English version | The emperor has no clothes

17 May 2022
By Sara Andrade

But the empress does. She's in Max Mara, if Maria Giulia Prezioso Maramotti, third generation at the helm of a brand that's more than 70 years old and has also a history in both Fashion achievements and women empowerment alike, has any say in the matter. In june, the house's next fashion show is taking place in Lisbon.

But the empress does. She's in Max Mara, if Maria Giulia Prezioso Maramotti, third generation at the helm of a brand that's more than 70 years old and has also a history in both Fashion achievements and women empowerment alike, has any say in the matter. In june, the house's next fashion show is taking place in Lisbon.

In a realm that could be taken from a fairy tale - after all, even the name says royalty all over -, Reggio Emilia, Italy, serves as the birthplace for one of the most emblematic global brands: Max Mara may be making strides towards its first centenary, but it is far from being considered dated. On the contrary: avant-garde from day one, when Achille Maramotti, in 1951, realized that middle-class women in this small town in Northern Italy needed sophisticated ready-to-wear to replace time-consuming and complicated tailor-made, even today the new generation continues this visionary legacy of its founder. The rest is an enchanting story made up of a series of emblematic camel coats, but not only: centered on a premium product and always concerned with the design of each piece, faithful to its sophisticated DNA, the new times have only added new layers of innovation to the legacy, without ever belittling the history that made Max Mara the emblem it is today in Italian and world fashion. A preponderant presence in the networks and attentive to its value in the current market, the house's policy is focused on the client and on the relationship with them, even though the product, or rather its quality, remains important.

Max (inspired by a count who was not known for his sobriety, but excelled in style - Mr. Achille had a sense of humour) and Mara, from Maramotti, of course, are two words that became the starting point for a name that has multiplied in so many other labels (such as Sportmax, Weekend Max Mara, Max&Co, among dozens of others), establishing an empire that is felt in its power, but which is humble from inside: forever a family business, this lightness is palpable in the speech by Maria Giulia, when we sat down with the Retail Director (a position that says little about her omnipresence on the brand, quickly we realize), on a Wednesday morning, in Lisbon. The reason why she's in the Portuguese capital is related to the fashion show for the Resort 2023 collection, which will be presented at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation on June 28th this year, anticipating, of course, an enviable list of presences, from the catwalk to the frontrow, and a wardrobe that promises to continue the appraisal of the previous collection: “this is the first time that a major brand has held a fashion show of this kind here and I think Lisbon has a lot to say, this is part of the reason why I wanted to come explore and feel the energy”, she admits to Vogue. “Even the international community that is here, the culture, it's all fascinating. It is a city that has and will have a lot to say in the coming years”. Her speech is interesting, eloquent, but above all, honest. It's thoughtful in the answers, but not to say the politically correct or what I might want to hear, rather to be as truthful as possible to the reality of what it's like to work at and for Max Mara, to be part of the Max Mara family. The name really comes from a family business and this is evident in Maramotti's posture. It's just that it's a little bigger than most family businesses.

And the brand doesn't shy away from taking advantage of this greatness in favor of the forces of Good, sponsoring and supporting, for example, awards and opportunities for the Arts focusing on women - the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, which implies a residency in Italy over a six month period, culminating in a presentation of the artistic project created over that half year, both at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, and at the Collezione Maramotti, in Reggio Emilia, and Max Mara Women in Film, a non-profit organization whose aim is to promote equal opportunities for women in the area, by sponsoring artist projects and supporting the representation of women in all media formats around the world, are examples of how female empowerment is present (in addition to the clothing that the brand creates with confidence boost in mind and that only the best womenswear can bring): “I was not born a feminist, but I became a feminist”.

What does Max Mara mean to you - is it family, is it work or both? I'm 38 (Max Mara is 70), so I was born about halfway into Max Mara's life and, well, a family business is a family business, you can't really separate the two, at least he way it works... but it also seems to me that it is a process of evolution within the relationship, which has more to do with work and with the brand, so that you can start to see it more from a business point of view… I always looked at it from a business perspective, though, because that was also how it was approached.

What are your fondest memories of growing up with the brand? Do you remember the time when you realized the greatness of Max Mara? For my fondest memories, I have many, especially from childhood: for example, Jean-Charles Castelbajac [who was at Max Mara as artistic director; Karl Lagerfeld and Narciso Rodriguez are also included in that list] in my mother's office, on Saturday mornings, and he would draw princesses for me when I was there… the first fashion show I attended was when I was 13, which was like a magical world, that was 1997, I think... I still remember some models, the backstage, the presentations we were doing... but I think that returning to the moment of greatness and to a moment of greater satisfaction was perhaps one of the first projects in which I actively participated, from an international point of view, which was when we promoted the opening of the Whitney Museum in New York, in 2015. And that was probably when I realized the magnitude of the brand.

Do you think that being avant-garde is something that has continued to characterize the brand? Because it's 70 years of Max Mara… what do you think has remained unchanged, despite the brand having adapted to changing times? Allora, first of all, the fact that it remains a family business, and that's ingrained in the DNA because that's the approach you take to the brand, evolution and conservation of heritage, because it has a lot to do with legacy. Something that certainly hasn't changed is the idea of ​​quality in terms of the product, the inner value of construction, research; another great aspect that characterizes us is curiosity, my grandfather was a very curious person, he liked this idea of ​​connecting creativity. The second generation was also very curious and I'm also a curious person, but I identify more with my grandfather than the second generation, just because I think I'm more like him, I get really excited about life. Not that they don't, but they do it in a different way. I think as a company we've always been a product-centric company - this is true to my grandfather and true to my mother and uncles. And for my generation, I don't want to say that we take the product for granted, but I believe it's part of the process, and for us these days, the most important thing is the consumer. I think that might have changed a little bit. And it's the brand's relationship with women that you want to build. Because, currently, you cannot shut your eyes to it, nor can you escape it.

What would you like to add to your grandfather's legacy? You know, my grandfather was a visionary in the sense that he was a man who understood his time. He saw a need, filled it, and used that need for his business, to create the business, to succeed in his business. Honestly, what will make me happy in 30 or 40 years when, hopefully, I retire, are two things: that the company remains well and in the family, but more that it is well; and the other is, as a businesswoman, having been able to make as many women feel better and bring happiness to as many women as possible through our products, our clothes, passing the message of what Max Mara is to all of them. I think we have evolved a lot, but being focused on the product and not on the consumer, sometimes, has not allowed us to be perceived or recognized by our customers and potential customers in the way we should be. And that's something I want to change.

Is that why the Women in Film Award is so important to the company? Yes, no doubt. Well, first of all: I wasn't born a feminist, but I became one. And that has a lot to do with the times we live in. I try to support women in many ways, but this Women in Film platform has a lot to do with one of the strongest industries in the entire world, which is Hollywood. And that's obviously a starting point. But you also have, and I think that's the interesting part, many different platforms that also have other, equally interesting target audiences, and at the end of the day, it's not about quantity, it's about quality. For example, Max Mara's Art Prize for Women, which is an initiative we have to support women artists, gives them visibility and connection with these same women artists and this whole world that needs a lot of support, because, to tell you the truth , nowadays being a woman and being an artist is difficult. But for me, it's also in the day-to-day work of a woman that I want to make a difference, change lives.

“I became a feminist”. Because you see what is happening in the world or also because you felt inequality, being a leader in the feminine? I think a little of both. I was born very lucky, for a number of reasons, one of them because in my family, my father is an extremely feminist person. Otherwise he would never have married my mother. Even my husband, from the beginning, always saw my success as a professional as a plus. And I'm very lucky because I work in a family business, in a top position, and I don't have the struggles that some women I know face on a daily basis. For me, it was normal to have a voice and feel free and say what I think and make my life choices according to what I wanted, and suddenly I never realized that this was not normal for many other women. I'm a pragmatic person, I'm not that person who's going to make big speeches about changing the world, because I'm just not that kind of person, I believe more in everyday life. Meaning, on my team I have a lot of women and most of them are in management positions because I promoted them. And I try - and that's how it is at Max Mara - to create a work environment that allows women to feel free to express themselves, that's what I believe in. And that can be done in different ways, you can facilitate a lot of things to support women. I try to be the change I want to see on a daily basis.

Is that why, while your grandfather used to say that “Max Mara is for a doctor's wife”, you now say Max Mara dresses doctors, politicians, because Max Mara wants to empower women and women, nowadays, fit into all these professions? Yes, I think so. I believe my grandfather was a man of his time, and in his day it's probably true that there weren't as many women practicing medicine as there are today, and my grandfather was a man who, himself, empowered women. In fact, feminism was not talked about at the time, but the feminist nuances of my family go back to the beginning of the last century, my grandfather was raised by a woman, although the technical term feminist did not exist at the time of my great-grandmother, who had training in sewing and who used to teach girls - who were not able to have their parents around - how to cut fabrics and sew, so that they could contribute to the family income and feel useful. I think a brand that empowers women can do it in so many ways, like making them feel good in their own skin, which is something that Fashion hasn't always done. And it makes me proud that Max Mara is part of the change.

Is it more difficult to work with a brand with such a strong DNA, especially at a time when communication is constantly changing? Allora… To be honest, I consider myself extremely lucky, because there are a lot of people who are starting their own start-up and here I am, with a “Ferrari” on my hands… so I wouldn't say it's difficult. I definitely feel that - and that's the exciting part - you have to adapt. There is a lot of change and we adapt a lot over time. In 2006, we held our first event in Berlin, and today you can say that this is very common, but at the time it wasn't very common to do so. And of course, then we had to work on social media and create content that had to make sense… and, nowadays, everything is connected. Fifteen years ago, you had your advertising campaign playing its part, and then retail was a completely different story… it was as if you had each one in differeny silos. Now, everything is intertwined, and I love this part of the job, connecting it all, because you need a director, someone to make the connection.

Speaking of social media… is it a blessing or a curse? I think all blessings are a bit of a curse. I think it's a sign of our times and whether you like it or not, you're going to have to play by the rules of the game, because they were the ones that were enthusiastically accepted by everyone. And social media can be a good indicator of how close you are to your customers and how good you are at interacting with them. Which also means you have to be careful, because they are specific, they end up funneling information and being superficial, but I'm not saying that in a negative way, I'm just saying it as a fact. If you take 10 seconds to watch something, you won't be deeply informed about it. But this is how the current generation wants to access information.

Max Mara's latest collection has had very good feedback: it's excellent in terms of design… I agree.

And innovation… I agree.

But you can pick up any piece and use it in everyday life. I agree. I can be an extremely critical person towards Max Mara, to be honest, obviously, because we're extremely self-critical about what's close to us. The truth is, for me, what you said… that's the power of a collection. And I always say to designers: you can tell me about your creative process, the inspiration to get to this, which is amazing, but you know that when the customer enters a store, she will have 10 seconds and doesn't want to know what you thought; she wants to know if it suits her, if she wants it or doesn't want it. So, for me, looking at a successful collection is seeing it on the catwalk and thinking ‘I would like to wear that’. That's my approach.

Does everything that go on the catwalk get produced, that is, does it hit the stores? If not, do you think that when that happens, something creative is lost? With Max Mara it probably happens less than with other brands, but it also happens. I don't think it's lost, because there have been attempts to the see now, buy now format, but it hasn't worked very well. I think, in the end, that's the point: creativity is great, but it's not just about creativity. As I said, with Max Mara it doesn't happen much [the catwalk not hitting the stores], but it does happen. And even the opposite happens: buyers of the stores don't buy a certain piece and the customer contacts us directly to say that she wants it. About creativity, I think this kind of filter is a necessary process. Because you don't want to create something that people don't want to use. And if you don't understand that something isn't wearable, it's because you're not close enough to your customers. I am a creative's nightmare.

Sustainability is a mandatory topic, nowadays, for a brand and Max Mara has seen it that way for a long time. Yes, you used the right word, it's mandatory. And it's a good thing it is, so we can organize ourselves, but I think sometimes there's not very precise information on the subject. And there's also a lot of green washing. And it has to start from a legal point, that's what I think. It has to be regulated.

Why Lisboa, for the presentation of the Resort collection? It was more of our creative director's idea, he was inspired by Gulbenkian. And everything became intertwined: the museum has a painting by [writer and poet] Natália Correia, very strong, and it was a new wave of feminism and poetic sensuality. And he was mesmerized. And he liked the idea of ​​having Lisbon as a stage.

Translated from the original on The Fairy Tale issue from Vogue Portugal, published may 2022.Full credits and stories on the print issue.

Sara Andrade By Sara Andrade

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