REGGIO EMILIA, Italy — Max Mara’s archives come alive during a walk-through with fashion director Laura Lusuardi. Each item has a story and she knows how to tell it. The daughter of one of Max Mara’s first retailers, Lusuardi joined the company, based in Reggio Emilia, in the Sixties, and helped put together the archives, also buying back designs during her travels around the world. Her knowledge has been indispensable once again to organize the latest leg of the “Coats!” exhibition running Nov. 29-Dec. 12 in Seoul.
Located in the city’s multifunctional space DDP (Dongdaemun Design Plaza) designed by Zaha Hadid, “Coats!” will be placed under a monumental cupola inspired by the works of 18th-century architect Étienne-Louis Boullée, and in seven rooms, each dedicated to a decade since the company’s birth in 1951. Studio Migliore + Servetto Architects was once again tapped to create a site-specific design for Seoul, after the previous shows in Berlin in 2006; in Tokyo in 2007; in Beijing in 2009, and in Moscow in 2011. South Korean artist Yiyun Kang has created a digital installation, “Into the Deep Surface,” with special projections of dancers in the cupola, curated by Daehyung Lee.
Each of the seven rooms of the exhibit, which displays more than 90 coats, has a different theme and is conceived as a modern wunderkammer with objects, outfits, sounds and memorabilia, inviting interactivity.
The first room is dedicated to founder Achille Maramotti and the Fifties. “It was a revolution back then, going from trying a piece six times before it was ready, to just walking in a store and leaving with a coat,” said Lusuardi. “We have forgotten what it was like before the arrival of ready-to-wear, the concept of sizes didn’t even exist.” Lusuardi observed how Maramotti “wanted to dress the bourgeois wives of lawyers and doctors. Now we dress those women and they are the lawyers and doctors.” To bring back the presence of the founder, Maramotti’s studio was re-created, with his desk, books, white coat and personal objects, down to his ashtray with a cigar.
The second room covers the Sixties, the concept of the democratic coat and the growing role of a younger generation defining new fashion trends. For the first time in those years, the creative studio collaborated with professional designers such as Emmanuelle Khanh and Luciano Soprani, and the company launched the Pop and My Fair collections flanking Max Mara to dress three different types of women.
The third room is called Colorama and is dedicated to the Seventies, although it includes the launch of Sportmax, which took place in 1969 under Lusuardi’s watch, and the introduction of the total look. There is a reference to the first experimental fashion show directed by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac in 1976; the colored coat; images by Sarah Moon and Oliviero Toscani, and the London inspiration.
The fourth room is named The Icon, a reference to Max Mara’s best-selling cashmere and camel coat, the 101801, launched in the Eighties and sketched by Anne-Marie Beretta. The San Maurizio factory was inaugurated in 1988 and contributed to Max Mara’s reputation for Italian know-how and quality. The decade is reflected in the photos by Paolo Roversi, Peter Lindbergh and Arthur Elgort.
A photographic set was re-created for the Nineties, with a focus on models such as Maggie Rizer, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Carla Bruni and Carolyn Murphy, and photographers including Max Vadukul, Richard Avedon, Mario Sorrenti, Elgort and Steven Meisel. The robe-like Manuela coat was launched in the Nineties, and is still one of the best sellers with the 101801, said Lusuardi, adding that visitors can take selfies on the set, as if posing with the models.
The Max Mara Women are core in the room dedicated to the 2000s, as they mixed different styles, brands and silhouettes. A promoter of women’s empowerment, the company created the Max Mara Art Prize for Women in collaboration with the Whitechapel Gallery, celebrating emerging female artists from the U.K., and supporting the Women in Film association through the Max Mara Face of the Future Award.
The last decade starting in 2010 hinges on the fashion show, and the space is designed as a backstage area, “feeding the curiosity” for this area generally concealed. Lusuardi mentioned the launch of the Whitney Bag designed in collaboration with the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, the ad campaigns with Jennifer Garner, Amy Adams and Gigi and Bella Hadid, and the precious coats of the Max Mara Atelier line.
“It’s a story of the evolution of society and lifestyle,” said Lusuardi of the collection of sketches, magazines, advertising campaigns and designs in the archives. The Mara and Sportmax archives, which are located in an old hosiery manufacturer dating back to 1910 in Reggio Emilia and were restored in 2015, cover three floors over 43,200 square feet and include 300,000 pieces, sketches, photos, ads and furniture, carpets, desks and painting from old offices and stores, 350 magazines and 600 boxes of fabrics. There is also an invaluable Vintage Collection of 8,000 designs and accessories from different brands and private collectors, such as Carine Roitfeld, from the 20th century. Though not open to the public, the pieces “must be accessible” and can be touched by the designers, said Lusuardi.
To celebrate the Seoul exhibition, creative director Ian Griffiths has created a special, feminine belted robe coat in pure camel hair with brass color lining, over a shirt in the same fabric with crystal buttons and French cuffs, and a pencil skirt. The brass color is inspired by precious Korean tableware called Yughee used by the country’s royal family and passed on from generation to generation.
Separately, Max Mara’s Teddy Bear coat from the brand’s fall collection is to receive Robb Report China’s “Best of the Best 2017” award in the women’s coat category on Dec. 1 in Beijing. The yearly award was introduced in 1989.