Marshall Columbia Looks to the Past to Create a New Future

Chatting ahead of his third collection and Moon Flower bag drop on SSENSE

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Fashion is a playground for invention, giving designers an opportunity to imagine a reality that never existed before. They can concoct new, tweaked iterations of previous experiences through the process of designing the garments that would have punctuated the hypothetical world. This is the kind of world-building driving a lot of the design behind Marshall Columbia’s third collection—the first to include menswear. By nature of being conceived as a more unisex line than Marshall’s previous womenswear collections, this project allowed Marshall to ideate more around the idea of what he would want to wear.

The culmination of a myriad of influences—from skateboarding to arts and crafts and Versace—Marshall Columbia’s third collection is at the same time an homage to his previous work and a premonition of what’s to come. I had the opportunity to speak to Marshall about his new collection—which includes the soon-to-be iconic Moon Flower bag—and his entry into design ahead of the collection’s release on SSENSE next week.

The Genesis of Marshall Columbia

Marshall grew up outside of Denver in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Coincidentally, this is about an hour south of where I grew up. Colorado isn’t known for its style-forward vibe, so I was curious to hear about Marshall’s upbringing in the fashion-averse state and how his status as a designer came to be.

"Since I was a kid, I've always loved bright colors, and that's always translated into my design work,” Marshall begins. "A big part of my childhood was, I loved arts and crafts. So much. I loved beading, I loved knitting. There was one year where I knit all of my family scarves. They were so ugly. But, I was very excited about all of that," he chuckles to me. In this era, he was balancing his love of arts and crafts with a simultaneous involvement in the skating community—more on the influence of skate culture later.

"I remember sometimes I would hang out with my friends when I was younger and be like, 'Do you guys wanna craft?' And everyone would think I was crazy. But I just loved messing around and making cute little things,” Marshall smiles to me in his sun-drenched Brooklyn studio.

An exceptionally interesting inspiration for the color in his design was revealed early in our conversation. “Fun fact: I am color blind. So I think I am always drawn to the more vibrant colors because I can really tell what they are," Marshall reveals to me, which gives the vivid aspect of his design a new meaning.

Marshall initially went to school for classical harp, before eventually pivoting into design. “I kind of had always thought of design as a dream job,” he tells me; so he went to FIT, before eventually dropping out. Nonetheless, the experience at the institute fostered his burgeoning interest in design—and he created the brand's logo during his coursework there.

Fast forward to early 2020, and Marshall had begun to design bags “just for fun,” he smiles to me describing the nascent days. He had lost his job to the pandemic, so he began making bags and selling them on Depop. Gaining traction on Instagram for his vivid, beaded bags, he eventually decided to create a website to market the product.

"I had so much time during the pandemic that I learned how to make a little website, did some coding tutorials, made a website and then started working on my collection," he recalls. "I wasn't really planning on starting my brand at the time,” he tells me, adding: “And then it got a lot of traction on IG, some people reached out. Then—long story short—SSENSE picked up my first collection, which is how I was able to grow so quickly."

The first collection foreshadowed a lot of what is still integral to the design today. "It definitely was just as colorful. There were lots of cut outs, lots of beading. I reference the first collection a lot still, different aspects of it. So I've always been very colorful with everything that I design," Marshall explains to me.

In recent years, SSENSE has been making a major effort to highlight emerging brands sprinkled among their roster of already established luxury designers. The placement helped get Marshall’s work in front of many more people, and the eclectic/vibrant designs quickly caught the eye of numerous celebrities and musicians.

In the first few months after being placed on SSENSE, Miley Cyrus wore a beaded suit ("The dangle beading is a big part of our brand identity"), Megan Thee Stallion donned a bag (“I usually know who's going to wear it, because they pull things. But [Megan] was unknown, out of nowhere”) and even Charli XCX had something pulled early on, which would go on to be featured in the artwork for her single, Baby.

Collection 3

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Marshall Columbia
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Marshall Columbia

Marshall’s newest collection is both an homage and a departure to and from his previous work. Elements of beading and vibrant color certainly remain, but by integrating menswear for the first time, he has the opportunity to create garments based around his own personal style and what he would want to wear.

“With this collection, I took a more personal approach to designing it. I had a rough time in the beginning, just figuring out who my mens customer was. And then coming to the realization that it's just me. And it kind of flowed really easily after that,” he explains. SSENSE’s men’s department had reached out about the possibility of him getting into menswear, and so it was the perfect opportunity to integrate some of his personal style desires into the line.

So much of contemporary fashion is inspired by skatewear, but it’s no secret that skateboarding—as a community—has never been entirely welcoming to everyone.

“The inspiration behind the collection is skate, but also a more personal story of growing up skating and not really feeling like that space was inclusive for me as a queer person,” Marshall explains to me; this collection is essentially a hypothetical wardrobe for the queer skate community of the present and future.

So this collection is kind of reflecting back and designing around, ‘what if that space was safe for me,’ and what would people be wearing. What would the energy be?

- Marshall Columbia on Skate Culture

Marshall is still primarily a clothing designer, so he opted to collaborate with some experts in other design fields for a few distinct pieces throughout the collection. “I wanted to hit more product categories than I know about. I am still in the beginning phases of developing the brand, so I really want to focus on just clothing.”

He worked with eyewear designer TD Kent, the second collab with the London-based designer. Knitwear designer Shradha Kochhar contributed to the knits in the collection—their second collab as well. Alan Crocetti collaborated on the jewelry. And finally, YUME YUME on the footwear, which Marshall describes as "a plush flip flop moment."

There are more shoes to come down the line with YUME YUME, something I’m personally pretty excited about.

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Image by Nick Crispino / ONE37pm

On how the collection is more reflective of his personal style, Marshall—draped head to toe in garments from the line—tells me: "It's the first collection that I actually feel comfortable wearing.” So many of the pieces from this line are reimaginings of minimal articles. The pants, for example, have a traditional workwear shape, but come in a vibrant volt green color. The garments toe the line between two disparate worlds.

The Moon Flower Bag and the Future

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Marshall Columbia

Up until this collection, Marshall’s bags have prioritized aesthetic over pragmatism. But his newest bag, the Moonflower Bag, is as practical as it is eye-catching. "I designed this because I just needed something I could use everyday,” he explains, adding: "And I'm kind of obsessed with it. It's way more practical and it fits way more things than our last bags."

The experience with the Moon Flower bag has actually inspired Marshall to make even more bags going forward: “I'm realizing I love designing bags the most. Because the only criteria is that it has to hold something, and then you can just do whatever you want. It's more sculptural. I just get to play a lot more."

Marshall is already hard at work on Collection 4, with the lookbook expected for September of this year. “I'm trying to step out of doing traditional seasons, just because I don't really shop in season. I don't feel like a lot of people do. And it's more about the story around the collection than it is about making winter clothes and summer clothes,” Marshall elaborates on his eschewing of the traditional timeline of fashion.

It's no surprise that Marshall has exploded to such recognizability in such a short period of time. The current collection incorporates aspects of high fashion and even costumey design, anchored by approachable silhouettes. In one way, the line reimagines a past that did not exist. In another, it foreshadows a future that will.

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