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November 24, 2017
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Daria Werbowy in India for Maiyet's S/S 2013 collection. Source: maiyet.com.
Indian artisan painting Maiyet garments
using the Kalamkari technique.
Source: pinterest.com/maiyet.

It was love at first sight. Maiyet - whose name "is inspired by the Ancient Egyptian concept of truth and harmony" - is a breath of fresh air in an industry whose key players compete for overt luxury and extravagance, often to the point of gaudiness. 

Although Maiyet's collections are undeniably beautiful, they emphasise the other side of luxury, one bathed in fine craftsmanship, culture and artistry, all the while maintaining a feeling of ease and modesty. Their earthy, luxurious garments and accessories are an amuse-bouche to the fashion palate.

Maiyet's effortless luxury has an air of Hermès, a philosophical foundation comparable to Edun, but an approach that is distinctly its own. The brand's vision is likely tied to backgrounds of Maiyet's founders. Paul van Zyl spent over 20 years working in human rights and transitional justice; another founder, Daniel Lubetzky, has been described as a "pioneer in using business to promote peace"; and Kristy Caylor, former president and COO of Band of Outsiders, is seasoned in working with artisans all over the world and managing large-scale projects within Gap Inc., including Product (RED). Step aside, Bono.

We seek out and partner with the next generation of global craftsman. [...] We bring heritage techniques and a variety of cultures together under one aesthetic, which is a unique and inspiring creative challenge.

Launched in October 2012, and with six collections already under its belt, Maiyet's calling card seems to be its global sampling of traditional artisanal techniques. Says Caylor: "We seek out and partner with the next generation of global craftsman. We show in Paris, design in New York and work in 13 countries around the world [including Kenya, Indonesia, Italy and India]. We bring heritage techniques and a variety of cultures together under one aesthetic, which is a unique and inspiring creative challenge."

The company recently partnered with Nest, a non-profit organisation committed to training and developing artisan businesses in developing countries. Nest assesses the needs of existing and potential partners, and develops short- and long-term training programs. Concurrently, Maiyet engages the partners to create their collections, paying fair wages and donating a percentage of its profits towards training and development. Ultimately, Maiyet and Nest aim to, "alleviate poverty, empower women," viewing artisanship as a "powerful way to promote prosperity and stability throughout the world."

Maiyet's most recent partnership with artisans in India was facilitated by Nest. Indian artisans decorated fabrics used for several key pieces - primarily shirts and dresses - with Kalamkari, the ancient art of decorating textiles using a Kalam or a pen. Each design is hand-painted, stroke-by-stroke, creating a fluid watercolour-like effect onto individual garments, ensuring that no two are alike. The garments are also numbered, just like an art print.

Maiyet is also incorporating ancient Indian handloom weaving and fine jewellery techniques into garments and accessories - like the Owl Cuff, handmade with 18K gold and champagne diamonds by a master in Jaipur, India. Explains Maiyet: "Handloom weaving is one of the oldest and most widely spread techniques to make fabric in India, traditionally silk, and constitutes the largest cottage industry in the country today. The ancient jamdani weaving technique is mentioned as early as 300 B.C. and is world-renowned for its fineness, reaching its height during the reign of the Mughals in Bengal (modern Bangladesh and part of India). Elaborate motifs are embroidered into the fabric by hand while it is being woven using gold and silver thread, making intricate geometric shapes."

The results of Maiyet's artisan-made collections are authentic garments that contradict a mass-produced culture. But before artisans get to work, designers in New York City have to put in their hours. Maiyet has embraced diversity and has been vocal about its far-reaching inspirations. "We have an incredible team here in New York who are also global - we have as many countries represented within our team as we do amongst our group of artisan partners. We find inspiration from our travels, from art, architecture, the cultures around us," says Caylor who travels to India several times a year, and is planning to return this coming June.

From Maiyet's Resort 2013 collection.
Source: maiyet.com.

Guided and headed by creative director, Gabriella Zanzani, Maiyet takes its collections from the roaring mountains and exotic jungles of Peru, to the mighty Himalayas, over to the wide lands of Kenya. For A/W 2013, Maiyet looked to Tibetan mythology for inspiration - specifically dragons - creating a block print evocative of dragon scales and weaving it throughout the collection. The inspiration continued with felted gradients that are reminiscent of the snowy Himalayan mountain tops.

Maiyet is open about their inspirations. Through numerous online platforms, they publish their heart's desires in the form of behind-the-scenes photographs, detailed collection sketches, mood boards, videos of artisans at work and even a short film shot in Kenya, directed by Cary Fukunaga. This openness is part of their charm, inviting us to experience their world, other cultures and ultimately taking us on a well-strategised adventure.

Although the clothing and craftsmanship speak for themselves - lyrically, actually, in poetic verse - Maiyet's campaign photographs do a darn great job at capturing the soul of the label. Daria Werbowy is Maiyet's spirit animal. Her divine yet earthy aesthetic compliments, if not mirrors, Maiyet's ethereal and quiet charm. Together with photographer Cass Bird, Werbowy and Maiyet create photographs with a documentary aesthetic - as if they ought not to live in the pages of Vogue, but in a Chelsea gallery.

Maiyet is a compelling example of the power of smart branding, and, as such, it's hard not to question the sincerity of its incredibly well-oiled machine - it is the fashion industry, after all. But when I reflect upon the experiences and values of the good-doing hands that have created Maiyet, it's easy to believe their ambition is genuine. Thus far, Maiyet has proved that luxury isn't always self-centered, but is capable of acting a wee bit selflessly. 

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