Damir Doma’s rise in the fashion sphere has taken him from Croatia and Germany to Antwerp and now Paris, where he is about to open up his first boutique. We sit down with the 30 year old fashion designer to talk production issues, being an introvert in Antwerp and choosing white for his latest collection.
In a noisy world governed by pressure and speed, Damir Doma’s clothes offer a welcome respite from the highly cyclical fashion world. His garments whisper -rather than shout- inviting us to take a step back and reflect upon fashion. The Croatian-born, Paris-based designer, showed his first collection in June 2007, gaining serious interest from key retailers and influential press. With a focus on draping, soft shapes and generous volumes, he pushed menswear into a new territory, moving away from Hedi Slimane’s razor-sharp silhouette at Dior Homme towards something more abstract and less angular. He also put an emphasis on craft, giving his pieces a tactile and intricate dimension. He’s part of a generation that rejects sensationalism and style fads, looking for long-term commitments instead of short-term gains. In Doma’s work as a designer, there is no space for vulgarity. He may only be 30, Doma already has quite a large business to run, including menswear and womenswear collections – shown in Paris twice a year – shoes, bags, accessories, and a diffusion line called “Silent”. Working on several projects simultaneously, the designer seems particularly excited at the prospect of opening his own store on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris, a few steps from the Comme des Garçons boutique. He plans to unveil the new space during menswear fashion week next January.
Despite an amazing career path – which would make many of his peers green with envy – Damir Doma does not cultivate his ego as much as other designers do. He comes across as an articulate and fairly introspective man, aiming at something more meaningful than the next fashion high. He is deeply analytical and critical, but you can feel his vulnerable side, too. He happens to have a special relationship with Belgium, where he got to learn about his own boundaries, role and identity “I lived in Antwerp for a while, working with Raf Simons and Dirk Schönberger. It was a bit of a soul-searching time for me,” he explains. “I didn’t know anything about the city when I arrived. I didn’t know anyone either and was still in my early 20s. I found myself on my own for the first time and was wondering who I was and what I really wanted from life. I guess it was an exi tential thing. Even though I felt lonely at times, it encouraged me to find some answers. This process helped me create my own foundation in terms of design and direction.” There’s a sense that Doma wants to protect himself, hiding his sensitivity under cosy layers. His clothes are like an embrace from an old friend, giving you comfort, warmth and happiness.
I chose white, because it felt like a new beginning. It was like holding a blank piece of paper in my hand, something very pure and untouched
During his last womenswear show back in September, Doma decided to open with a series of stunning white outfits, giving a clean and fresh start to his collection: “I chose white, because it felt like a new beginning. It was like holding a blank piece of paper in my hand, something very pure and untouched. White stands for spirituality, which is important in my work. I wanted to bring much more sensuality and femininity into the collection. People often acknowledge me as a menswear designer, but I feel the message within my womenswear shows has become clearer and sharper each year. I’ve had to learn the design language to express what I wanted to say.” There’s an organic feel to his clothes, which refer to natural elements in a subtle way. Shades of stone, plaster, marble and sand can be found in his shows, as well as occasional dashes of strong colour. In many ways, Damir Doma’s aesthetic refers to the early 80s and the infamous Japanese wave, when designers like Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo changed the face of Western fashion. Doma’s forte is finding the right balance between all these elements and keeping in mind the needs of his clients “As a designer, I have to keep on pushing myself while remaining true to my essence. Another thing I realised working with Belgian designers is that you always have to place clothes within a much broader context. It’s totally different from – let’s say – the way Italian designers work. Italian fashion is much more about creating a certain look than addressing the reasons why it should exist. I think the Belgians gave depth and meaning to the fashion world, which was surely lacking when their careers took off. Still, one should never forget that fashion is not art. It’s just that the creative process getting you to a collection can be quite similar to what is experienced by an artist when he or she tries to come up with a new piece.”
Needless to say, fashion stardom comes with its fair amount of strain. And, even though Doma is clearly not the excessive type prone to give in to life’s every indulgence, he still has to deal with the pace of the industry and the stress it creates, “People always emphasise the shows, but the most important thing for me is how you get there. That’s the fascinating part. There’s more and more to be done at the company each year. I get more help now, but I also have to be able to delegate, which is not as simple as people imagine it to be. I guess it’s a challenge right now. I still draw everything myself and am not at that point where I feel I don’t need to have that level of control. It’s different with menswear, because I’m getting more and more to this point. With the womenswear line, I’m not there yet.” There’s something touching about Doma’s humility and his willingness to be sincere, not pretending to be something he clearly isn’t. You get to sense the person behind the brand, echoing the way his models look on the catwalk, appearing more like individuals than soulless clothes hangers. Despite growing up as a kid amongst patterns and samples within his mother’s atelier – and being backed by Paper Rain, a powerful and international fashion group – he wants to take the time to evolve, leaving enough room for experimentation and research “I turned 30 this year and didn’t feel any difference. I guess each one of us has milestones in life. There’s always this idea that certain things have to be done by a certain age. I don’t know if this applies to how I live my life. I guess my work is not just about creating collections, but also finding a language that can be understood globally. I’m aware that finding this is challenging and goes quite deep, but I’m very excited about it. I feel so grateful I even get the chance to do it. Not many people do.”
For me, fashion is always a very direct reflection of the times we’re going through
Every designer has to make tough decisions, from the complete beginner to the confirmed talent, which is something Damir Doma is more than aware of. “When we started with the menswear, we used to have our production in Belgium, but ended up switching to Italian manufacturers. Belgian companies were very strong when it came to producing women’s clothes, but finding strong partners for menswear was much more complicated. There were also issues with pricing and quality. We got a better package in Italy. The whole production was moved there eventually, apart from Silent, which is mainly made in Portugal.” Besides some unavoidable commercial demands, it’s obvious that Damir Doma loves his work. In fact, he takes fashion more seriously than most of us do: “For me, fashion is always a very direct reflection of the times we’re going through. That’s why people should never underestimate it. It’s a confus- ing period in general, not just in fashion.” He seems to find satisfaction in dealing with several tasks at the same time, rejecting the notion that a single focus is necessarily more efficient “People always seem to worry that working on different things simultaneously decreases your creativity, but this is not something I agree with. I tend to be the opposite as I’m quite comfortable going from one project to another. If you’re a designer working on just one collection, you get this huge sense of loss after your show and there’s nothing else to hang on to. Coming back after that tends to be much harder. This is a very good moment for me. You just need to take a few days off when your body tells you to.”