In the traffic rotary of a small city in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy stands a towering statue of a block of cheese. What might seem like a wacky attraction is actually a tribute to one of the region’s best-known exports: Parmigiano-Reggiano. Along with Parma ham and balsamic vinegar—not to mention Ducatis and Ferraris—the delicacy is one of the area’s beloved treasures.
Add to that list Max Mara, the Italian label founded in 1951 by Achille Maramotti. It’s in these sleepy environs that he launched the house whose name would become synonymous with the quintessential camel coat, and it’s here that the brand is now unveiling a resort collection inspired by the national ideal of la bella figura, which loosely means “being well put-together.” “The ethos of this part of Italy is about striving to the highest possible standard,” says Ian Griffiths, the house’s creative director. “It runs central to the core of the Max Mara philosophy: making things as well as they can possibly be made. Like a cheese or ham, the quality is absolutely guaranteed.”
Griffiths is sitting in the library of the Collezione Maramotti, a 1957 modernist structure that stands out among the town’s rustic fifteenth- and sixteenth-century architecture. Once the brand’s workspace, where Griffiths himself cut his teeth, it’s now a museum housing the trove of its founder—a lifelong art enthusiast who was guided more by his whims than by outside trends. The collection is refreshingly eclectic: Pieces from the Italian movement known as Arte Povera jostle alongside work by blue-chip names like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cy Twombly, and Alex Katz. Even when it was still a studio, Griffiths remembers, Maramotti hung paintings on the walls to challenge and inspire his employees. “He confronted them with these avant-garde pieces and said, ‘What do you think of this? Wake up, learn something.’ He believed that everyone has the ability to respond to quite sophisticated art.”
Above right: Cashmere sweater, $975, vicose skirt, $595. Far right: Wool jacket, silk tank, $610, Cashmere trousers, $1,490. All, Max Mara. Artwork: Nostos (1998), by Peter Halley
Far left: Cashmere-and-wool-blend coat, $2,950, silk top, $545, skirt, $595, pleated-leather handbag, $1,980. All, Max Mara.
Despite its sleek finish, the building retains telltale signs of the workshop it once was: floors scarred by sewing machines, and a ’50s cafeteria whose faded colors and dated furniture would look at home in a Wes Anderson film. Today it’s both the backdrop and the muse for the resort 2019 collection. (Griffiths haunted the building’s halls during the design process.) From a rippling Piero Manzoni canvas came crinkled plissé fabrics; from Pino Pascali’s rendering of the Colosseum came coats sheathed in organza. Sparse feather trimmings were inspired by a delicate Fausto Melotti sculpture, while typographic prints and intarsia knits nodded to Gastone Novelli and “the way his letters and numbers dance across the canvas,” Griffiths says. The result is a collection that, despite its experimental antecedents, is staunchly minimalist, an antidote to fashion’s current obsession with OTT meme-able showpieces.
Leather lace-up pump, $870, Max Mara
Pleated-leather handbag, $1,980, Max Mara.
“Over the past few years, the emphasis has been on showing how we’re a global brand,” Griffiths notes. “But this has been a really good moment to remind people that we come from Italy.” And that their roots run deep. Achille’s granddaughter Maria Giulia Maramotti, a contemporary art maven with a Rolling Stones–inspired tattoo, is on hand at the show. She currently serves as the brand’s vice president of U.S. retail and global brand ambassador. The Collezione “is really a part of who we are,” she says. “This is not just a resort show for us.” It’s a homecoming.
This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of ELLE.