Marios Schwab’s father built corsets, so he spent his childhood watching women in various states of undress. It was perfect training for a designer who plays with notions of the erotic. ‘A certain eroticism is part of the DNA of Marios Schwab, but it comes naturally,’ the half-Austrian, half-Greek designer says. ‘Even a covered neckline or a lot of fabric can draw attention to what is hidden. It’s all about what’s on the surface subtly revealing what’s underneath. That’s the game. It’s like flirting. Like seduction itself.’
The silhouettes Schwab crafts seduced the British Fashion Award judges, who named him best new designer in 2006. He was named creative director at Halston in 2009. ‘It’s always sexy,’ he says of his work, ‘but not in an obviously literal way. When I start creating a garment, it begins with covering the body, so it’s immediately sensual.’
It’s hardly surprising his artfully constructed garments have drafted a following of fashion luminaries. ‘My muse when I design tends to be an imaginary woman, but people like Kate Moss and Chloë Sevigny are definitely Marios Schwab girls. I like women who have created their own style. It’s about a certain effortless elegance. It’s how people would have felt about Charlotte Rampling or Catherine Deneuve, women with that aura of untouchable style.’
Women love Schwab’s designs because they are empoweringly sexy. The modern shapes make heads turn, and the details make pulses race. A cutout at the breastbone or an extra twist of fabric at the side of the pelvis is a surprising element that signals a more cerebral approach to seduction. His second-skin approach makes even his statement dresses, celebrations of womanly glory in taffeta, silk and lace, so easy to wear. Simply putting on a Marios Schwab design can make jaws drop. ‘A man looking at a woman wants to be surprised with every angle she turns,’ says Schwab. ‘The way you view things, the way you see someone, is shaped by what they are wearing. It’s a primeval instinct that’s all about attraction.’
Raised in Athens, Schwab moved to Austria at 15 to study design. The training was very traditional. ‘It was a shock at first,’ he says. ‘I was the only boy and it was full of girls training to be seamstresses. There was lots of pattern cutting and learning Austrian design traditions.’
The training informs his working methods, providing the structure for his dresses and the craftsmanship of his brutally yet lovingly cut leather pieces. ‘It was the complete opposite of modern fashion where everything is manufactured and mass-produced. I became very impressed with the notion of constructing a garment as complex on the inside as it is on the outside. Like with a person, this is what gives a piece of clothing its intriguing qualities.’
His Austrian heritage also inspires his collaboration with luxury brand Swarovski. ‘My father used to collect Swarovski crystals,’ he explains. ‘I’ve tried to incorporate them into my designs as part of the reveal-conceal game. I like to take something out of its original context and turn it into something innovative so people start to regard the original thing in a completely new way.’
The element of surprise is key, he says. As with courtship, the hidden is what intrigues us. ‘I like to surprise people and I like to be surprised by them,’ Schwab explains. ‘It’s about taking something that’s classically beautiful and turning it upside down.’ Already turning the Halston label upside down, Marios Schwab is sure to keep women guessing as the courtship heats up.