Man Behind The Masterpiece

What Women Wear When They Want To Change The World

Ian Griffiths, creative director of Max Mara, creates clothes that leave ladies feeling sexy and serious all at once.

What Women Wear When They Want To Change The World
Max Mara closed its Spring/Summer 2020 show with dresses fit for modern-day female spies.Max Mara

British TV series Killing Eve has amassed a multitude of fans across the globe since it started airing in 2018. This action thriller unfolds against an exhilarating game of cat and mouse between an assassin and an agent hell-bent on stopping her. It portrays women — both good and evil — as beings of their own agency. Capable and smart, they are also complex and prone to emotional fragility.

Among the fans is Ian Griffiths, creative director of Max Mara, who described Killing Eve as “where all the principal characters are female who are so good at what they do, that’s completely revolutionising the whole genre.”

It is this feminine strength he drew on for his Spring/Summer 2020 collection.

What Women Wear When They Want To Change The World
(Image: Max Mara)

Opening the Max Mara show at the last Milan Fashion Week was an army of maidens — kitted out in prim neckties and impeccably-tailored ensembles in light washes of grey and khaki — marching in on the ready with their mission orders. To load up on the ruggedness, meanwhile, were large utilitarian pockets and waistcoats fashioned to resemble gun holsters. All this soon gave way to regal elegance as the models slipped into pastel bias-cut silk dresses for the evening.

Griffiths, who feels “the Max Mara lady is so smart she doesn’t need the fire power to win”, is driven by a desire for dialogue with modern women. Even after 33 years at the helm of the brand, he’s still fascinated by the connection between his customers and his clothing, something that goes back to his training in architecture.

“As an architect, you’re taught to think about design and its relation to the people using it. In the same vein, I think about how the women wearing the clothes relate to them,” he says. “Good clothes give you confidence to be yourself — you can’t be confident if you’re always fussing about how you sit in a dress. Our clothes are about showcasing our customers, rather than me as a designer.”

What Women Wear When They Want To Change The World
Ian Griffiths, creative director of Max Mara. (Image: Max Mara)

And that’s what sets Griffiths’ work apart from others. Where many are increasingly pressured to produce hyped-up clothing with seconds-long lifespans on social media, he prefers to create classics that live on and beyond. Where brands try to outdo one another with fashion show spectacles season after season, he lets the clothes — and the women in them — sing for themselves.

Marilyn Monroe, after whom a Max Mara coat from Autumn/Winter 2015 was christened, inspired Griffiths often. But more recently, he is veering towards women like Nancy Pelosi who go against the grain. The Speaker of the US House of Representatives, who wore a rust-coloured Max Mara coat in 2018 to meet with President Donald Trump, was hailed as a symbol of women who weren’t afraid to go against the establishment. Pelosi and her outerwear received so much press, it led Max Mara to relaunch what’s colloquially nicknamed the “Pelosi coat”.

What Women Wear When They Want To Change The World
Nancy Pelosi in her iconic Max Mara coat. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

Although Griffiths says he has no stand on political issues, he reminds us that female empowerment has been very much a part of the Max Mara brand since its founding in 1951. Max Mara was one of the first to feature a hijab-clad model on the runway for Autumn/Winter 2017. And while the 2020 Academy Awards nominated zilch female directors, Max Mara continues to support women filmmakers and actresses through its Women in Film annual gala this year.

“I think it’s important not to go against the grain for the sake of it,” he adds, “but only because you believe you’re going in the right direction. I’m never frightened to shake things up just a little bit.”

What Women Wear When They Want To Change The World
(Image: Max Mara)

Meanwhile, many continue to see Max Mara merely as a brand that churns out classics: camel coats, suits, dresses and so on. While classic translates to boring and must be avoided at all costs for some designers, Griffiths takes it as a compliment, adding that classic is “not a bad word at all… I find it more rewarding to know that a woman appreciates our clothes over time and builds an emotional relationship with them.”

“It’s also like Nancy Pelosi wearing that red coat — she bought that in 2007 so that has to be a classic coat! Women who want to change the world, what do they wear? They wear things that are simple and powerful.”

So, does Max Mara plan to venture into menswear? “Never, ever,” Griffiths decides. “If men were to have it too, it wouldn’t be the same anymore.”

This story first appeared in the March 2020 issue of A Magazine.

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