Get To Know: The Whimsical World Of Multidisciplinary Designer Max Mollison

By Dan Ahwa
Max Mollison self-portrait.

We first came across the work of multi-disciplinary designer Max Mollison in 2016.

A bejeweled tank top with a logo inspired by the Victoria Bitter beer label reads 'WM-Whatever Mum' and a motorcycle jacket made from brown cow-hide.

What New Zealand fashion designer's lack in humour, Max Mollison has it in spades.

Inspired by pop and internet culture, Looney Tunes cartoons and The Real Housewives franchise, Max's work is nostalgic, bold and irreverent - and in a time of universal challenges, its the kind of whimsy providing much-needed respite during an otherwise unpredictable year.

In 2016, upon the eve of Donald Trump's election as US president, we photographed Max's designs in a shoot published the day before entitled 'Happy Fashion To Make You Smile'.

His work doesn't stop at fashion though - to mark the launch of our first stand-alone gloss magazine this week, Viva Volume One, Max created a special Instagram face filter utilizing glossy purple flowers and the Viva masthead.

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During the first lockdown, he worked on an isolation zine, calling out to his community for ideas and contributions to help process and counter those feelings we all were feeling - anxiety, stress, anger, sadness and uncertainty; and he's worked with a variety of clients on developing strong brand identity and marketing strategy.

Max shares what he's been up to in a year full of challenges for many creatives and how he's been able to use his multi-talents to good use.

2020 has proven to be a challenging year for many people, especially for creatives. How have you been able to stay inspired and creative within the restrictions of lockdown?

A lot of my work takes inspiration from and centers around internet culture and social media and during the lockdown, those things exploded with content, conspiracy and creativity. Memes reached an all-time high and became so much more relatable because we were all in the same boat.

This inspired me to reach out to people via the internet more than ever before and to join forces with others on creative projects. Lockdown has ignited a passion for collaboration within me and I’m excited to keep it going!

What was the response like to the zines?

The response was really good! During lockdown, I made Isolation Zine. I reached out to the internet and asked everyone to get involved with the creation of this zine.

We were all experiencing the feeling of isolation (somewhat still are) at the same time and I wanted to know how everyone was managing it. I wanted everyone to show me and then I made it into something wonderful. The world was in need of a creative outlet to vent their anxieties and frustration about our current position. I supplied a menu of creative tasks to get people started. Things like: write a list of your daily quarantine schedule or menu; draw or describe what you’re excited to do when quarantine is over; or write a Haiku about how you’re feeling during quarantine - things like that.

2016: Max Mollison top. Photo /
2016: Max Mollison top. Photo /

I then asked the internet to Interpret them in whatever way they wanted. People sent drawings, poems, notes, photos, videos, screenshots, and scribbles and I artistically designed them into a zine about our collective quarantine experience. It was a very emotional but cathartic experience to receive and design everyone's submissions. There was a lot of Tiger King, food and underwear selfies.

What I discovered I enjoyed most about creating Isolation Zine was interpreting someone's poem or stories into typographic works of art. This discovery has led me to the next zine project that I am currently taking submissions for, Secret 2020 Zine. It will be comprised of typographic art based on secret confessions.

Using an anonymous confession portal on my website I am asking people to submit a sentence, a paragraph, a story or a few words. Then I will turn the secret confessions into typographic word art posters and design them into a zine about our secret impulses, regrets, ambitions, behaviours, discontent and funny experiences. There are no rules and it is completely anonymous. They submit the words and I deal with the artistic consequences. I am excited to see the outcome.

As many brands focus more within the digital realm i.e. virtual presentations, live chats – what advice do you have for businesses trying to be creative in the virtual space?

Creating in a virtual space is limitless. There is truly no platform more expansive. It’s a free for all, so I would say go for it! Moving into the digital realm only makes you more accessible and relevant so I would encourage brands to embrace it and go crazy! Just try not to get cancelled.

We first came across your fashion designs in 2015 and loved the dark humour and playfulness that came with your designs. What about fashion designing do you love in particular?

I love that a garment can hold so many feelings and memories. I can look back on fashion I have designed in the past and can remember how I was feeling or what I was going through at that time.

I love that I can cram a garment full of narratives, every piece I make has a story. My aesthetic is built around pop culture references and nostalgia. I like to evoke a memory, an emotion, an obsession, or a smile so that viewers will identify with my work and form an emotional connection.

Eden Bristowe wearing Max Mollison jeans for Viva in 2016. Photo / Guy Coombes.
Eden Bristowe wearing Max Mollison jeans for Viva in 2016. Photo / Guy Coombes.

When I think about my favourite garment, it's not my favourite because it was the most expensive or makes me look good. It's my favourite because of the memories I have with it eg. I was wearing it when I met my boyfriend or I was wearing it when I first held my baby brother. I would love for my fashion design to muster those feelings/ memories within the wearer and live on apart of their own narrative.

We also love the way you combine high and low pop-cultural references in your work – the Real Housewives All-Stars trading cards for example was a major highlight. What is it about popular culture that inspires you the most?

I hope you are not insinuating that The Real Housewives franchise is low culture! At this point, I think pop culture is so entrenched in my everyday life that it subconsciously inspires everything I do. I have the TV on all the time, I have different shows playing for the various things I'm working on, so when I've finished the garment/object/project it reminds me of that specific show. It also greatly influences the title of the piece, that's why a lot of the things I make appear unrelated to their titles. The process dictates the title, not its appearance, theme, or originating idea.

You’ve created a special AR Instagram filter for Viva to celebrate the launch of its first-ever glossy edition sold nationwide; we’ve loved all of your filters. What is it about the AR filters that you especially love?

Thank you! I love that AR filters have given me a digital outlet for creating different fashionable looks and experiences.

My fashion adornment-orientated AR filters can reach so many more people through digital platforms like Instagram than my physical fashion garments could (especially during Covid times). No need to be in a showroom or a store, you can literally try on my decorative trend-driven looks via Instagram.

It is fashion adornment beyond clothing and the possibilities are limitless. Because I wasn’t able to buy materials for other creative projects during lockdown my obsession for augmented reality was amplified as all I needed was my phone and computer. I used AR to creatively energize my bubble with everything from hurricanes of spaghetti and meatballs to sticker books and alien encounters.

The filter that I love the most is Daisy Chain. It was inspired by one of my favourite cartoon shorts, What’s Opera, Doc? with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd from 1957. In the cartoon, streams of painted flowers are draped around the scenes.

While in Quarantine I wanted to decorate my own environment in the same way, so I imitated this with Daisy Chain.

The Instagram filter can be used to draw streams of flowers as you move around the real-world space. These flowers hold the memory of where they have been and linger for five minutes, allowing you to build, paint and decorate the space around you.

Where did your love of fashion and design come from?

Probably television. I was obsessed with classic animation when I was little and still am. The way I design today mimics the conventions and standards of the painted animations of Disney and the Looney Tunes which I was captivated with as a child.

My fashion design takes on a 2D, flat look with white or black outlines. I use block colours, prints and graphic illusions which all together sometimes make my garments look like a cartoon drawing. I think the moments in fashion history that may have turned me into a fashion designer include: when Marge Simpson finds the Chanel suit and keeps on altering it until it falls apart; Alexander McQueen's spring/summer 2010 'Platos Atlantis'; and the outfits Romy and Michelle make for their high school reunion.

Max's lockdown zine. Photo /
Max's lockdown zine. Photo /

What are you currently listening to?

Twin Shadow, Sevdaliza, Goldie Boutilier, Pikes, Sufjan Stevens.

I also have a full schedule of podcasts to keep up with - Reply All, Radio Rental, Heavyweight, Bonanas For Bonanza, Scam Goddess, Bitch Sesh, Juicy Scoop, How Did This Get Made?, Not To Be A Bitch But, and Let's Not Meet.

What are you currently reading?

Viva Volume One of course.

What next for Max Mollison?

I have a few things coming up, I’m really excited to be showing a piece in MEN(TAL HEALTH) - CALL & RESPONSE exhibition here in Dunedin.

It is a multi-disciplinary arts project which, through creative expression, seeks to support and facilitate open discussion and dialogue around men's mental health.

I'm also working on a virtual community and collaboration space showcasing New Zealand artists and designers called @babysittermagazine and I am still taking submissions for the Secret 2020 Zine via Max Mollison Secret Confessional Portal

Other than that what’s next is more collaborations, more local projects and more fonts, fashion and filters!

Head to our Instagram @NZHVIVA to try the Viva Volume One Gloss Filter by Max Mollison.

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