THE MAX FACTOR
WHEN ACHILLE MARAMOTTI FOUNDED HIS BUSINESS, IT WAS MAKING COATS FOR ‘THE DOCTOR’S WIFE’. SIXTY-FIVE YEARS LATER THE WORLD HAS CHANGED, BUT MAX MARA’S QUALITY AND ELEGANCE HAVE NOT.
Giuseppe Bacci’s hands glide across the silky soft cashmere fabric as if he’s stroking a beloved cat. He has been producing luxurious coats for the Italian brand Max Mara for nearly 40 years and this example of fine tailoring still manages to stir his emotions. “This is like a work of art that is one of a kind,” he says softly. Max Mara was founded in 1951 by Achille Maramotti in the northern region of Emilia Romagna, famous for its prosciutto and parmesan, as well as its reputation for innovation and hard work. Maramotti learned something of his trade from his mother, Giulia, a dressmaker, who not only taught sewing but gave impoverished women tips on how to recycle their family’s clothes after World War II.
The entrepreneur started his business producing coats for a type of woman he described as “the doctor’s wife”. Since then the company has evolved into a global empire with annual turnover more than 1.3 billion ($1.9bn) and nine brands including Max Mara, Max & Co., Marina Rinaldi and Pennyblack.
These days the Max Mara flagship brand has 2350 stores in more than 100 countries, and the company is run by Maramotti’s sons, Luigi and Ignacio, and daughter, Maria Ludovica. Known for their discretion, they prefer Bacci and other valued members of their close-knit team to tell the company’s story for them.
Bacci began his working life with Max Mara as a young graduate with a degree as a surveyor. “We got married and we are still together,” he jokes. He’s in charge of the company’s San Maurizio plant, a luminous space filled with skylights, spanning 10,000sqm on the edge of the quaint town of Reggio Emilia.
San Maurizio is only one of the company’s factories but it’s a powerhouse. There are more than 200 cutters, seamstresses and other highly trained staff here and they produce 100,000 coats and jackets a year for well-heeled women around the world. “The quality of our work is not simply about producing an article of clothing that is pleasing or beautiful because of its colour or design,” Bacci says. “It is because everyone here is working to make sure we achieve that result.”
Rolls of the softest cashmere, mohair, alpaca, sheep’s wool and camel hair line the shelves at San Maurizio before highly-mechanised machines slice them to fit the pattern maker’s precise dimensions. Seamstresses work silently on various body parts – sleeves, collars, lapels and pockets – while others scan items for quality and precision at six points on the production line. Nearly 20 per cent of the work is done by hand.
“It is the details that produce a different level of quality,” Bacci says. “We pay scrupulous attention to respecting the design – the stitching, the form, the length, all the characteristics of the design.”
As Bacci moves through the factory, which he prefers to call a “studio” or “workshop”, the various elements of each coat are pieced together. On the final leg, dozens of cranberry, camel, white, and black coats wrapped in plastic glide past on heading for consignment.
After years at the helm Bacci has lost none of his enthusiasm. “I am heading towards the end of my career but I still get satisfaction from a beautiful design, created with a beautiful fabric or in a beautiful colour,” he says.
He pauses before a mannequin wearing the 101801, a classic coat made of a cashmere and wool blend that was first produced by Max Mara in 1981. One of the company’s top sellers, the 101801 is undergoing a revival thanks to an international advertising campaign featuring model Gigi Hadid, who boasts more than 20 million Instagram followers. She is introducing this classic to a new generation and giving it a sense of cool.
“This is a unique model,” says Bacci. “The buttonholes are made by hand, there is a belt holder inside and a label with the history of the model in English and Italian.”
A few kilometres away at Max Mara’s sleek corporate headquarters, Ian Griffiths is listening to Brazilian bossa nova in an airy office filled with samples of his latest winter collection. The energetic Englishman is Max Mara’s creative director. With a background in architecture, fashion and art, he joined Max Mara as a young designer after graduating from the Royal College of Art in London and has been with them ever since.
“I’ve grown up with this company. If I think about the woman who wears Max Mara I know her like a friend,” says Griffiths while reclining on a black leather sofa. “What I’m doing feels like a natural progression.”
The walls of his spacious office are lined with design sketches and photos of famous German artists from the Bauhaus era of the 1920s who inspired his latest winter