If you were to heed the words printed on the latest drops of bi-annual culture magazine 032c’s recently launched line of apparel, you’d be right to indeed resist the “resist” sweatshirt. Yet as soon as somebody like DJ Peggy Gou is spotted wearing one on Instagram, it sells out instantly. The 032c fanbase is growing as much offline as it is online, embodying the free spirit of a brand that took its name from a Pantone shade of red. While the vibrant color still forms the basis of each issue’s layout, its clothing doesn’t rely on the same gimmickry.
What started in Berlin in 2002 as a magazine has since developed into a veritable platform. 032c considers itself a Manual for Freedom, Research, and Creativity, which manifests as much in each issue as through its various events, exhibitions, and merchandise. Two years ago saw the arrival of the brand’s first items of clothing, with its very first ready-to-wear show in January 2018. The collection was shown during Pitti Uomo in Florence and was a showcase of what 032c believes in. Meaningless merchandise? Not on Maria Koch’s watch. Koch is not only wife to editor-in-chief Joerg Koch, but also the designer behind 032c apparel; she boasts previous work experience at Jil Sander and Marios Schwab.
Below, Koch opens up about fans of the brand who haven’t heard of the magazine, why she doesn’t think the Kardashian hype will wear off any time soon, and what the appeal of streetwear today is really all about.
Have you taken something niche and kickstarted a trend with 032c Apparel?”We don’t identify ourselves as niche. There are other, supposedly more commercial titles that are much more niche, actually. We have a readership of 75,000 and online followers on top of that. We’re independent —that’s how we manage to work the way we do. Joerg and I are the only shareholders.
“We also launched Apparel because I’m a designer. I originally wanted to set something up on my own, then I put that aside. 032c was always meant to be more than a magazine — we do events and exhibitions; we consult fashion brands; we’re co-owners of the Reference festival, and Joerg is still editor-in-chief of Ssense, too. You can’t rely on print alone anymore. Newsagents are dying out. It’s a problem.
“We quickly developed from merchandise to real apparel because our pieces are more than just fan merchandise. At the Reference festival in October, we’ve got the first women’s ready-to-wear show, mixed in with the men’s line.”
Was there something that triggered the launch of the first pieces?”It was a few different things. We found kids on Instagram that had drawn 032c onto T-shirts. Then there were people that had made their own 032c phone cases. And friends were telling us we just had to do it.”
How do you feel when people wear your clothes but don’t know the 032c brand or magazine?”It happens; we know that. Just because somebody wears Chanel perfume doesn’t mean they will have seen or understood the latest couture collection.
“It’s normal and I don’t see it as a problem. Lots of people don’t know that there’s a magazine at all. A few young people have told me that it’s [just] a clothing line — I think that’s funny, even cool. I don’t need the intellectual side of things. And it works the other way round, too — lots of people don’t know the clothing. It’s exciting to us to have both.”
How does the design process differ from menswear to womenswear?”Each has different criteria. I struggled with Apparel at the start because I’d done women’s ready-to-wear for 15 years. But I see it as a challenge and an opportunity to learn.”
What inspires you?”Everything I come across. That might be through travel, or it might be through music or Instagram or — of course — exchanges with my husband.”
What music do you most like to listen to?”I listen to rap, a lot of soul or ’90s pop, and classical music. I don’t think my musical taste is particularly elaborate. I like it hardcore or catchy and poppy. Classical music absolutely breaks my heart though — I’m completely gone when I listen to it — so I can’t really listen to it every day!”
What kind of posts do you like seeing on Instagram?”That’s really hard to say. I unfollow people as soon as I find one of their posts stupid. The most cliché, annoying post is food. The pretending-to-enjoy-it or food as some kind of fetish is banal and bleak.”
How do you choose who to collaboration with?”It’s a question of expertise. If I wanted to make a phone, I’d go to Apple. If I were looking to create a wax jacket, I’d turn to Barbour. And so on. We want to work with experts.”
What would be the dream collaboration for you?”A perfume with Frédéric Malle. I love the aesthetic and the standards they work to. Plus, it’s a brand that’s supposed to be niche, yet it’s insanely successful.”
How do you motivate yourself when motivation is otherwise lacking?”I don’t believe in the idea of having specific things you can rely on to inspire you or anything — that’s crap. I’m strict about going into the office every day, even if I don’t want to. There’s always something that needs doing. Deadlines force me to make decisions, and that’s what leads to a creative process.”
How do you deal with doubt and worries?”They’re part and parcel. You shouldn’t necessarily pay mind to what other people think.”
What’s the reason for the focus on limited editions?”It’s not that we’re looking to create hype. We limit things from the outset so as not to overproduce. We estimate quantities realistically. Limited editions aren’t part of a marketing strategy for us. I can’t bear when products are discounted pretty much straight away.”
Does it also have something to do with sustainability?”Absolutely. I used to teach a design strategy master’s program in sustainability within fashion. And for me, that’s not all about organic fabrics. I think it’s unintelligent in general to deal with resources irresponsibly. The same applies to a workforce. Overstocking and exhausting the market…I don’t get it. Why do I need something in 50 colors if there’s one shade that’s the perfect shade? Sustainability is simply stronger and more powerful than more flippant, mass-market approaches.”
Are seasons still important to you?”No, so much has changed on that over the last few years. Key pieces always work. I might buy a cashmere sweater in summer if it’s what I need at that time.”
Do you ever design for yourself?”All the time actually. There are pieces that I’d never wear which turn out to be bestsellers though! [Laughs.]”
How would you describe your personal style?”It totally depends on my mood. My style is a bit all or nothing — sometimes it’s super opulent, other times it’s very minimal. I’ll get dressed up for an event: big dress, extravagant jewelry, the highest heels. My everyday uniform is a silk blouse and jeans. I guess I’m about sex appeal and a certain sense of class.”
Do you shop [for clothes] when you have downtime?”No. I know the profit margins, so I don’t see the point. That’s not the case with beauty, though. I’m totally into beauty products.”
Do you have a beauty routine?”I try a lot of different things out. I watch YouTube tutorials sometimes, and I ask friends that have particularly good skin which products they use. I like Biologique Recherche and Dr. Barbara Sturm. I’ve used to use a lot of Sisley before, too. For perfumes, I love Frédéric Malle — I have three that I mix together. For as long as there’s no 032c perfume anyway…”
What do you like about Berlin?”The unbelievable quality of life. It really fits to my idea of culture and the size of a city. I like the worldliness. And you can’t do too much in one day — I can really concentrate in Berlin. Lots of people say that it’s easy to just float around, but I see it differently. The quality of life attracts an exciting kind of person. It’s what makes our team possible. You don’t need to pick up shifts in a bar of an evening, like you would maybe have to in London, for example. Plus, our children love the city too.”
Could you imagine living anywhere else?”I’d find LA exciting — I don’t really understand the city but so many relevant youth movements have come from there: skate, grunge, the whole aerobics-inspired thing… And I’m a fan of Salzburg in Austria. In Salzburg, I like the musical history, the landscape, and the quality of the food. I love how clean the streets are kept too, even if it can come across a bit stuffy. Maybe right now I’m just attracted to places that are the opposite of Berlin.”
What do your children think of 032c Apparel?”Sometimes June will come in and do some work with us to earn some cash so she can afford pieces herself. Karl isn’t interested in fashion. I like it when June loves something. She’s almost our target group and thinks the collection is really cool.”
Who would you love to see in 032c Apparel?”We’ve had most of them already. Maybe we shouldn’t meet the people we admire from afar — it’s easy to be disappointed. Like Monica Bellucci. I think she’s crazy beautiful, but I can’t say at all if she’s smart. I think Milly Bobby Brown is great; Djuna Barnes; even Kim Kardashian. I think she’s really great — meant quite unironically. Or Anne Imhoff. These are all people that are completely individual and who have a certain intensity about them.”
Isn’t the Kardashian hype wearing off?”I think people that are less consistent in what they do are more likely to wear off. I think, in the future, she’ll be on the same level as Marilyn Monroe and Jane Birkin — as somebody who represents a certain time. Right now, many people, understandably, still laugh at her. But many people today define themselves through the superficial and through aesthetics. The Kardashians are quite fantastically bizarre. It’s impressive. The redundancy of it all as well. I find [them] to be very poignant.”
Could you imagine being more in the foreground as a designer?”Being famous, so to speak, isn’t particularly interesting to me. But it’s part of my job to show my face and give interviews, etc. — to be approachable.”
What role do you think gender has to play in the future of fashion?”Separate from my own private preferences, gender plays absolutely no role at all for me.”
What’s the appeal of streetwear?”Streetwear works because fashion comes from the streets. It’s purely sociological. We trust the establishment, with their suits and business wear, less and less. People we’re meant to take seriously often don’t have a uniform anymore because this look is no longer immediately representative of success and respect. Not everybody gets that though. I’d still define streetwear as a kind of alternative wear.”
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