Ruins of Modernity

Maria Steiner is the designer behind the Viennese fashion label Ruins of Modernity. I first came across her designs last summer at the w?atf – What About the Future pop-up store at Pressgasse 28, near Naschmarkt, in Vienna. Organized by Sonja Weinstabel, w?atf showcases young and up-and-coming local designers’ work in Vienna. Maria Steiner’s work stayed with me for a long time and her intriguing label begged to be examined.

Founded in 2010 in Vienna, Ruins of Modernity is about to present her 4th collection during the upcoming Vienna Fashion Week. Her 2012-13 collection, called “grow up” – is another clever name that puts a smile on your face just thinking about it. All collections adhere to a particular strand of Viennese understated and elegant chic, bordering on minimalism or reductionism, yet at the same time remain tauntingly sensual, and even sexy. I got in touch with Maria to find out more about her work:


How would you describe your design style? 

Clean architectural shapes, grown-up emancipated elegance, reduction & minimalism. On top of that, every collection has its own signature element.

Are you collections all very distinct or are there themes and looks that carry over?

Every collection has its very own title and topic and thus a very own feeling to it, but in every collection are bits and pieces, details in cut and construction from the last one. Aside from collections I try to develop in own language.


The name “Ruins of modernity” is hauntingly fascinating. What does it signify for you and what specific images or concepts do you associate with it? 

Actually ‘ruins of modernity’ was the title of the first collection – but I found it to be so much more, it’s about society in a time between black and white, after modernity..

When modernity dawned on the world and rationality and science set their light in people’s minds, black and white started to fade to a million different shades of grey. The encrusted, rigid towers of set morals, values and truths crumbled piece by piece. Reason fought its way into the highness of church and throne and slowly tore apart the breath-taking corset that held people in their place. What is good and true, what is wrong and bad? The view of the world ever widened to different opinions, reality and perception became individual. Free from the tight corset of answers we nearly tumble under the overwhelming complexity of questions and questionable layers of reality and truth. What do you believe and why should you think it’s true? We stand in midst of the ruins of modernity, fallen and broken buildings of values and truth, in midst of the ashes of our past – free to build something new.

How does the city of Vienna represent / manifest / clash / deal with ruins of modernity? Or with the modernist style in general?

There is a lot of support, not only from institutions like Departure (Wirtschaftsagentur Wien) but also from people who are interested in buying sustainable quality from smaller labels. The clean shapes of ruins modernity and its un-ostentatious elegance seem to appeal to a part of the Viennese people, which is amazing.

Modernity is all about breaking with traditions. How does this play out in the city and in the fashion scene?

Every tradition, every school of art, different times even are present in the city of today, which you can see best in architecture. Avant-garde turned into classical, into new tradition. All that left specific traces, ultimately adding up to something new. That is something very inspiring – not only as a source for fashion design.

What do you find inspiring about Vienna?

Vienna has a certain darkness in its air, a hint of sarcasm and morbidity that sticks with people. This is the one thing, the atmosphere of Vienna. The other thing is the coexistence of high and low, the presence of arts, culture and history and the youngster pop and party culture.

How would you describe the fashion scene in Vienna? 

It’s small and diverse, colourful and vivid, fragmented though. Again, it’s the coexistence of high and low.

What are some sources of inspiration for you when you design a new collection?

I have a bit of a conceptional/theoretical approach, after finding a topic I do research in books & journals in order to create the base construction/guidelines for the whole collection. Within these construction ‘rules’ I process other aesthetical sources, which I find mostly while travelling, in street style, architecture, nature. As a matter of fact – until now I have done the main design work on every collection on a trip/short holiday.


Could you tell a bit more about starting your label?

I showed my first collection at the MQ Vienna Fashion Week right after finishing my training/education. For a short time I worked as a designer for a company but I quickly realized that I didn’t give up my job and start all over again with school to be stuck with a nine-to-five job. So I decided to give it a try and do my own thing.

Who are some of your role models / people who inspire you and your work? 

I try to focus on an individual path and orientate on concepts rather than on role models. But I find Gerhard Richter‘s work very inspiring, I like Haider Ackermann.

What would you say are the main differences between male and female fashion designers? 

I don’t think it is about being male or female. Whether you are designing for yourself or for the other sex seems to make a difference – you can dress someone or you can dress someone up. The relation to body and person defines what projections of images and attitudes are packed into the designs.

What are some of the challenges of being a fashion designer (in Vienna)? 

There are only a handful of paid jobs as a designer, so you practically need to start your own company. This implies a lot of work that is not designing. On the structural side the distribution channels are not very good. There are some small shops and boutiques that sell young labels, but the bigger stores feature only more-than-known brands.

Do you have any advice for up-and-coming designers?  

Find collaborators. Set up a team. Be open minded. Be precise and clear. And most important of all: work a lot. Work hard.

Are you presenting a new collection at the Vienna Fashion Week in September? What is the new collection called?

I will show the SS13 collection in my show on Sunday. The collection is called ‘wild at heart’.

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