LOS ANGELES — “I rarely do this,” Max Mara chairman Luigi Maramotti told members of the Costume Council gathered to hear him talk about the creative process last week. “It’s why we’re having everyone checked at the door for tomatoes and eggs — eggs are particularly painful.”
As cerebral as he is quick-witted, the founder’s son at the helm of the $1 billion Italian house swooped in and out of town Nov. 19 on the invitation of the Council, a fund-raising and educational arm of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It was Maramotti’s first visit here in five years and by the end of the afternoon, he had little to worry about in regard to the Council’s reception of his lecture.
Opting out of giving a history of the company, he instead wove anecdotes on how the product-driven house arrives at its results into a wider-reaching examination of the creative journey.
“In the world of fashion, odd doesn’t mean new and advanced,” he told the hundreds assembled in the museum theater. He pointed to the differences between a Lord Beau Brummel and Coco Chanel, who changed the face of fashion, and Oscar Wilde or Madonna, who used shock to distinguish themselves. Clearly, collectively, he conceded, they all had an impact. But, he added, “originality and eccentricity cannot be enough to distinguish creativity.”
Maramotti shared early sketches and photographs of Max Mara’s clothes in the Fifties, as well as merchandising ideas the company pushed for among post-World War II European retailers still slow to carry ready-to-wear. The goals were achieved on minimal budgets but with ingenuity. For example, the company convinced fabric stores to allot some floor space to sell finished product and promoted it with signs in the windows.
The company’s longstanding collaboration with students, as well as emphasis on teamwork over the culture of a single designer — the current “star system in fashion” — is about “linking creativity,” he added, and is a key to Max Mara’s continuing growth.
That growth now includes a strategy of expansion into higher-margin categories such as handbags, footwear and a fragrance it hopes to launch in 2004. The younger-skewed Max & Co. collection is now available in the U.S. at three California stores and one in Las Vegas, and another 40 to 50 units are slated to open nationwide in the next six years. “It is a work in progress. We wanted to experiment with the line first in L.A. The focus is what is happening here.”
As for plans to enter men’s wear, Maramotti quickly told the crowd, “No. I would need another 150 years to do it right. It’s a matter of focus. I know very little about men’s fashion, it would be dangerous.”
The house continues to diversify its demographic reach, however, with its full-size-focused Marina Rinaldi brand. About 10 percent of its revenue now comes from the U.S. But China and Russia remain on the horizon, he said. Retail doors are under consideration there.
With this in mind, Maramotti acknowledged after the lecture that he is already considering another, longer visit to Los Angeles. “But this time it will be maybe in six months time,” he said.
“This is a moment of calm and focus,” he said regarding the state of the economy. “Women in the Western world don’t need to buy clothes. They must be given added value, and that is where the creativity must come in.”