Close up of person posting in knitted dress.

Young Designer Max Donahue Knows the Importance of the Art of Transformation

Chloe Lewis: Tell us about the process of your designs: what inspires your art and where does that take you?

Max Donahue: My thoughts, intentions and dreams in the present guide me through my making process. Lately I’ve been starting with material. I find materials that I’m drawn to and, at that moment, I begin dreaming of what I’ll create. Then I drive that vision until it becomes reality. I try not to define my process too much, because I find that to be limiting. How can you manifest a pure abstraction into reality if you’re caught up on how you must make it real? In the case of creating art from a dream, you can’t define what’s real before it is. I have an idea of what I’ll do along the way,but I never attach myself to theseideas too intently. What if in a future present moment, I find a new way to approach the dream? I keep my mind open throughout the whole process and let whatever comes come.

Also—everything is a dress. Pants, shirts, tops, skirts, all of it is a dress. The dress as a symbol, the dress as an energy, The dress as a vessel for higher understanding and pure expression. Elegance, mystery, strength, beauty. The dress is the culmination of everything I am. I’ll share it with you soon.

Max Donahue poses in one of his creations.

CL: What's your favorite medium to work with, and why?

MD: Right now, I’m drawn to taffeta, spandex and mohair. I love the weight and texture of taffeta; it’s mysterious. Spandex I love for its versatility. Mohair is gentle and peaceful, and when knit in yardage it has a heavy drape that I love to play with. In terms of mediums that will always be a part of my practice, rope is an essential material. Anything that I can tie with my hands is a major part of what I create. When I tie my dresses, the direction is uninhibited.

CL: How has coming of age in this pandemic time influenced your work?

MD: Coming of age in this time has completely shifted my perception of my work and my life. When the pandemic began, I was 21, and at the height of confronting my identity. Every day I was asking myself who I wanted to be, examining my purpose. The pandemic showed me how to facilitate personal growth through my artwork. I began using my body to create my garments, which opened up my understanding of self, mind and body.

Finding myself through my work has also taught me how to apply these thoughts to other people—I love working with clients and making dresses that match their energy, that embody what they need in the moment. My entire creative process haschanged over the last 18 months, and I’m so grateful for the growth I’ve experienced. The journey is the destination, as they say.

CL: If you could collaborate with any peer, who would it be?

MD: Kim Kardashian comes to mind first. She has mastered the art of the present moment. To make a dress for her would be a great challenge. Philip Glass is a dream collaborator as well. His music exudes the energy I feel when I make and I would love to speak with him about his process. Fabiola Gianotti, a physicist at CERN, also really intrigues me. I hope she could teach me about quantum mechanics... the intersection of physics and art is a collaboration I find essential. And, lastly, Pierpaolo Piccioli. I have so much to learn. To work with Pierpaolo and the team at Valentino would teach me great lessons that I am eager to discover.

CL: What are you currently exploreing in your work?

MD: All things big—things I don’t fully understand, hard to grasp concepts like quantum mechanics, metaphysics, time. I find immense beauty in wondering, in reaching to understand what may never be understood.