-emergence of the hemp industry has been swift, and there are now many options available from dozens of mills around the world.
JCR: How did you come up with the Snopants that were all the rage in the 1990s?
JCR: One of the main successes of my mid-90s military surplus trading was the US Army Snow Camouflage overtrouser. Designed to be worn over full combat uniform, the pants were way oversized, with the longest crotch known to man. The low-priced baggy style was well received by the streetwear market, overdyed in bright colors from the snow white, relabeled Maharishi and sometimes embroidered. The pieces retained their original military labeling also, and the fact that they were fashion recycled from tools of war subsidized by defense budgets appealed to my vision for Maharishi. The demand for the overtrouser exceeded availability of vintage supplies so I undertook to remake the pant, which I had been wearing myself for a couple of years, correcting any aspects of the original design that didn’t suit my practical needs.
The baggy leg was great, although if ever playing football or practicing martial arts (anything that involved kicking), a rolled up leg would keep falling down, which inspired me to add leg buttons at the 3/4 and short length. This is one of the most characterful aspects of the original design and has been widely copied. I am still surprised by the impact this style had on fashion, and am shocked that over 10 years later there are such direct relatives being “designed.” I maintain an archive of copies that I have come across, or people have sent me over the years. Two recent additions from this season are Nike’s camouflage Sno shorts and Adidas’ Stella McCartney pants. Probably the most amusing copy was from Levis; it was accidentally advertised in a magazine as “Levis Maharishi pants”! The same season Lee launched a style called “Lee Snopants pants”!
JCR: What are the current trends in streetwear?
HB: As Shawn Stussy and Futura hit 50 years old, it seems streetwear now has a couple of generations to provide for. Even if much of the culture is shared across the generations, I don’t really want to dress like my (hypothetical) teenage son.
JCR: Your a/w ’08 collection is loaded with exciting new technological developments. Can you tell us about them?
HB: For as long as I have used camouflage, I have used 3M products within print, topstitch, appliqué and embroidery with the intention being the same as using camouflage internally as linings and pocket bags, to clarify the intention of celebrating camouflage as a reflection of nature and art, and to negate its relevance to war.
We’ve also developed a “Blaze” variant of our brushstroke bonsai forest camouflage print; Blaze camouflage patterns exploit the color-blind vision of quarry such as deer and elk whilst remaining highly visible to humans.
As well as the 3M aspects, the natural fiber, hemp and recycled military pieces are offered alongside technical fabrics such as Ventile, an unlaminated and uncoated 100% cotton fabric which provides totally natural protection fom the elements whilst being quiet and “rustle-free” when worn.
JCR: And what about the Maharishi bespoke tweed?
HB: Traditional English hunting attire found its place in the “hunt” aspect of the collection. Tweed is an early example of a camouflage hunting fabric and is utilized throughout the range. We’ve worked closely with leading British mills to develop exclusive fabrics, including a thorn-proof worsted herringbone tweed.
JCR: You now have a full line of womenswear, menswear, and childrenswear. How do you plan to sustain your status as a preeminent streetwear brand?
HB: I am still the person I always was, if a little older and cleaner, and with smarter edges; having a child recently definitely inspires the need for baby wear!
This interview was conducted by Robert Cordero.