If you were an 18th century female philosopher it’s likely you would spend time speculating over what the future might like look like. You might imagine how women will progress, how their opportunities will change and how life might have looked had you not been born into a time when the world was seldom a place for powerful females.
You might not, however, expect that some 300 years from now a collection of courteous, dapper ensembles would be created in your honor. For Ian Griffiths, long-standing creative director of Max Mara, it was Émilie du Châtelet that inspired his Fall/Winter 2023 collection. Her writing on sensibility during the Age of Enlightenment is a kind of a prequel to our now common odyssey for a harmonious, pragmatic world — in particular the idea that one must rid oneself of prejudice.
At an aesthetic level, the French marquise (whose love affair with Voltaire drew her into poetic forums) made for a beguiling character from an era that allowed Griffiths to indulge in some particularly decadent details. Brocades, Watteau-backs, side hoops and pannier skirts are not often called upon for ready-to-wear these days, but Griffiths used all of them to his advantage. And, for a guy who hashtags ILoveMyJob at the end of every Instagram post, it’s not surprising that it is also a collection bursting with enthusiastic seasonal style.
He labeled it the Camelocracy. A facetious portmanteau that marries his era-inspiration to the label’s penchant for a warm shade of beige. It seems an impossible dichotomy, however, to bind the time of corsets and chemises with a kind of relaxed future-female. But it works. Griffiths is a wizard when it comes to creating working silhouettes — ankle-dusting wool coats with wide-culottes, full-length wrap skirts with cropped blouson and next-season Teddy Bear coats in sheeny chocolate worn with knitted turtleneck sheaths. A collection of inspired separates (accessorized with the sweetest pairing of grosgrain hair ribbons and knitted beanies) you can imagine on any well-dressed woman sauntering city streets during the crisp winds of winter.
Griffiths’ ability to code Max Mara into a perfectly balanced sportif-meets-high-fashion label proceeds him. There is little gossip that surrounds this label – given Griffiths has been at the helm for more than 35 years it is one of the few houses to rarely tussle with its look or customer direction. It delivers the pieces you purchase and keep for a lifetime. This season, perhaps it will be the quilted parka in golden camel that flanks the cinched waist of a layered knit, or maybe it will be the brushed-wool pea-coat in the most heavenly shade of wisteria pink paired in monochromatic perfection with a college cardigan and a sheer fine-wool of the same hue.
While Émilie du Châtelet might not have had the opportunity to openly wear such sartorial utility (though she was known to dress in men’s clothing to attend male-only establishments) as an early voice against the restriction of the female kind it’s certain she would have appreciated the association. But perhaps most importantly, thanks to Enlightened females like herself, we get to enjoy the result.