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Creative Director Ian Griffiths' Guide To Keeping Max Mara Upbeat

In the over three decades he’s spent as the creatIve director of Max Mara, Ian Griffiths has always Imbued his collections for the Italian luxury label with a sense of positivity. During a recent visit to singapore, the self-described optimist tells Imran jalal his guide to staying upbeat and strong.

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).”