Strokes Of Ge­nius

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - Contents -

“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

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