Looking back to look forward has become a bit of a ruse in fashion. Yet few designers tend to go as far back as Max Mara, which revisited Greek myths for its spring-summer show in Milan that was partly about women, partly about the weather, but was mostly a class in classical mythology.
The brand’s head designer, Ian Griffiths, had spent the summer reading male-centred myths, rewritten from a woman’s perspective. Among a handful of books, he name-checked Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, Homer’s Odyssey told from the viewpoint of Odysseus’s long-suffering wife, Penelope.
Atwood has become something of a cultural touchstone, not least in fashion, where even the smallest flash of red is attributed to the robes worn by the women in The Handmaid’s Tale. But if her righteous retelling of the Odyssey was about women and power, it would also prove to be a window into the Max Mara woman’s psyche in 2019.
The collection shown on Thursday morning was aimed at “that slick, well-dressed woman that’s one part warrior, one part ocean goddess – but not in a hokey way”, with a focus on silhouette rather than colour. Skirts and jackets, the Max Mara twinset, came pinched at the waist. Elsewhere, blazers were reimagined to boxy shapes or looser fitting, and sat below the knee. The layering had more of a spring bent, with light woollen jackets worn under open macs.
Midway, there was a flurry of polka dots. “I wanted to concentrate on texture and not print,” Griffiths said. “So I chose an elemental gestural spot.” A polka-dot trenchcoat version worn by Halima Aden, the Somali-American model who became the first woman in a hijab to appear on a Vogue cover, caused the most chatter, though the fact that most of the models wore headscarves and sunglasses with cords attached – “modern armour in the city” – diverted any further attention.
The most obvious allusions to the female warrior were the power shoulder – with a single arm jutting out from under coated tops, peplum vests or peeking out from under one of the coats – and the gaiters. These protective overshoes are designed for a damp ramble in the Lakes, or for going to war, but here they were reimagined in luxe, tight-coated fabrics.
Much has been made recently of whether Naomi Campbell has the right to patent her walk, and many models at the show appeared to imitate her hands-on-hips swagger. It was in keeping with the general intimidating vibe.
Having fleshed out a new code that places women not just at the forefront, but in a role once occupied by men, Griffiths moved closer to home by paying homage to the French stylist Anne-Marie Beretta, who in the 1980s created Max Mara’s tailored suits, which played with proportions, collar size and asymmetrical lines. “Our own legend,” laughed Griffiths.
As for the weather, that’s where the bonded trenchcoats came into play. “Summer is not summery anymore – you need a raincoat, a trench, un imperméable,” he said backstage. “It rained in Milan all of July … by the end of summer our UK gardens were dead.”
The coat, Max Mara’s bread and butter, was also due an appearance, especially given that it contributes largely to the company’s rumoured net worth of $2bn (£1.5bn). And so it was that the show opened with a long navy trenchcoat, and closed with the model Gigi Hadid wearing one, and the front row visibly relaxed.
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