Each season without fail, Max Mara’s creative director Ian Griffiths looks to a quietly influential muse, a stylish woman forgotten by history, as the starting point for his collections. Yet, it was the Spring/Summer 2024 season that saw the house slightly eschew this tradition by focusing on a collective of galvanising luminaries, rather than the individual.
For Max Mara’s recent Milan Fashion Week show, Griffiths steered away from the bourgeois rebel or sartorial intellectual, looking to the might of the everyday woman. Though the quotidian uniforms worn by mundane metropolitans are a perennial source of inspiration for many designers, Griffiths instead turned his attention to the common English woman of the 1940s, who when asked by their government, took up a call to arms and created the Women’s Land Army to help fight axis forces through agricultural measures in World War II.
“English women, from the country and the city, from all social classes, joined up to work the land to shoulder and nourish the nation,” wrote Max Mara in a press release, highlighting the innately utilitarian undertone of a collection spurred by astute measures and deft restraint. Amongst this group of military might, Max Mara casts Vita Sackville-West—author of a non-fiction collective biography on the Women’s Land Army and friend of Virginia Woolf (their sapphic relationship served as the inspiration for Woolf’s prolific queer novel Orlando: A Biography)—as the main character.
The mood board oscillates between first-hand images taken by women in the field—though excludes the pertinent image of the late Queen Elizabeth II as a mechanic in the Auxiliary Territorial Service—pastoral florals and rather randomly, a photo of Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Here, the idea of a ‘uniform’ is deconstructed and reassembled through a modern vantage.
Guided by codes of heritage army dress, Max Mara proposes practical regimentals for the contemporary woman; a denim apron recontextualised as a day dress, greaser-style dungarees cinched with belts and layered a top of oversized shirting, carpenter outerwear tucked into battlefield midi skirts. Elsewhere, these feminine silhouettes find softness with floral-print chiffon mini dresses or garden-approved knitwear sets.
Though the setting of the show, including the wheat-field installation, may have hinted at pastoral sumptuousness, the collection was far from bucolic. Tough and urban, ready to face battle. The colour palette ranged from rich army greens to sweat pea pinks and sandy neutrals, with pockets galore to store the moments from your travels.
Despite its vintage connotations, the collection didn’t feel contrived or banal. Rather, Max Mara presented an anthology in fashion fundamentals, colouring the tailored blazer and suede shorts with a trace of a workwear redux. Pieces that might’ve once been approved for labour made languid and leisurely. Heroine chic.