“Even rebellion can be done with elegance.” Electing Marlene Dietrich and David Bowie as his inspirations for the Max Mara Resort 2020 collection, creative director Ian Griffiths admitted his recent infusion of “punk attitude” into the brand. “I myself was a punk — but an elegant punk,” the designer said with a smile, speaking ahead of the show, which was held on Monday at Berlin’s Neues Museum — the first such event at the location.
“It’s been one of my lifelong ambitions to do something about Berlin or in Berlin, ever since my day in art school in the Eighties, I was fascinated by Bauhaus, Marlene Dietrich and the cabaret,” Griffiths explained. “Berlin’s contribution to contemporary culture is so enormous and it deserves recognition.”
As the head designer of Max Mara, a “Berlin coat” was a natural tribute to the city and a starting point for Griffiths. “This is the look I designed first,” he said of the piece worn on the runway by one of Max Mara’s muses, Carolyn Murphy. “I fell in love with the Meissen archive and craftsmanship and I didn’t know how to introduce that in the collection until I saw their exquisite porcelain flowers and I wanted to recreate the delicacy of those flowers in sequins and I used them to highlight the shoulder line,” he said of the white coat, pointing to the dainty embellishments punctuating the shoulders.
A trenchcoat in camel cashmere worked in double face was conceived as “if it would have been worn by Marlene Dietrich and David Bowie, my Berlin idols. She was born here and I love the whole period of cabaret and German Expressionist cinema and Bowie is one of my personal heroes, he lived here in one of the most creative periods in his life. After breaking down in L.A., he came here to repair himself. They were so similar, they both loved trenchcoats and masculine tailoring, they both understood the power of self-image and defied conventions.”
This translated into a collection of sleek tailored pantsuits with sharp, constructed and narrow shoulders and a plethora of delectable coats in pure Max Mara tradition.
In the museum Griffiths saw a re-creation of a loom with a piece of woven hemp or linen, which inspired him to employ hand-made looking fabrics and use the idea of frayed selvage as fringes on wide-leg pants. Rims and pockets were also fringed and expertly frayed on sophisticated pinstriped suits, for example. The sandy, archaeological color palette in sync with the museum, which contains one of the world’s most precious collections of prehistoric artifacts and, famously a bust of Nefertiti, was lit up by delicate Lurex threads, as the designer wanted to re-create the “very faint metallic” aspect of the fabric he saw on the loom.
The rustic fabric appeared in a draped bustier dress worn with a long masculine belt, for example. Conversely, a more elaborate and geometric, abstract fil coupé fabric embellished a floor-length skirt.
The museum has a world-class collection of Bronze-, Stone- and Iron-age pieces, which inspired Griffiths to collaborate on Max Mara’s first jewelry collection with designer Reema Pachachi. Plaques with a stone-like texture or petal-like ellipses were cast in brass, plated in silver, pale gold and in solid bronze.
Touches of Pompeii red — also seen on some of the walls of the museum — injected a dose of color to the earthy palette.
Griffiths also underscored that 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. “It seems a good time to celebrate the demolition of a wall and reunification at a time when other people are talking of building walls,” he said. “It’s a celebration of hope really.”
The show ended with a parade of smoking jackets and trenches in white, another reference to Dietrich and Bowie and their film “Just a Gigolo.” One was worn by German singer Ute Lemper, who the night before had performed an homage to Dietrich. “I’ve been asked what relevance Dietrich has to young people who may have never heard of her, but maybe this will bring back the attention to her and she can be an inspiration to a new generation,” Griffiths said. The designer underscored that, with hair off their face and a clean-looking makeup, he did not want the models and the collection to have a retro feel, but to be “a springboard into the future and into modernity.” And indeed, it was modern and effortlessly chic.
After the show, guests, including Angela Bassett, were treated to a dinner at the museum, where Meissen animal figurines adorned the tables standing next to the archaeological finds. Bassett said she expected to stay in Berlin for the next five months to film “Gunpowder Milkshake.” “I start tomorrow and I play a librarian, but not a librarian you would usually think of. Within the books, there’s guns and ammunition, it’s an action thriller that’s female driven — very cool” she said.
In an additional link to the fall of the wall, Ksenia Gorbachev, the granddaughter of Mikhail Gorbachev, was also a guest at the show.