IFFTI 2017: inspiring opening day – Liam Maher

AMFI is the 2017 host of  IFFTI, the annual conference of leading fashion schools worldwide. The theme of this year is ‘Breaking the rules’ and AMFI students are reporting on events. Second year student International Fashion & Branding Emma Wendt visited the thought-provoking presentation of Liam Maher in Rijksmuseum.


At the three-day IFFTI conference ‘Breaking the rules’  conference  influential speakers interact with students, fashion professionals and enthusiasts. Amongst these keynote speakers doay was vice president and creative director of Ecco, Liam Maher. With his captivating, intelligent and highly entertaining speech, Liam gave inspirational insight to his obligations and how they have led him to breaking fashion rules.


“I’m a tinker, a thief, a beggar man”, these are the first words found on Liam Maher’s LinkedIn profile. From a failed fine arts and fashion student to becoming the creative director of Ecco shoes, Liam exemplifies the all American dream. His charismatic and provoking speech today left the audience with food for thought, to say the least.


Liam Maher during the introduction of his presentation.

Liam Maher during the introduction of his presentation.


Liam begins by painting his self-portrait. It is instantly clear that he is far from the conventional fashion cliché. He does not find the word ‘fashion’ comfortable, and hates ‘industry’ even more. Hence, those words were avoided. Liam describes himself as a “meaning junkie modernist”. With an elaborate dictionary definition on the power point, he opts to explain it using ‘the modernist for dummies’ guide: “We come from back there, we come through here and end up over there”. These three life stages shaped the journey he took the audience through during the presentation. Liam strongly believes in everyone having a duty to meaning and that stories with beginnings, middles and ends help discover life’s riddles.


A focal of the presentation was tackling the current domination of mass production, which is the cause for mass promotion and mass identity. Liam argues that culture used to show one’s identity. “My grandfather showed me, my father showed me, my mentor showed me, and my brother showed me”. After the industrial revolution, surplus led to advertising and the holy grail of mass demand was created. People want what others have. “Nike showed me, Don Draper showed me”, this is the new norm. Brands want consumers to have identical demands thereby taking over the keys to the consumer’s identities. Liam debates how people can reclaim their natural, potent individuality. In order to achieve this he suggests a line of questioning: ‘Where do I come from? Where do I belong? Where do I hope to go?’.



Liam showing an example on how present fashion stems from an individual’s ancestry.

Present fashion always stems from an individual’s ancestry; Liam showed quite a few  examples on that.


Liam firmly asserts that community, culture, ancestry, individuals and identity are the industry, not mass production and distribution. One has to break rules in order to find a way in which the two can coexist. Multiple examples are given such as blogger, Wee Gee. Liam breaks down the blogger’s current outfit to tell his ancestry story: “The reason he looks so great is because he knows where he comes from, where he wants to go and one can feel it coming off him”. Meaning should be the future of style


The presentation ends with a stirring invitation to break rules. Liam questions the audience – mostly management and teachers of fashion schools worldwide: Where will life be headed if mass identity, celebrity culture and advertising are not the rule anymore? He assuredly clarifies with the answer that the only rule that needs to be protected is that one’s work must mean something to the consumer. The fashion professionals and their students all contribute to the individual identities of the consumers engaging with the products being made. Furthermore, as Liam explains it, “to contribute to the stories of the consumer, the fashion industry has an obligation to keep”.

The end of the presentation: Liam Maher accepting his acknowledgement gift from AMFI's Souray Bouwmans and leaving the crowd with a lot of food for thought.

The end of the presentation: Liam Maher accepting his acknowledgement gift from AMFI’s Souraya Bouwmans-Sarraf and leaving the crowd with a lot of food for thought.

All images by Emma Wendt.

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