Which came first, Max Mara’s resort fashion show, Lisbon as location or inspiration?
In the fashion Monopoly game of itinerant resort shows, the Italian brand called dibs on the Portuguese capital before the collection was even conceived, revealed creative director Ian Griffiths. Still, judging by the charming lineup paraded in the lush garden of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation on Tuesday under the attentive eyes of Claire Danes and Ashley Park, the designer was right to trust his instincts, confiding that getting inspired would have come easy in such a vibrant city.
“When we started to identify locations and resort destinations, we thought it had to be somewhere that provokes an instant reaction or a kind of dream,” Griffiths said during a walkthrough. “And if you say Lisbon to anyone, they know that it’s a place with a great deal of history and culture and lots of young creative people are moving here, in art direction, photography and even fashion, so it’s attractive in that sense. More no one has ever shown here.”
Lisbon’s poetry and languid Fado – the local, melancholic music genre – informed Griffiths’ creative process, but the designer’s main inspiration was to be found in the Gulbenkian museum itself – part of which was renovated thanks to Max Mara’s support – in a painting by artist Nikias Skapinakis portraying the local intellectual, poet and social activist Natália Correia.
“[Correia] really deserves a place in the Max Mara pantheon of powerful women,” said Griffiths, who wanted to spotlight a personality “not known outside Portugal.” (Apparently, Correia has been rediscovered only recently even on national soil, courtesy of a TV series named “3 Mulheres.”)
A pivotal – and often a controversial – figure of Portuguese cultural and political life in the ’70s and ’80s – when she also set up the Bar Botequim café that attracted the likes of Henry Miller, Graham Greene and queen of Fado Amália Rodrigues – Correia and her smoldering charisma sparked Griffiths’ imagination in tinging Max Mara’s sense of empowerment with a refreshing sensual nuance.
This translated into a study on different proportions, ranging from the hourglass-like silhouettes created by belted coats cinched at the waist to the juxtaposition between the voluminous shapes of cropped jackets and more constrained pencil skirts with pleated trimming peaking from underneath.
Cropped turtlenecks and short shorts layered under elongated blazer jackets built on the minimal aesthetic, while influences from traditional Portuguese looks informed midi skirts crafted from techno jersey, worn with solid tops with wide décolletage.
These looks in classic tones of white, camel and black were followed by a more eccentric section of printed strapless dresses and naive motifs of hearts and doves. These referenced a local folk tradition of girls embroidering “Lenços de namorados do Minho,” or “handkerchiefs of love,” with romantic messages and symbols for their love interest.
A final series of colorful taffeta dresses and belted trench coats with pleated sections in purple, ochre, burnt orange, electric blue and forest green were a nod to Rodrigues’ on-stage attire — a reference reinforced by the singer’s use of brooches that were turned into rich crystal embroideries on coats and cropped sweaters.
Needless to say, outerwear looked great. The opening cashmere cape, a white soft long coat and Max Mara’s signature Teddy Bear style revisited to evoke the Fado diva’s mink coat had a high-glamor vibe, while cropped jackets with rolled-up sleeves winked to a younger generation of Max Mara consumers.
After performing for guests at an intimate dinner on the eve of the event, the current gatekeeper of Fado, singer Carminho, did double duty by performing the show’s soundtrack and walking the runway. But guests’ attention was distracted by a single male model wearing one of Max Mara’s classic Manuela coats, the first time that has happened on the womenswear brand’s runway.
“The coat is not being adapted for a man, but it’s reflecting something that we are seeing more and more, which is men wearing Max Mara coats,” said Griffiths.
“Max Mara has an ideological reason [not to launch a menswear line], which has to do with empowerment and the fact the company has been on this journey, this rise and rise of the Max Mara woman. Women are bumping up against the glass ceiling, but they haven’t broken through, and for us to turn around at this stage and say, ‘Ok women, you had this thing that men didn’t have and now we’re doing it for men, too’ is a kind of betrayal,” noted Griffiths.