The Tao of Blechman
Maharishi founder reflects on 15 years of environment-inspired design
Story by Alyson Sheppard / Photography by Aliya Naumoff
Hardy Blechman was 19. All he wanted to do was go to Southeast Asia, travel around like all those other antsy British boys his age, and return home with adventure stories. Stories he could tell that rivaled his grandfather’s (who had fled to South Africa from religious persecution in Lithuania) and his father’s (who had fled to England after witnessing Apartheid in South Africa). But he found a lot more than adventure stories; he found a new way of thinking that would remain with him throughout his journey to become one of the most innovative fashion designers today.
“The general differences in cultural attitudes had the most profound affect on me,” Blechman said. Open minded and curious, he fell in love with Thailand and its culture. “Bhutan has more monks than soldiers. Whilst I don’t consider myself Buddhist, spending time there helped me assimilate many Buddhist principals into my own thinking and inspired thoughts on typical Western consumption.”
He lived there for a year and a half. Desperate to stay in the area, he took a job working for a clothes maker in Indonesia. Blechman became increasingly fascinated with organic fibers and hemps, which were gentler on farming soil than cotton, and army surplus fatigues, which were durable, practical, and reusable. He decided to begin producing his own clothes, using materials that were uncharted territory for designers up until that point, but which were important for Blechman because they encouraged environmental sustainability. And so, his explosive fashion-designing career began.
Today, Hardy Blechman is 40. His company, Maharishi (Sanskrit for “great vision”), is considered one of the most influential and original U.K. brands. His clothes are available in 33 countries, 400 designer fashion stores, and showrooms in London, Paris, and New York. He was named Streetwear Designer of the Year at the 2000 British Fashion Council Awards, and his Snopants were called the most copied pants of the decade by Arena magazine. And through all of the fame, Blechman’s company has remained privately owned, ensuring his ideals concerning the environment are articulated within his collections.
“The greatest benefit of spending time in other cultures is the way it opens your mind to more than one perspective,” he said. “Feeling confident that there isn’t one preset model to follow has allowed me to express new ideas. I have strong ethics and design principals beyond fashion trends, and it has always been my intention to use Maharishi as a vehicle for positive influence within fashion.”
Besides using his lines to explore such issues as the melting ice caps and rising waters, he credits himself for introducing the use of natural fibers to the mainstream. It was Blechman who encouraged the Italian mills to produce more hemp, and it was everyone else who followed. The world mills took notice and started producing more organic fabrics, and once they were available, other designers started using them.
Entering his 15th anniversary year, one can’t help but wonder what more influence Blechman will have among fashion producers. For his newest Spring/Summer 2009’s “Peace in the Pacific” line, he examines the cyclical nature of war, the cyclical nature of history, and the cyclical nature of ideas. A challenge and exploration that sounds straight out of the mind of a 40-year-old on the verge of an even more insightful journey than before.
“You can be freed from the notion that there is only one way,” Blechman said, “and I am proud to have played a part in the development of attitudes in this area with fashion.”