Strokes Of Genius
“Frankincense?” I think to myself, as I make my way through the quaint historic township of Reggio Emilia in Italy. I have the car windows down, as one would on a balmy Italian evening, when we drive past the glorious 421-year-old Basilica della Beata Vergine della Ghiara, and the vast Piazza del Duomo. The sound of church bells ring through the night, as the heady scent of incense wafts through the air. It’s as if the city itself has planned for an auspicious homecoming, and I have arrived in time for its big celebration.
Just as well. Although known for its culinary treasures— Parmigiano Reggiano, anyone?—and scholastic approach, it is within this city that Max Mara was birthed. Founded in 1951 by Achille Maramotti, the Italian label sought to produce high-quality manufactured women’s clothing at a time when fashion was still exclusively a handcrafted activity. Combining French sensibilities with Italian savoir-faire, Maramotti started to “dress the doctor’s wife”—the Italian middle class, so to speak—and expanded his influence to a wider audience when those “wives” themselves became doctors and solicitors. Today, for the first time in its history, Max Mara is opening its doors in Reggio Emilia for Cruise ’19.
“There are some moments in life when you need to go back to who you are,” says Maria Giulia Maramotti, in a brightly lit room at the Albergo Delle Notarie hotel, casually sipping on hot espresso with a side of biscotti. “It’s truly an opportunity to allow people to see who we are, and how we do things; the intricacy of the craftsmanship, our collection. We are very private because we like the idea of having our products speak for us.” Maria Giulia is, of course, the granddaughter of founder Achille, as well as the label’s vice president of US Retail and global brand ambassador.
Unlike most heiresses, Maria Giulia is a picture of youthful exuberance; today, she pairs a nude silk Max Mara suit with sneakers, in lieu of heels. “It’s what everyone is wearing these days,” she says, while gesturing at her own pair, revealing a glimpse of a tattoo on her nape as she waves her hands around. “You’d choose them over a stiletto, because women travel and they run, and they still want to look glamorous.” It’s evident that with her sense of ease and irreverence, Maria Giulia has become the poster child of a new generation at Max Mara; one that is free-spirited, confident, and empowered. “When my grandfather founded the company, he had in mind of dressing ‘the doctor’s wife’. I, on the other hand, dress the [wife, who has become the] doctor. So as much as women’s roles have evolved, Max Mara as a brand has also evolved—you have to tie it back to what women want.”
In the eyes of Max Mara, that translates to creating beautiful garments with impeccable quality. “Timelessness is a concept I like to mention,” Maria Giulia explains, as we segued from the past to the present. “I relate to that, when I think of my girlfriends. A lot of them are working women; some with kids, some without. The modern woman would rather have lasting pieces she can go back to, wear them
in as many different ways possible, than have 10 new prints from the latest season.” Take the label’s iconic 101801 coat for example, worn to the nines by Gigi Hadid in a metallic variation earlier this year, or tone-on-tone minimalism à la Carla Bruni in 1993. “All [these women] want today, is to make an investment,” Maria Giulia states. Indeed, no other family understands the concept of “investment” better than the Maramottis; investing their wealth in not just fashion, but also in finance (Reggio Emilia’s Credito Emiliano bank), hospitality, and most prominently, art.
Having found his love for the latter in the ’60s, Maria Giulia’s grandfather Achille collected contemporary masterpieces of that generation, from Jean-Michel Basquiat to Arte Povera’s Jannis Kounellis and Pino Pascali. “It was really important for us to make a relationship and connection between Max Mara and contemporary art,” Maria Giulia muses, her eyes now glazing as she reminisces about her childhood memories with her grandfather. “Being surrounded by art was just a part of growing up. When I was 5 or 6 years old, he would drive us to Milan just to visit an auction, or look at paintings,” she details, as if it were just yesterday. Those visits later culminated in the family’s renowned Collezione Maramotti, which incidentally became the starting point of Max Mara Cruise ’19.
It is here where creative director Ian Griffiths pays homage to Achille in the purest form. Revealed alongside artworks by Vito Acconci, Erik Swensen, and Mark Manders, the collection’s modernist approach couldn’t be any more reflective of the Collezione’s early acquisitions. Think tactile pleats inspired by Piero Manzoni’s 1958 Achrome, its crinkled plissés evident on column dresses and oversized totes, crafted to emulate the Italian artist’s china-clay-on-canvas series, found on the gallery’s second floor; or Alberto Burri’s Ferro, circa 1958, whose iron-on painted wood art piece gave way to sculptural knots and ruches. On a more conspicuous note, Cy Twombly, Gastone Novelli, and Jannis Kounellis-esque scripts adorned lush knits, breezy kaftans, and figure-hugging midi skirts. But here’s a neat trick: look closely at the collection’s neutral palette, and you’ll realise how indistinguishable it is from the exact shade of raw canvas. Even right down to its finest fibre, art is present—its mark made through each single weave.
As the models make their final lap along the second floor of Collezione Maramotti, I couldn’t help but imagine a young Maria Giulia running through the corridors of this vast galleria; past the Claudio Parmiggiani-lined walls and Fausto Melotti-filled halls. A walk down memory lane, a rare glimpse into Italy’s most silent luxury goliath, whose annual sales are reported to exceed GBP1 billion. There’s a business lesson to be learned here: invest in longevity, and it will reward you back. Case in point, classic Max Mara suits and coats that seem to have the same everlasting impact as the Collezione’s vast selection of masterpieces, some now worth a few cool millions.
Coming back to reality, I catch sight of the 34-year-old heiress on the other side of the gallery; she is beaming with pride, and talking animatedly with her prolific guests hailing from various corners of the world. Evidently overjoyed, I’m brought back to our conversation just a few hours ago: “One thing that my grandfather taught me is the passion for life, and having pride in enjoying it,” she confides. And if her grandfather Achille were still alive today, he’d be enjoying it, too.
A model walks past at Max Mara Cruise ’19, as Amy Yasmine, BAZAAR’s fashion editor, looks on
Creative director Ian Griffiths backstage with his models Max Mara’s new neutrals, in the exact same shade of an artist’s raw canvas