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A pandemic might have put a damper on the in-person fashion schedule, but it hasn’t quelled designers’ creativity. Case in point: Max Mara‘s romantic resort 2021 collection. Born from Creative Director Ian Griffiths’ fascination with the urban splendor of St. Petersburg, the design sees the city’s neoclassical history serve as muse to a modern collection.

Here GRAZIA speaks to Griffiths about the collection, finding inspiration during a global pandemic and what he believes is behind the enduring popularity of Max Mara’s iconic Teddy Coat.

GRAZIA: Max Mara Resort 2021 is imagined from neoclassical harmony. What exactly was it about St. Petersburg that stood out to you compared to other cities of the same era?

Ian Griffiths: I think that more and more, fashion is about storytelling, and in St. Petersburg, I found the narrative I was seeking for the Resort 2021. I had a feeling that it was time to explore the romantic streak that lies beneath the Max Mara woman’s characteristically levelheaded facade. I was searching my memory for concepts that would enable me to do that and I pulled out my mental file on St. Petersburg. I’ve always dreamt of St. Petersburg since I was introduced to Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky at school. When I finally got to visit the city, I was enchanted by its magic and magnificence. Its eighteenth century neoclassical architecture, mostly designed by Italian architects, incidentally, reflects Max Mara’s design philosophy of order, restrained elegance and rational harmony. But taken as a whole, there is a kind of rhapsodic poetry that results from the city’s beauty – the same beauty that stirred the imagination of so many great writers, painters, composers, and choreographers. It’s a story of strong contrasts, hence the collection’s title Reason and Romance, like a nineteenth century novel.

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GRAZIA: The presentation was due to be revealed at the Yusupov Palace, but was canceled. What did you originally envisage the presentation to look like?

IG:The models would have processed through the suite of magnificent galleries that connect the ballroom to the Yusupov’s private theatre. These are the galleries where the Yusupov art collection was once displayed, including the Rembrandts that they removed from their frames, rolled up, and took with them when they emigrated during the revolution. The audience would have sat on antique chairs with dust covers thrown over them, as a reminder of what was to come for Felix and Irina after they fled the palace. The music was to be a mix, starting with Shostakovich’s Waltz No. 2 which, for me, captures the poignant beauty of the Yusupov story. I was aiming for goosebumps!

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GRAZIA: How has the pandemic changed your mindset on fashion and design?

IG: I have always been very determined and have always tried to be in control, but of course this year, that wasn’t at all possible. I was working on the Resort collection but I didn’t know if it would actually materialize. I learned to let go a little, and to enjoy the process simply for its own sake.

I learned to enjoy the dream without knowing if the dream would become a reality.

GRAZIA: While the collection is deeply rooted in this extravagant romanticism, it still very much has a sense of practicality and essential style. Why is this important?

IG: We are all ready to take control of our lives, so we are looking for clothes that express a sense of power, practicality, and purpose. But, at the same time, we crave a little poetry, lyricism, love even. Reason and Romance seems to sum up the mood of the moment; playing with those contrasting elements was very satisfying. I think they create a dynamic that is totally modern.

GRAZIA: When researching the history of 18th century Russia, what did you learn that was most surprising?

IG: I was surprised to discover how carefully everything from the Imperial period has been preserved. Everything has survived, even through the Revolution and the Soviet era. Because of the great wealth of artifacts that have been preserved, you get a real sense of their original owners. You feel that you know every count, princess, czar, and czarina.

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GRAZIA: You had the privilege of access to the State Hermitage Museum’s archives and saw the finery worn by Prince Felix and Princess Irina. How was this incorporated into the garments?

IG: You can imagine how exciting it was to find the very costumes that I had seen in photographs of the Yusupov’s glittering balls and masquerades and, of course, older pieces that I had seen in paintings. The elaborately embroidered and fil coupe costumes that I saw in the Hermitage archive were the direct inspiration for the handkerchief hemmed dresses and skirts which are the romantic counterpoint to Max Mara’s rational tailoring. One is paired with a double faced tunic with a distinctly modernist feel; another contrasts with the milky white Teddy Bear Coat worn over it. The ceremonial uniforms worn by princes, counts, and generals inspired the antique looking braids that highlight the seams of tuxedos, wide legged pants, and a new color block take on the kosovorotka.

GRAZIA: Who is the Max Mara woman to you? Who do you envisage wearing these pieces?

IG: Max Mara’s founder, Achille Maramotti, was a visionary. Whilst others in the fashion business were chasing the patronage of princesses and countesses, he foresaw that the so-called middle classes would emerge as the major economic force, and that working women would enjoy ever greater independence and power. Max Mara has always been dedicated to these women and its rationale, since its foundation, has been ‘real clothes for real women.’ The Max Mara woman is smart – she looks for clothes that she can put on and forget. I’ve always thought that when you’re not distracted by what you’re wearing, you can shine. Max Mara highlights a woman’s intelligence, and it’s her intelligence that makes a Max Mara woman beautiful.

GRAZIA: The beloved Max Mara Teddy Bear coat has been reimagined for this collection. What do you believe it is about this style that women (and men) love so much?

IG: The Teddy bear coat is our new icon, our rising star. We first showed it in 2013, and it was an instant hit. It seems to epitomize contemporary notions of luxury and style; I’m very proud of it. I think that a large part of this coat’s success is the combination of an absolutely luxurious, opulent fabric, and a dramatic volume. The base of the fabric is pure silk and the pile is camel hair, alpaca, depending on the color. Outwardly it has the wow factor, it’s an instantly recognizable trophy – and inwardly it protects you, makes you feel good. You just want to wrap yourself up in it. It’s a tough world; we’re all looking for comfort.