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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

Max Mara is all about film, fashion and female empowerment 

Max Mara’s MariaGiulia Prezioso Maramotti tells us why supporting and enabling women is a key tenet of the brand

Alexandra Shipp and Maria Giulia Prezioso Maramotti at WIF
Alexandra Shipp and Maria Giulia Prezioso Maramotti at WIF

Every June, the Los Angeles-based Women In Film foundation throws a lavish awards ceremony to celebrate women who are at the forefront of the industry.

Founded in 1973 by Tichi Wilkerson Kassel – former editor in chief of The Hollywood Reporter – the Crystal & Lucy Awards recognise and promote talented female directors, actors, ­cinematographers, producers and critics, to help them break through the so-called “celluloid ceiling”.

Women in film still face plenty of obstacles, as seen in the recent Harvey Weinstein scandal and the resultant #TimesUp movement, as well as reports on the gender pay gap. A case in point: for the reshoots for 2017 film All the Money in the World, actor Mark Wahlberg earned US$2 million (Dh7.3m) for 10 days’ work, while his co-star Michelle Williams reportedly got paid $80 a day for the same period.

Fashion house Max Mara is a fervent supporter of Women In Film (WIF) – and this relationship began long before the topic of female empowerment became trendy, says MariaGiulia Prezioso Maramotti, Max Mara’s vice president for the United States and global brand ambassador. “Max Mara’s mission has been to empower women, by dressing them, for the past 67 years,” ­Maramotti explains. “It was just natural that we entered into a partnership with WIF as part of our way of communicating to our customers.

“Honestly, I would really like to stress that for Max Mara, the involvement in empowering women is not because of recent [events],” she continues. “It is part of our DNA. We [have] partnered with WIF for the past 16 years, so for us, it was natural to follow the tradition of this partnership, which represents who we are. If anything, whatever happened in the past year is just proving that we were ahead of time.”

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The Max Mara customer of which she speaks is, of course, female and drawn to the elegant, unfussy womenswear that the brand is famed for. Founded by Achille Maramotti in Italy in 1951, Max Mara’s aim was to blend high-end cuts and style with industrial tailoring techniques. In an era when most clothes were still handmade, this shift in approach was a game changer, ­offering garments that were still beautifully designed, but available at a far more affordable price.

Almost uniquely, the brand spoke to working women, creating smart, ­highly wearable solutions. The reaction was spectacular, with ladies flocking to snap up its creations. One piece in particular became an instant classic: the 101801 camel coat in supple wool and cashmere, which is still a bestseller. Coupling a quiet, ­under-the-radar aesthetic with smart yet practical dressing meant that by the time of his death in 2005, Achille Maramotti was the head of a company worth an estimated $1.2 billion. Today, the company is still owned and run by the Maramotti clan, with Achille’s granddaughter MariaGiulia representing the third generation of the family.

The brand’s partnership with WIF comes in the form of financial sponsorship, and led to the creation of the Max Mara Face of the Future Award, which every year selects one emerging actress deserving of special recognition. Past recipients including Kate Mara, Hailee Steinfeld, Zoe Saldana, Elizabeth Banks, Ginnifer Goodwin and Emily Blunt, showing that Max Mara is not only ahead of the game in terms of promoting equality, but has a pretty good eye for talent, too.

Anyone who has seen films such as Straight Outta Compton, Aaliyah: Princess of R&B and X-Men: Apocalypse will already be familiar with 2018’s winner, Alexandra Shipp. “We thought Alexandra was the embodiment of a strong woman, fierce, who made career choices based on her beliefs and is natural, direct, and lives her beauty as a way of expressing herself,” explains Maramotti. “Her talent is incredible.”

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When not doling out accolades to up-and-coming talents, Max Mara runs a serious business trying to anticipate and cater to the needs of an ever-­evolving audience. Its ability to weather the vagaries of consumer demand can perhaps be attributed to the brand’s internal stability, both in terms of the consistency of still being owned by the same family, and of having the same designer at its helm for 30 years. The British-born creative Ian Griffiths has fashioned collections for Max Mara for more than three decades, and yet far from being a household name, most people have never heard of him.

“The idea of a designer like Ian Griffiths being with the company for three decades means that he has grown with it, and there has been an intertwining between his vision and the one of the brand, which was obviously not revolutionary, yet evolved organically.

“There is a strong selflessness in a designer who chooses to step-up over the individuality and yet is able to create such beauty,” Maramotti continues. “Today is all about the personality behind the brand rather than the brand and, in fact, I am very happy that in this sense Max Mara has decided to stay, once again, true to its values.”

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Far from being staid and predictable, however, Griffiths has been – quietly – challenging boundaries. Max Mara was one of the first big-name brands to put the hijab-wearing Halima Aden on the runway in 2017, kick-starting not only her career, but forcing other designers to start thinking about diversity. Following in the footsteps of founder Achille, Griffiths has worked hard behind the scenes to ensure that the label keeps apace with the lives of modern women.

“I think that we have managed to create the design component through the idea that contemporary elegance is not necessarily classic; there is always a component of modernity because we look at the way women live in order to create clothing that adapts to their needs,” Maramotti explains. “This led to two things: a consistency and precision in the DNA which evolved organically, and the ability to evolve without getting away from what we are.”

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Part of the evolution is in the hands of Maramotti herself, who as both vice president of US retail and a global brand ambassador drives the company forward, while retaining its core identity. “I love the idea of bringing the company ahead every day; it’s a mission that is dear to my heart and the reason I am happy to wake up every morning.”

Fittingly for a brand all about enabling the working woman, either through her wardrobe or on the silver screen, Maramotti is a hands-on boss, not afraid to roll her sleeves up and get involved. “As an entrepreneur, I learnt to be always listening, and being exposed to external trends gives me food for thought, as well as understanding where trends are, and what is going to happen. I cherish this opportunity. It is highly rewarding.”

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