LOS ANGELES — Nicola Maramotti, the first lady of the MaxMara clothing empire, has plopped down on a bench in exhaustion at The Hammer Museum here. The leggy blonde is spent from the summer heat; her jet lag from the flight from Reggio Emilia, Italy, where MaxMara is based, and the dinner she hosted the night before for actress Emily Blunt at the swanky home of television and movie producer David Hoberman, with friends Molly Sims, Jamie Tisch and Kristin Davis.

Nevertheless, she’s diligently working through her fatigue and cruising the West Coast gallery circuit, dragging herself (and her public relations team) on a tour of Los Angeles’ contemporary art scene. “My father-in-law has been collecting [contemporary art pieces] for 50 years,” she says slowly, sweetly and with a slight German accent. “They are very big collectors, and they have made me very interested in it, too. I am a very big fan of contemporary art now.”

It shows. Touring LAXart, an avant-garde space on La Cienega, she reveals a genuine interest in both the contemporary work at the gallery and the young artists themselves. Walking around Vincent Johnson’s re-created Cold War air raid siren, she stands with the artist and asks thoughtful questions like, “Do you think you will continue with this type of art?” and “Does this thing still work?”

“I like young American artists,” she says, “especially women like Eliza Beck and Ellen Gallagher. But I’ve also been interested in German Post-impressionists.”

Later, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Maramotti tours the Dan Flavin retrospective, thankful she is finally able to witness the light installation pieces — one of the biggest collections to date — of one of her favorite artists. “There’s no way a catalogue could capture this,” she sighs among a hall of florescent lights, before exiting and stumbling upon David Hockney’s “Mulholland Drive: the Road to the Studio.”

“Fitting, for this part of town,” she says, laughing.

Sixteen years ago, when Nicola married her husband, Ignazio Maramotti, the chairman of the MaxMara Fashion Group and the great-great-grandson of designer Marina Rinaldi, she picked up more than just a contemporary art fetish. Born and raised in Langenhagen, Germany, she graduated with a degree in economics from the University of Hamburg and started working for the Wempe jewelry company, eventually moving to New York City to manage the East Coast branch. While living there, “at a pool party in Southampton,” Maramotti coos, “I first laid eyes on my husband.” Fast-forward three years to when Ignazio finished his law degree and Nicola learned the Italian language, and the Maramotti family thrust their newest member into the world of high fashion.

This story first appeared in the August 20, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“My husband and his father [the late Achille Maramotti] asked me to work for Max & Co. first, which is the younger line,” Maramotti remembers. “I wanted to be very much on the business side at first, though, not the design side.” She became more and more immersed in the family industry over time, collaborating with Ignazio’s brother, Luigi, in establishing Max & Co. as a stand-alone brand, and developing and managing the MaxMara stores throughout Germany.

Sitting now in the garden of the Hammer museum, Maramotti debates the relationship between art and fashion. “A designer can be an artist,” she says, “but contemporary art should last longer than fashion. An artist can express whatever he or she wants because art doesn’t try to satisfy a client, it doesn’t really need to be sold. But a designer must sell his product.”

This September, the family’s relationship with the art world becomes more intertwined, when the Maramotti Museum opens in Reggio Emilia. The clan has amassed more work over the years than can fit on the castle’s walls and so “we’re converting an old factory, one of the original MaxMara factories, into a museum of all my family’s art,” Maramotti says.

Why, exactly, put their clan’s many Twomblys, Fontanas and Becks on display now? “Well, right now it’s just sitting in storage. And, I promise you, the stuff is too good to just be left there.” She adds, “If you can surround yourself with art, when you look at it every day, it gives you such satisfaction.”

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