Ian Griffiths, creative director of Max Mara since 1987.

Indulge your imagination

“I read an article by the feminist writer/columnist Natasha Walter in The Guardian that pointed out that the resurgence of spy fiction today is a way of making something that seems dark and dangerous glamorous, exciting and escapist. However she bemoaned the fact that there have been very few positive female role models in the genre – Bond girls don’t usually get a very good deal. Then Phoebe Waller-Bridge came out with Killing Eve and that just blew my mind with its powerful and strong female lead who’s like a modern-day version of action adventuress Modesty Blaise from the ’60s. So I approached Max Mara’s S/S ’20 collection as my own imaginary Bond film with a woman in the starring role. It’s optimistic and outward- looking, but with a slight tongue-in-cheek humour. You can see it on my moodboard, which started with a pastel-tinted photo of five soldiers in tropical military uniforms, which were anchored by shorts. I find the image a little bit funny and cool at the same time. Colours diffuse the military associations as I don’t want anything that seems to make a statement about aggression and violence.”

A scene from the 1966 film adaptation of comic strip Modesty Blaise, one of Griffiths’ influences this season.
Villanelle – the kick-butt assassin with equally kick-butt style from spy series Killing Eve – was one of Griffiths’ muses for Max Mara S/S ’20.

Don’t be obsessed with titles

“The notion of creative directors is a fairly recent one. It didn’t exist within the industry until 10 or 15 years ago. When I was appointed creative director at Max Mara about 10 years ago, I wasn’t replacing anyone because we simply didn’t have that role within the company. I always joke with my team that the creative director is simply the designer who’s been there the longest (Griffiths joined the brand in 1987). I just think of myself as an involved designer who still designs, sketches and works on the collection, and not somebody who comes in at the end of the day and just chooses the pieces to put on the runway. I don’t understand how other creative directors who are brought in for just two seasons can effect change. How can you really feel and understand the brand’s heritage and get the time to reflect upon it?”

On Griffiths’ moodboard for S/S ’20: from the sleuth-like comic strip character Modesty Blaise to vintage photos of soldiers in the tropics.

Be realistic about what others want

“One of the rules that we swear by at Max Mara is that our customers shouldn’t have to think much about the clothes they put on in the morning because they know they will look good and can get on with their lives. Our work is about respecting women and giving them clothes that are almost like tools for getting the job done. We know how the modern woman needs a wardrobe that equips her for a variety of situations yet is still expected to look perfect. Hopefully when a woman comes to Max Mara, she finds everything that she needs so that she can get down to living her life. At the same time, I hope that our clothes give her a bit of a kick and make her feel good with their sense of fun. I get the greatest satisfaction when I see someone walking down the street in a Max Mara piece. I have to resist the urge to hug that person and say: ‘I designed your coat. Congratulations for wearing it!’”

Griffiths brought back the slip dress this season as a great way to look feminine minus the romantic cliche.

Move with the times…

“Max Mara was a key player in the power dressing movement as it was one of the brands that devised the dress code. When I arrived at the company in 1987, I remember that women were taken seriously if they wore that look, but it was very uniform- like and there wasn’t any room for self-expression. Now women expect to be able to express themselves in the way they dress. They don’t want to hide themselves away when they walk into a meeting, a room or a social event. They want people to notice them for the right reason. As a designer, you get to flex your imagination for the clothes you propose to them (so make the most out of this opportunity).”

… But don’t lose your values

“The speed of consuming fashion on social media has come to a point where a lot of people are getting confused. There’s so much froth and ideas are being communicated so quickly that they can go out of fashion even before they get to the stores. All that has however worked to the benefit of Max Mara because we represent lasting values; something which has a sense of permanence. The proliferation of fashion on social media has encouraged a lot of younger consumers to turn towards the world of Max Mara to invest in something that has meaning. Of course paradoxically, we’re using social media to communicate the continuity of the Max Mara narrative.”

The series of sorbet-hued three-piece short suits in Max Mara’s Spring/Summer 2020 collection originated simply from how the idea of pastels on military fatigues put a smile on his face, says the brand’s long-running creative director Ian Griffiths.

See things in a positive light

“We have to address the world and its problems with optimism even though it’s easy to be dragged down by the negativity. For instance, we’re all aware of the environmental issues surrounding the fashion industry, but let’s be optimistic about how they can be a stimulus for evolving new ways of working that will help solve problems in future. Our brand is one of the biggest consumers of camel hair fabric, which is used on our coats. The wasted bits that are trimmed were previously thrown away, but we had the idea of upcycling them into fibre to be used as wadding for puffer jackets. It’s sustainable in terms of energy and water consumption and you avoid the need to use feathers as down, which in turn reduces the use of a resource that has ethical problems. So don’t think of environmental issues as limiting – we can sort this world out.”

Don’t be afraid to shake things up

“This season, we’ve introduced new propositions to dressing. A pair of bermuda shorts is a new item that immediately changes the proportion of any jacket you wear. A long bias-cut skirt or dress is a new item that to me is essential as I wanted to explore something feminine and soft in the Max Mara vocabulary; something not quite romantic and possesses a certain toughness. The waistcoat is another new item to own as it makes you rethink the way you wear a suit and give it new associations. We added utility pockets to our waistcoats, which you can wear with a shirt, tie and jacket, and you’d end up with a new take on the three-piece suit.”

Max Mara reinvents the classic suit this season with skirts, shorts and gilets.

Be open to newness

“My attitude to the streetwear movement is to not go to the street, but let it come to us. I’ve started to notice millennials wearing Max Mara coats with casual things like sneakers. We have consciously presented designs like the (softly tailored) 101801 coat that will appeal to a more street-oriented market. It’s important though that the brand maintains its trajectory. To change direction would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and our identity and heritage.”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

This article first appeared in the March 2020 print issue of FEMALE. 

Film Stills Everett Collection