On the surface — well, on any surface, really — the idea of a fashion collection inspired by both Marlene Dietrich and David Bowie sounds like trouble. But here we were, the international fashion press gathered in Berlin for the Max Mara resort show on Monday evening, sitting in the David Chipperfield-renovated Neues Museum, where millennials-old Nefertiti stares out at the tourists with her one good eye, listening to Bowie’s “Wild is the Wind,” which was set on a whisperingly low volume so as not to disturb the artifacts. Carolyn Murphy and the cabaret star Ute Lemper crossed paths on the runway wearing sharply-shouldered white jackets over loosely flowing pants, which, come to think of it, were exactly of a style that was favored by both Dietrich and Bowie.
“Strangely, when you put images of them together side by side, they were almost the same person,” says Ian Griffiths, the creative director of the Italian house who did a fine job of making the comparison without losing sight of Max Mara’s core value of creating elegant and timeless clothes with a compelling narrative. Here, chic sandy colored trench coats were shown with coordinating blouses and trousers; monochromatic ensembles were comprised of thin turtlenecks, chunky cashmere sweaters, silky blouses and pleated skirts; and a version of the wildly popular Teddy Bear coat was shown flecked with metallic threads. The Dietrich/Bowie theme was literal in terms of designs that defied gender, but not so much so that any of the models wore a top hat or Ziggy makeup.
“They both loved a sharply tailored white suit, a trench coat, a white shirt, a waistcoat and a man’s tie,” Griffiths says. “As much as I have been inspired by them as the heroes of this collection, it’s a bit Marlene Bowie and David Dietrich. They’ve kind of fused.”
The show, which was followed by a decadent dinner of caviar-coated pizza, lemon ravioli, and grilled prawns and attended by Angela Bassett and a range of Max Mara clients, concluded a weekend that was organized by Max Mara to illustrate the company’s heritage, from its production skills and craftsmanship to the appreciation for the fine arts shared by its founding family, the Maramottis. Griffiths says he chose Berlin for the site for several reasons, especially his fondness for the city when he was an art student in the U.K. in the 1980s and also because this year marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Maria Giulia Maramotti, the vice president of U.S. retail for Max Mara who’s also a granddaughter of company founder Achille Maramotti, adds that Berlin was the site of Max Mara’s first exhibition on its signature coats in 2006.
“At the end of the day it is one of the most relevant markets right now,” Maramotti says. “Berlin has an interesting story of contrasts. From an aesthetic standpoint, it is a city that has an institutional 19th century architecture on one side and then you have incredible modern architecture with all the possible architect stars you can think of. It’s really similar to the DNA of our brand in that it is respectful of our roots and then trying to inject a novelty of the contemporary.”
Griffiths used not only the city’s history, but also the collection of the Neues Museum, to inspire designs that similarly featured obvious contrasts between ancient and modern. Some of the richly textured fabrics were patterned to look like they had a heavy patina, much like the museum’s plaster walls that had been abandoned after the war until Chipperfield’s modern restoration. Trousers and jackets were finished with raw edges in a nod to the centuries-old looms on display. And a new collection of jewelry for Max Mara, in collaboration with the designer Reema Pachachi payed homage to the hand-crafted prehistoric artifacts on display with roughly hammered panels of gold on necklaces and bracelets.
As a final element, Griffiths mixed in three-dimensional embroideries of flowers inspired by the porcelain designs of Meissen, which has been producing since 1710 and contributed all the place settings and an exquisite menagerie of animals that decorated the tables for dinner.
“It’s all very concrete with me,” Griffiths says. “It translates into something you can see, and then wear. If we select the right place and build the right story, we can tell you something. We can communicate about our brand in a way that’s more difficult to do when you have your 20-minute slot in Milan Fashion Week.”