Max Mara cruise: Erotic feminism in Lisbon
All about the power of inspiration at Max Mara cruise this season, in a collection motivated by a Natália Correia, the famed Portuguese free-thinker, arty grand dame and café society star, presented with flourish in Lisbon on Tuesday night.
Worn by a cast that included Carminho, the greatest contemporary interpreter of 'fado', Portugal’s musical tradition of longing, loss and above all passion, which informed this impressive collection by Max Mara. Clothes for romantic soirées, brainy feminist cocktails, or weekend shopping that managed to be sexy and yet practical. And even for one guy, the first male model to walk a Max Mara catwalk.
All staged in the garden of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, one of the world greatest private art collections, built by an Armenian immigrant, who a century ago was the richest man in the world. The next time any one hears a politician preaching against immigration, tell them to come to this museum, to see what great gifts an immigrant can bequeath to their adopted home.
It was here in the Gulbenkian Foundation that Max Mara’s creative director, Ian Griffiths, first came across a painting of Correia by Nikias Skapinakis. Capturing the poet, with pals, and suggesting intellectuals gatherings in her Bar Botequim club, where Henry Miller, Graham Greene or Eugène Ionesco would gather.
“Natalia was famous for her brand of feminism - erotic liberalism. In other words, she was sexy and clever but knew how to translate that into clothes,” mused Griffiths in a pre-show preview.
The result was a series of great pencil skirts with scoop necklines or décolletage; bustier dresses and a brilliant series of tiered crunchy taffeta gowns. Made in a marvelous range of soft metallics – copper, aubergine or mustard – and nearly all of them in plissé fabrics. Again, inspired by photos of Correia’s great pal, the then greatest fado singer Amália Rodrigues, wearing a plissé dress.
Almost a dozen passages radiating pleats – made in Italy in a technical taffeta with some polyester in order to keep the pleats. Even if these were dresses one can wear to a gala, or the next day, going to a market in flat shoes and a basket. Where, Max Mara’s new techy crochet tote, would come in handy.
Griffiths kept the inspiration in the realm of modern with lots of pinch pleat trims. Plus, there was a definite sense of stylish proportion – where short tops and high skirts, revealed just a few centimeters of midriff.
Correia was probably most famous for creating her Antologia de Poesia Portuguesa Erótica e Satírica, a racy compendium of outré ideas and dreams, which was condemned by the then fascist dictator of Portugal, António Salazar.
“It’s ironic that her philosophy and courage in the end boils down to a tube shaped dress,” chuckled the English-born designer.
“We don't’ always think about parties. More about lunches and breakfast meetings,” conceded Griffiths, who has several times in the past few years staged shows inside Bocconi, Italy’s greatest business school.
The other key theme was polished partying, encouraged by the designer’s belief that “people want to get back out there.” Evident also in the tuxedos in vibrant colors of Aegean blue and deep purple.
In terms of coats – the key garment in the Max Mara wardrobe – the palette was black, brown, white and camel. Best expressed by a great coat in camel hair with zibeline – meaning a sable-like finish, made by brushing the material with wavy brushes.
A great version of which was worn by Martim Morais, the first man to walk in a Max Mara show, attired in a classic Manuela coat in size 50. Just about large enough for a guy to wear, and the brand’s best-selling coat.
The cast marching boldly around the garden of the foundation, whose mid-century brutalism is surprisingly close to the style of Max Mara’s own art foundation in Reggio Emilia, created by the family of founder Achille Maramotti, who are now financing the restoration of several Gulbenkian galleries.
Carminho appeared twice in the show and also starred the night before in a beautiful performance at a dinner party in the remarkable baroque palace.
Which is part of the whole point of cruise, tapping into local culture to reimagine a collection, and revamp a brand.
All the day, in this case, to a series of embroidered T-Shirts, bearing Lencos de namorados do minho, or Letters of Love, where women would pen romantic declarations to men they desired.
Which is also what this Max Mara collection was all about – an honest-to-god letter of love to Lisbon, by a brand and designer.
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