In a studio just off east London’s Kingsland Road, the statuesque Chaikra Maximus is standing in the middle of a set. She’s flanked by one person holding a light and another with a wind machine, while the photographer – Marili Andre – is giving directions from behind the camera. The model is wearing a buttoned-up denim dress with two long slits up the front, an oversized collar and embroidered “F” (for Fendi) motifs all over.
The first things that stand out about Maximus, aside from her gazelle-like limbs, are the rather conspicuous piercings adorning her otherwise flawless face. The little silver dots are a striking point of difference for the 20-year-old Belgian, who is rounding off a stellar year: she’s walked in more than 50 shows, including for Chanel, Dior and Versace, cementing her as one of the fashion industry’s most in-demand new faces.
Maximus, who is currently signed to Viva London, was scouted in her native Gent at a hardcore gig – a musical interest that might go some way towards explaining her appearance. “All my friends have piercings, and my dad used to have a lot – he was a punk when he was younger.” When she was first signed in 2016, her look – which at the time also included blue hair in dreadlocks – wasn’t immediately embraced by brands. “For the first two to three years I basically had no work because of my piercings. I was told that I’d be worth so much money if I took them out. But I just said no. Then as soon as Loewe, then Sacai and McQueen booked me, all the other brands followed.”
This uncompromising approach is one that’s shared by Andre, the 29-year-old photographer pointing a lens at Maximus. “I think the most successful photographers, or any other creatives, are the people who have managed to be themselves within their industries,” she says. “And I think people are more able to do that now – they are more protected, somehow, in order to express themselves.”
Andre is another star on the rise. She swapped the picturesque Greek island of Crete, where she grew up, for London more than 11 years ago. She has since worked as a creative director for a modelling agency and as a freelance photographer – this year she shot actress Jennifer Connolly and worked with Chanel on a project in Japan.
Andre admits to being a very “directive” photographer. On set, for one shot in which Maximus is lying down, she painstakingly moves the model’s leg by an inch, then back again and nudges her strands of hair to create symmetry in the frame. “I will always jump in and sometimes even swap places with a model. I make them go behind the camera to show them how I want them to be.”
For Andre, this next decade is about encouraging a more diverse array of people, not just into the front-facing part of the industry, but also behind the scenes. “It would be a better world if fashion served the many again, and was more inclusive, conscious and functional, but still gorgeous and inspiring.”