Since the brand began in the 1950s, Max Mara has been true to its own genre of style.
Originally created for the independent woman by founder Achille Maramotti in 1951, the Italian fashion house has spent decades defining the rules of “power dressing” by creating styles that will make women feel strong, independent and powerful. Max Mara’s style is instantly recognisable – the feeling of stylish workwear that can be transformed from day to night, defines the brand today, while the techniques and traditions of the house have been passed on through generations. If you know one thing about Max Mara it would be its classic camel coat, which has become a global phenomenon and is a wardrobe must-have for millions of women worldwide the Max Mara coat perfectly captures the understated elegance that today’s power women possess.
In 1987, fashion designer Ian Griffiths entered a student competition to work at Max Mara, after visiting Italy for the first time. He won and has been with the brand ever since – over 30 years now. He is surprisingly, quite the opposite of the Max Mara customer. Firstly he is a man, he is British and was bleached-haired, Bowie loving punk when he first joined the brand in the eighties. Today, as Creative Director of the Italian fashion house, Griffiths has traded his punk style for much smarter attire and he continues to dedicate his life to creating clothes for the elegant Max Mara woman. While he is not Italian himself, Griffiths has found a second home in the country he has worked in now for over three decades. Here we discuss what it is that attracted him to Italy and the brand and how he has come to develop a unique relationship with it.
You have worked in Italy for many years – how does it inspire you and how would you describe it through your eyes?
I have worked in Italy for over thirty years. I wouldn’t have stayed so long if I didn’t love this beautiful country, with its uniquely rich culture and heritage, and of course its people. Italian culture revolves around the idea of ‘la bella figura’ which means presenting your best self, not only in the way you dress but in the car you drive, your home and its contents, even the bar you choose to visit. When you put that deep appreciation of beauty together with the country’s unrivalled craftsmanship you have the formula for Italian style.
Tell us more about the importance of the concept of “Made in Italy” and why do you think there is such a fascination with this, globally?
Whether it’s a house, a piece of furniture or a coat, Italy regards the technical specification of an object as an integral part of the design process. Technicians collaborate with creative teams to make sure that every object is made to the very highest standard, where every detail is perfectly resolved. Italian craftsmanship operates on an industrial scale; it’s not about making one exquisite thing that can’t be replicated, but a series of things that will be perfect each time. “Made in Italy” represents total quality and design excellence. It’s a benchmark that speaks for itself, that’s why the world loves it.
How important is it to you to preserve traditional methods of savoir-faire at Max Mara?
I wish the readers of a&e could all visit our state-of-the-art coat factory where we have evolved a production line that combines traditional tailoring techniques with technological innovation. Max Mara invests in the training of technicians and tailors in order to guarantee that those skills will never be lost. Whenever I visit the factory, I’m humbled by the pride of the people who work there, and their passion for what they do. That will never change.
How do you think the values and culture of Italy are reflected through Max Mara?
Through the epitome of good design and the fact that Max Mara is a brand which has always been dedicated to providing clothes that enable women to look and feel their absolute best so that they can shine in whatever they do. That’s 100% Italian.
Can you tell us a little about how the brand has evolved and is appealing to today’s woman?
Max Mara’s founder Achille Maramotti founded the brand in 1951 with the aim of dressing the growing army of women living increasingly independent lives, driving cars, managing careers, families and busy social lives. By the early 80s, Max Mara had devised a very distinctive look, now known as ‘power dressing’, which undoubtedly offered women a style that was credible in the corridors of power, but which demanded a certain uniformity. Forty years later, women are breaking through the glass ceiling. They have confidence and want to announce their success in the way they dress. They are looking for an element of cool, individuality in their clothes, but never an overpowering one. When a Max Mara woman enters a room, she wants to be noticed, but for the right reasons.
How important is it to Max Mara to localise its collections or give tribute to a specific market?
We do sometimes produce a capsule collection dedicated to a particular market, we presented on in Dubai in 2018. But generally speaking, Max Mara has such an iconic style, and the whole world wants that same universally recognisable look. Max Mara women transcend national and geographical boundaries.
Women all around the world are in love with the Max Mara coat and it is for sure an essential in any woman’s wardrobe – what do you think is the fascination with this key item and what would you tell women are the reasons why they should own one?
I often visit our stores and discreetly observe clients trying on our celebrated coats. A woman pulls on a camel coat, ties the belt, pulls up the collar, and looks in the mirror. She seems to have grown taller. She feels cool, con dent and glamorous, like a movie star. That coat will make every woman feel that way every time she wears it, for years and years, in many cases for a lifetime. A woman develops an emotional relationship with a Max Mara coat like no other item in her wardrobe. It’s a friend for life.
The word is suffering greatly at the hand so the coronavirus pandemic but in every crisis, there is always an opportunity
– what is something positive that will come out of this painful situation?
It’s giving us time to reflect, to consider who we are and what we do best. We will come back more focused than ever. Right now I’m working from my home in the UK; being separated from Italy reminds me why I fell in love with that beautiful country in the first place. I will appreciate it all the more when I can finally go back.
What is the motto you are living by during this time?
Make the most of what you have.
We want to talk a little about the spring/summer collection – what can you tell us about it?
I was inspired by the upcoming James Bond movie to think about the spy thriller genre. I imagined my own version of the movie, casting the Max Mara woman as the central character. Smart, cool and sassy, our heroine carries out her assignment with glamorous panache – from a meeting at the ministry in London’s rainy Whitehall, lunch at a discreet Mayfair watering hole, to a smart reception at the Governor’s mansion on a tropical island. With the odd speedboat chase and helicopter ride thrown in! Max Mara gives her the perfect look for every occasion.
Can you share with us a little bit about your creative process?
My creativity is driven by the challenge to produce clothes which are desired by women and also wearable. I always resist the urge to be experimental simply for the sake of it and because the Max Mara woman does not want to look like an experiment! The clothes we design are not about me, they are about the woman who wears them. That’s the nature of Italian fashion.
Who or what inspires you?
Every collection explores a specific theme or idea, and the sources can be quite diverse, although art, architecture and film are fairly constant sources of inspiration for me. But the underlying inspiration is always the Max Mara woman. She’s always there in my head when I’m working on a collection. I love her like a friend; I want only the best for her.
Who is the Max Mara woman of today?
She’s ambitious, determined, talented and focused. She’s not afraid to speak her mind or challenge convention – but always in the most elegant, put together way.
What is your first memory of coming to Italy?
I visited with my friend when I was an art student. It was the early 80s and I was a punk; my hair was bleached white! People stared at us constantly because we looked so unconventional, but they were kind and hospitable. That’s when I fell in love with Italy.
Where in Italy do you like to travel to?
I find it impossible to prioritise one particular town or region over the others. From Florence to Ravenna, Mantova to Palermo, every single Italian town, even the smallest, has history and beauty. And every region from Umbria to Puglia, from Emilia Romagna to Trentino Alto Adige has some outstanding aspect of beauty.
Are there any Italian traditions or you have picked up on since working with Max Mara?
I respect mealtimes like the Italians do. No matter how busy we are, or where we are, my team and I always stop for lunch. Mealtimes are when we strengthen the bonds between us, exchange ideas and discover our lighter side.
What’s your favourite Italian dish to eat?
My favourite restaurant in the world is the charming historic ‘Da Giacomo’ in Milan. Every time I go there, I choose the exquisite antipasto di mare crudo – the quality is perfect every time, just like a Max Mara coat!
How would you describe Italy in one word?