Meet the Designer Dishing Out Bad Gal RiRi's Best Denim
When I first met Matthew Adams Dolan, I immediately noticed how tall he was, and how soft and graceful his movements were. Even his accent was light (I almost couldn’t tell he was Australian). We laughed about what our Halloween costumes would be–he wasn’t sure he could top ‘Egyptian sex slave’ from last year–before we started talking about his life as a designer.
Having had his Parsons MFA collection worn by the likes of Rihanna and Lady Gaga, it was clear that Dolan was a different kind of designer altogether, and that’s because of his one true love – denim. Now, with the release of his new collection and having his work worn by Rihanna for i-D’s music issue, Dolan’s doing great. I got to sit and talk with the designer about the New York fashion scene, how much of a muse Rihanna actually is, and how dogs are just the best.
The cover you did with Rihanna was fantastic. How was it working on that?
It was so amazing. It was surreal. It was really the first press I have ever gotten. We had done a shoot for school, and eventually i-D came to interview us. I guess, after the show I wasn’t really sure how press works, or how giving things out works, so you’re always nervous when it comes out. ‘Did it get used at all? Did it look good?’ So when the cover came out it was awesome. I mean, I also got to build a relationship with her, so that’s great.
How has your relationship with her grown?
It’s all about her attitude. Obviously she’s a beautiful woman, but she also has such a cool attitude. She always looks amazing even if she’s just wearing a track suit. She always looks good. It’s about looking into that – it’s not just about ‘what would Rihanna do?’ It’s more about that kind of woman, or man. Having that attitude, having that confidence about clothes is more important.
So I read in one of your i-D stories that you wanted to be a zoologist?
[laughs] Yes! I loved animals.
What was your favorite?
Every single one. By the time I could talk, I would walk around with all of these animals cards and say all of their names. I was really obsessed.
Do you have any pets now?
I have no pets here. It’s so sad. I grew up always having dogs. It’s hard now walking down the street and seeing everyone with their dogs.
If you could have any pet, what would it be?
Literally any dog. Every time I see a dog, I think, ‘This is the best dog. This is the one.’ Someday I really want a dog, but right now it’s just too crazy.
“It’s not just about ‘what would Rihanna do?’ It’s more about that kind of woman, or man. Having that attitude, having that confidence about clothes is more important.”
This latest season was really great. What were some of the driving forces behind the collection?
I was looking at the same kinds of things I was looking at for my graduate collection. I was very much looking at Americana, and the history of denim in the US. That was pretty much the basis. I wanted to do a collection that was pretty straightforward, not very different from what I’ve done previously.
What is it about this ‘bootstrap Americana’ that made you fall for it?
I think what I like about it the most is that there are so many dualities. It’s so ingrained into that Western world, but at the same time it’s also very hip-hop oriented. There are so many different things to play with. Jeans can translate so much across different people.
Is that the same reason you got involved in denim?
Yeah, that’s exactly it. Jeans are universal.
Do you feel like you go through more challenges as a niche designer because you focus on denim?
For my first collection out of school, it was definitely more important for me to stick with denim. I feel like I’ve had a lot of good press about that, so I don’t want to stray too far from it. I wanted the first collection to be a stepping stone for that. However, denim is definitely something I love working with, especially in New York, where there’s not a lot of designers using it as much. The idea of it is so familiar that it gives you so much to play with as well.
Do you ever see yourself working with any other fabric?
I don’t want to pigeonhole myself as just the ‘denim designer.’ I’d like to explore other fabrics in a similar way to how I approach denim. We’ll see what happens next season, but I do want to keep denim as a core part of my collections.
What I really love is that your designs are really focused and precise, where as some other designers show a bunch of different fabrics to prove they can do it all. Do you feel that way about your designs?
Well the thing is that a denim jacket, or a pair of jeans, are so iconic. There’s not a huge amount of difference between two standard denim jackets. Having that focus and playing with that proportion and fit means you can do some really interesting things.
This collection really has that baggy, lounge-y feel to it – and those shoes! Where did you get the idea for those shoes?
Those shoes started with my graduate collection. That collection had a lot of fringing, so I was looking for something a little more interesting with the shoes. I want to do more with them, but I’m not at this stage yet. I’m just focusing on the clothes for now but maybe someday.
“Here is a little different from London… We’re a little rebellious in a way because it’s not just a conveyor belt of students.”
What is your next step right now?
It’s hard to say, because in New York, as a young designer, there’s no established way to do it. I’m learning something new every single day talking to stylists, or press, or anyone. Everyday I’m just trying to be a sponge and take it all in. In terms of the future, production is really important.
I’m trying to figure out a model that I’m happy with because it’s such an important part of any business – especially with denim. The collection this season was intentionally small because I didn’t want to go too crazy. Right now I’m just excited for the next collection. I’ve had a wonderful response from buyers, which is great to see. It’s very day by day at this stage.
You just mentioned that New York doesn’t really have a way for emerging designers to get out there. What do you think New York needs to do to help them out?
Well, MADE is obviously a great platform. New York seems to be changing a lot though. Before it was about the big shows. New York Fashion Week had a bad rep with more commercial things. Now there is a community that’s embracing younger designers, which is so exciting. It’s nice to be able to celebrate American talent and all of the young designers here. London has done very well to have this model in order to shape the fashion community.
So do you feel like we’re almost hitting this New York fashion Renaissance?
Yes! Even ten years ago, it was Alexander Wang and Proenza rising up then, but now they’re big names. I think it’s cool to see a younger generation come up again. Here is a little different from London, because it’s not just people coming out of LCF or Saint Martins. We’re a little rebellious in a way because it’s not just a conveyor belt of students.
“My mom used to put little sweaters on my dogs, but they hated them.”
Who do you feel like your designing for? Who do you want to see wearing your stuff?
I was working on that collection while I was doing the shoot with Rihanna. She’s just such a muse. She’s so cool. It’s also the way she way she wears clothes, when you see her, it’s just really awesome. It’s that effortless feel, especially working with something like denim. Being able to have something like that in the garments, something that I want to work with more in the future, is everything. The newer silhouettes with the off the shoulder vibe inspired me; when you’re not wearing your clothing right, or when things are too big or too baggy.
If you could give some tips, what are three staple pieces that everyone needs in their wardrobe?
A pair of jeans, a white t-shirt, and a warm jacket.
Would you ever design pet clothes?
I don’t know. My mom used to put little sweaters on my dogs, but they hated them.
Photographed by Michael Hauptman
Model Kriss at Muse
Styled by Sasha Kelly
Make up Emi Kaneko
Hair Braydon Nelson
Set Lauren Nikrooz and Rosie Turnbull
Casting Noah Shelley and Angus Munro