Best Wardrobes in Britain – Maxim Magnus for Who What Wear
Maxim Magnus speaks to Who What Wear….
Welcome to the latest highly exciting instalment of Who What Wear UK’s Best Wardrobes in Britain. It’s where we do exactly what that title says on the tin: delve into the most fantastical, awe-inspiring and downright influential wardrobes in this fair country of ours. We’re honing in on the women who cause the street style photographers to press their shutters as much as the characters you don’t yet know—the ones who fly under the radar with secretly incredible clothing collections.
This month we are proud to present Maxim Magnus. The 20-year-old model has shot to fame over the past year in part thanks to her outspoken, eloquent, patient and trailblazing work as a trans woman. Maxim has broken stereotypes, smashed down some barriers and been calm and cool throughout her newfound popularity. Whilst you’ll often see her through the eyes of über-cool magazine shoots, Gucci campaigns and catwalk shows, today is all about the real Maxim: shopping enthusiast and one of the biggest fashion fans we know. You’ll find the Belgian-born,, London-based Insta-darling’s true style (it’s very varied and very brilliant), learn about her journey with clothes thus far and definitely feel rather envious of her shoe collection. Keep reading to see our exclusive shoot and interview.
Do you have a first fashion memory?
I remember I had a striped T-shirt. I was into stripes when I was younger—my mum would always wear that style, and it was just very trendy back then. I really wanted to wear this striped T-shirt, and my mum wouldn’t let me because she knew that people would make fun of me. Not because she didn’t like it—she bought it for me and she knew I loved it—but because she knew other kids were going to make fun of me.
Why would they make fun of you?
Because it was quite out there. It wasn’t something that people around me would wear. I went to a Catholic school, and it was very conservative. But one time my mum was dressing me in the morning, and I put the T-shirt under a different shirt she made me wear. I took it off when I was in class one day, and my teacher was like “What the hell, what is this kid doing?” but I did it anyway. At the end of the day, I forgot to put the shirt back on, and my mum saw me coming out [of school] wearing the T-shirt—she saw how happy and comfortable I was.
And did people make fun of you that day?
Oh yeah, people did laugh at me, but I never really cared. I was just a happy kid.
Do you have any style icons? If so, how do they influence your wardrobe?
The cliché answer for me would be the Olsen Twins. When I was 12, I was so obsessed with them. That’s why I’ve got those boots [Balenciaga boots pictured below]. Everything they did I was like Oh my god, amazing. I love you. I would buy everything 10 sizes too big for me [like they did]. Then I went into this phase of wanting to show the world I am a girl, and they’re quite genderless, so I went off to experiment in the way I did my makeup… I mean I looked like a drag queen. And as much as I love that now, if I looked at my 14-year-old-self, I would probably tell myself to tone it down a little bit. But at the time I did that because it felt good, and I really looked up to people like Gigi Gorgeous and more YouTubers than celebrities because I think celebrities were too far away from me… Gigi I’ve always loved and adored—I kind of went through my transition with her. Even before either of us came out as trans, she was dressing as a woman, so I was dressing as a woman, and I would wear the most extravagant colourful things. I loved it.
Do you have any advice for younger people struggling with feeling and looking like themselves?
Don’t compare yourself to other people. Cut the bullshit—honestly, stop comparing yourself. I think this is a societal problem. As humans, from a young age we’re taught that we’re to be really insecure and battle against each other. That you have to be better than the next person even if it’s your friend, brother, sister or mum—you just battle against everyone. And I think it’s just so hard, especially with social media, to not compare yourself to people, and everyone does it—I do it. It’s hard not to get caught up in it, but just don’t.
How has your style developed over time?
I’ve always used fashion—as everyone does—as a costume, as a way to show people who I am. But I’ve also used it as a thing to uplift me, to make my mood happier. I genuinely believe clothes or makeup can do that. And even though for me fashion is not about materialistic stuff, it is about creating my personality, it’s how I want to show the world this is me. So after I had that very bombastic colourful era, I was like now I want to be all black and very simple and chic, and I want to look like a Parisian woman. I tried that, and it really didn’t work for me. Now my two styles have kind of merged, so I’m very—I hate it when people ask me to describe my style—but it’s, like, not effortless at all. It’s very thought through. A lot of people have effortless style, but I every time I buy something—and this can be from a high-street store or the most expensive brand—it has a meaning; it has a story. I never buy something just to buy something.
You can catch me in a pair of jeans or sweatpants, but you can also catch me in a ballgown. I’ll go to dinner in the most extravagant thing—thank god my roommate is the same way as me. I love dressing up, and that’s why I live in London mostly because I can dress up here. Its very not-done where I come from [Antwerp] to be very bold or extravagant, or yourself really…
If a friend looked at an item and thought it was “so Maxim,” what do you think that item would be?
So my friends use it as a compliment, but also for something that’s so ugly or so extra! I don’t own a pair, but I think like a very high white stiff leather boot. I think that’s very me. But then again also something very colourful. I have so many different moods. My pink Prada sneakers [pictured below] describe my personality very well, to be honest.
At what point did you know you wanted to get into the fashion industry?
Well, there was a time when I really wanted to become an actress because I’ve always been very into performing arts. I was always singing, dancing—actually less dancing but more musical theatre. I always loved that stuff, so I thought I was going to become an actress, but I always loved fashion. I think it was something that was passed down from my grandma, who was a hat maker, and then my mum; she has amazing style, very simple but very elegant.
When it came to picking what I was actually going to study—because by this point I had dropped out of high school [and] I went through a very dark period in my life—I realised I wanted to do something that I really love. And as much as I loved performing arts, I didn’t think at the time that was something for me, and I thought I can always go do that later… I was looking at universities and I saw Condé Nast College, and it was the first time they were ever doing a bachelors [BA degree], and it really spoke to me. It was in two years rather than three, so it was perfect.
The story goes that you modelled for a college friend and it all went from there.
It became a little bit of a thing when it was suggested to me by my teachers to start modelling. I was like maybe not. They really encouraged and motivated me and were like “We’re going to see an agent,” and we did. From there, I signed immediately.
Was it something you’d thought of before?
No. I’d always loved models and looked up to people in the industry, but I think I was very blind to what the industry was really like. Everyone thinks it’s this glamorous, amazing thing, and once I started studying fashion, I realised the things it’s not and that kind of put me off going into modelling. I was kind of way too insecure at the time when I started modelling. Modelling made me so much more secure—and I’ve been doing this a year, so not long at all. It has really helped me, and I never thought I could be a model, so for other people to say I can? Let’s do this!
The current shift towards diversity in fashion feels so overdue. How do you see things changing, and what more needs to be done?
I’ve been doing fashion week for a few seasons now, but my first real season where I started appearing in shows was this past February. I remember my PR and I sitting down and thinking about the brands I would like to work with, what shows I would like to do, what I would like to wear. It was so hard to get designers to dress me or to have me go to the show or a party—they were really reluctant at first. And then the team at Tom Ford, lucky for me, decided to dress me for a party they were throwing. I expected everyone to be dressed but only five people from the whole party were dressed. I was like Holy f*ck, this is a big deal. I wore an amazing outfit from them, and from that moment on, designers opened their doors. I really don’t feel like it’s been due to tokenism so far, either. (Oh, we used this trans model; we used this gay model.) I’m very lucky to have an amazing agent—Esther [co-founder of Linden Staub] is ruthless. She will just dive into it and find out whether this brand is requesting me because they want to work with me or because it’s just a token thing…
I think that’s where we need to go to in this industry, to not use this as tokenism or something cool, because, to be honest, being trans doesn’t make you any cooler than other people. Being trans doesn’t make you interesting; it’s what you do with your experience [see Maxim’s video series here for more info]. It’s the same as that your skin colour doesn’t make you interesting. Your sexuality doesn’t make you interesting.
And also, it’s just about being great at the job you’re being hired for.
Exactly. If I was a shit model, no one would hire me. If I had a bad attitude, no one would hire me. I love that I have this platform to share everything on Instagram, and that’s why people follow me. I’m super honest, I’m straight to the point and I don’t deal with bullshit—I call people out as well. A lot of people in the fashion industry are hypocritical, and they accept me when it suits them.
That’s great about Tom Ford, but what is it going to take to get to the point where you’re not waiting for one designer to give the green light so everyone else moves forward?
Education. It’s the most important part, and that’s why I try to educate people every day on what it is to be trans, what you go through when you’re trans. It’s not a fashion thing. It’s not a trend. It’s not something that should be taken lightly either.
What are your shopping habits?
It comes from all corners; that’s the bad thing with me. I can see someone on the street and be like “I love what you’re wearing.” I’m not that influenced by celebrities, but anything really that Bella Hadid wears I’m like Gotta have it now. When I got the Prada fanny pack—which my mum has had for years and years; we’re kind of the same person style-wise. I would always be like “What the hell, what is that?”—and now that I’ve seen them styled well, I realise how much I like them, and I wear one practically every single day.
My biggest [shopping] influence is my roommate, and I think I’m the biggest influence for her. We will go to a store and pick things out for each other—it’s very dangerous. When we’re alone it’s okay, but when we’re together it’s like no… and we buy the same stuff in different colours. We share things: For example, some Joseph trousers I found in the sale. I texted her on the way home to say I’ve found the most amazing trousers; you’re going to die. Then we went back two hours later to see if they had another pair and they didn’t have any more and they were sold out worldwide, so now we’re still on the hunt for them, but she’s worn them more than I have. Every time we wear them, someone will want them; someone tried to buy them off me in a restaurant bathroom.
What was the last thing you bought?
Céline necklace [pictured throughout]. And I bought one for my roommate as well. She’s my soulmate!
Is there something you own a ridiculous amount of and still keep buying?
It’s funny because I don’t actually wear jackets that often, but I love to buy them! I think it’s because your outfit can be quite simple—I can wear jeans and a white T-shirt—but a statement jacket will just make the whole look. It elevates everything… I think it came from both my parents: My dad is obsessed with coats and jackets, and my mum is actually the same as me. She has a lot of them, but she doesn’t actually wear them, that’s why half of my jackets are my mum’s as well.
Can you remember a moment where you indulged in a particularly big purchase?
I have one dress that was given to me. So I really wanted this as a prom dress. I was shopping with my dad, and I really wanted that dress. It was before my surgery, and I didn’t have cleavage. My dad was like “Maxim, no. I love it, but you need boobs for that.” And so I took my mum, and she said the exact same thing. That’s what I love about my parents, they will tell me when something doesn’t look good. My whole family is kind of like that—80% of the time they hate what I’m wearing, but they love it at the same time because it’s my style and I’m wearing it. I asked them if I’d get the dress when I got my boobs. I remember that one of the first things I said when I woke up in the hospital was, “It’s time to buy me that dress,” and my dad did! It’s something I’ll keep forever.
Photographer: Phill Taylor
Creative Direction: Hannah Almassi
Makeup Artist: Dominic Skinner using MAC Cosmetics
Hair Stylist: Ryan Steedman using Percy & Reed
Photographer’s assistant: John Gurung