It's almost impossible to imagine but Maya Reik, who dropped out of school six years ago at the age of 14 to study fashion, now boasts 20 full-time employees at the Jaffa Port headquarters of her brand, Marei 1998 – as well as branches in New York and Milan.
To date, the 20-year-old Israeli fashion designer has produced eight collections, all of which have been received with a mixture of excitement and amazement. The latest, the 2019 summer collection that hit the runway at New York Fashion Week – and was featured simultaneously at showings in Milan and Paris – signified Reik's unambiguous breakthrough into the realm of global fashion.
Reik, who grew up in Beit Yanai, in central Israel, and took courses at the Shenkar School of Engineering and Design and elsewhere, says she divides her life today between Tel Aviv, New York and Milan.
"So," she says, “if I needed to describe my status, I would say I live ‘between places.’” Her clothing line is manufactured in Italy and India, and she has financial support from her family. (Reik’s father, businessman Avi Reik, along with his brother, sold their Flying Cargo Group to international shipping giant DHL for $100 million in 2007.)
“I’m aware I’m lucky – that I can do what I do with the privilege that's been given to me, with substantial help. I do my best and I don’t feel a need to apologize for it,” Reik says. “I work hard, I provide jobs, I do good things and touch people.” Those workers, who toil around the clock for her in Jaffa? “Some are 20, 30 and even 40 years older than me," she says quietly, "but it still feels very natural for me to employ and manage people older than me.”
Marei 1998's collections are dripping with luxury and characterized by elegance and opulence in the style of old Hollywood, with clean and minimalist lines, a restrained colorfulness and a fondness for adventures of the past. Reik says she is inspired by a broad range of sources: from her travels around the world – Iceland, Japan, Italy and the African savannah, among many others – to Art Deco, to neoclassical Renaissance, and artists like Man Ray, Modigliani and Matisse.
Since she founded Marei 1998 in 2015, Reik has been exhibiting at the various seasonal fashion weeks, first in Milan and then in New York. Prestigious boutiques such as Moda Operandi sell her clothing, and her designs have won high praise from the world's top fashion magazines – Vogue, InStyle, The New York Times, Women’s Wear Daily and Carine Roitfeld’s CR Fashion Book. These publications typically laud her mature designs and their nostalgic flair, along with Reik’s impressive achievements – considering her age.
“What does that even mean?” she wonders. “I have never managed to understand if it's positive or negative. The approach I follow in the creative process is to design items that are not dated – that can continue and live on in a closet for a long period without losing their relevance. At the same time, the responses [from the magazines] show that I have succeeded in arousing some sort of memory or emotion through the designs.”
Reik's brand has also won rapid recognition thanks to the celebrities who wear it, among them supermodel Bella Hadid and actresses Amy Adams and Priyanka Chopra.
The coup with Hadid and her wardrobe came about via connections with the model's staff. Reik sent her office a number of fake-fur coats and in the end Hadid was photographed wearing one of them and the picture was posted to Instagram.
“It was a very long courtship that I conducted by myself through personal connections – real creative work. It was a process that took a couple of months, but the result was very heartening," Reik adds. "It didn’t change my world, but it had a media effect and power, even at a distance of a couple of months. I especially enjoyed seeing the way in which she wore the coat – with jeans and boots."
Because Hadid and Chopra share the same stylist, the path to the movie star's closet was even shorter. The next goal? Actress Natalie Portman, says Reik. “My biggest dream is to reach everyone who wants to wear me.”
For young and young-at-heart
The latest Marei 1998 collection features 30 designs, the most important of which are silk and satin robes that make you want to become addicted to pain-killers; or evening gowns with soft silhouettes and décolletage spilling out. Some have flowery embroidered motifs inspired by the late Scottish designer and artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Prices start at $300 and climb to $2,000, for an embroidered dress.
Reik: “I chose to manufacture my collection as a personal and nostalgic diary. I draw inspiration from the authentic moments in life. As the social media sweeps us away into the lives of others, they are being pushed aside.”
Who are your clients?
Reik: “That is a question that took us a lot of time to answer. With time and experience, I realized that it could be someone who is 30 years old and to the same extent also someone who's 70. It made me very happy – to provide an answer for women in a variety of ages and with different needs. Everyone of them wears the items differently. Some take it to a classic place and some refine it in a rock 'n roll sort of way. What they share is the search for the uncompromising quality of an item that has an ongoing continued lifespan, and which one day they can pass on to their daughters.
"There is a quiet presence in my designs, a bit serious. [These are] not items that someone enters the room and they shout out ‘look at me!’ They give respect to the woman, to who it is that is wearing them.”
As opposed to her first collection, in which she used mink and fox fur, now Reik is launching a spin-off collection which, in the spirit of the times, features faux fur. It's been named “I am Furless,” a reference to both lack of fur and lack of fear. The launch of the line was accompanied by a Parisian photo shoot by 24-year-old Israeli photographer Daniel Jacont, along with a video clip filmed in Tuscany. In addition to handbags, scarves and fluffy sweatshirts, the eco-fur brand stars some 12 designs with prices in the $300-to-$800 range, and new styles will be introduced every few weeks.
“Personally, I used to wear real fur in the past. When I established Marei 1998," says Reik, "it was clear to me that I would incorporate furs into its collections, and I liked the final results, but the more I got into this world, the more I understood the manufacturing process used for mink and fox furs, what it involved – and its implications.
“After a season of using [real] fur, I channeled all my resources into finding alternatives. I was lucky and at the same time there were new developments in the global fashion industry, so that I didn’t need to give up this niche in order to reach the same product quality, but without cruelty to animals. This is not blindly following a trend. It is something that I am very proud of that happened in the brand. It is part of its DNA, and the material feels and looks just like the real thing."
Reik adds that, "A lot of customers don’t believe that it is artificial fur, and I need to convince them. I’m happy to see that I have managed to influence women. Those who are interested in fur and ultimately buy from me – it’s very satisfying."