On understanding the ‘now’
On understanding the 'now'
When I speak to Maria Koch, she’s sitting in a sunlit room in her home in Dahlem — a leafy, residential district a few kilometres south of Berlin. She lights a cigarette, and while exhaling says, “I prefer living outside of the city now. It only takes seven minutes to get to the nearest department store, but I have the forest on my doorstep.”
Originally from Göttingen, Maria started out life as a “small-town girl.” In her teens, she moved to Berlin to study fashion at the University of Arts, and spent her weekends dancing in techno clubs — just a few years after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. “I was a classic Berlin hardcore rave kid who was into graffiti, while Joerg, my now husband, was a straight-edge punk,” says Maria. “I think being here in the 90s made us really understand people; we saw a lot of things, and I think this helps us understand current situations in society and politics too.”
This ability to understand the “now” is what has made 032c, a Berlin-based content platform, think tank, and apparel brand run by Maria and her husband, so successful. 032c started out as a DIY contemporary culture magazine in 2000. Now, it’s grown into a creative empire.
While 032c’s smart and glossy magazine, featuring international models, photographers, musicians and academics, is still the core of the brand, the company also puts on exhibitions and events, consults with big brands and creates its own fashion line. “032c was never planned to be just a magazine; it was always this very free idea of being a platform with different streams of producing,” says Maria. “That’s why the idea of research, freedom and creativity is really the driving force behind everything we do. These three things really are our mantra.” Maria sees 032c as a “giant research lab.” She and her team are “sociologists,” exploring contemporary topics “that matter” through image, text, clothing, music and design.
‘Sustainability is about thinking in a modern and smart way to not overstretch the world’s resources. It’s about deciding whether something needs to exist: whether it’s wanted or needed.’
Maria Koch, 2021
Maria’s first love, however, is fashion. After leaving university, she worked with celebrated brands such as Jill Sander and Marios Schwab and commuted back and forth between London and Berlin. In 2016, she took the reins as creative director of 032c and launched the Ready To Wear women’s fashion label. The first collection, called ‘The Cosmic Workshop,’ was launched in London in Autumn 2018 and was inspired by the industrial-style rave gear of the 90s. The pieces feature an austere, yet elegant, mix of heavy leathers, layered chiffon and sequin finishings — an aesthetic that Maria describes as classy and modern, “with a destroyer edge that avoids the flatness of convention.”
Maria’s designs are guided as much by sustainable and ethical principles, as they are by form and function. Each piece in the latest RTW collection, ‘Party Girl,’ bears the Apparel Global Textile Standard label. The clothes are organic and made using sustainable materials. Packaging is also kept to a minimum. “I’m very attracted to the sustainable approach to fashion, but for me, it’s not only about being non-stop organic. Sustainability is about thinking in a modern and smart way to not overstretch the world’s resources. It’s about deciding whether something needs to exist: whether it’s wanted or needed.”
032c may have grown into an international brand, but it remains true to its Berlin roots. The magazine contains a stimulating and unorthodox mix of content spanning art, fashion and politics — with past issues containing interviews with Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton, Laetitia Casta, a French model and actress, and Heinz Bude, a German sociologist writing on the concept of solidarity. 032c, perhaps unknowingly, harnesses Berlin’s creative spirit and history of activism. It inspires expression, dialogue and political action. “032c has evolved a lot over the last twenty years, but the core attitude is still the same,” says Maria. “We have the independence and freedom to work with the people we want to work with on topics that are important to us. It’s as simple as that.”
‘The idea of research, freedom and creativity is really the driving force behind everything we do. These three things really are our mantra.’
Maria Koch, 2021
‘We have the independence and freedom to work with the people we want to work with on topics that are important to us. It’s as simple as that.’
Maria Koch, 2021