For over 35 years, Ian Griffiths has been at the helm of Max Mara as Creative Director. From sending the first Hijab model walking down the runway during fashion week to keeping the Italian luxury label at the for front of womenswear.

During a visit to Dubai, the visionarie speaks to Emirates Women about the core of Max Mara and what it takes to stay relevant in an ever growing digital-world.

What do the first 30 minutes of your day look like, your morning routine?

It’s all about information: as soon as I wake up at six o’clock I put on BBC Radio 4 and listen to the headlines whilst I download the Guardian. I can time my morning ritual by the Today programme. If I’m not showered and dressed by the time the financial news and sport comes on, I’m late! I take great pride in dressing for work. I always wear a jacket and very often a suit. I think that dressing up smartly gives you a psychological boost……it’s the basis of the Max Mara look. Only when I’m completely ready do I have breakfast, but by that time I’m well into the second hour of my day. I’m usually at my desk by 8am. And the first thing I do is ring my mum.

You have been at the helm of Max Mara as Creative Director for 35 years; this is quite the achievement – How have you been able to keep the brand at the for front of fashion for so long?

I always remember the words of our founder Achille Maramotti, who said he wanted to provide ‘real clothes for real women’. Max Mara resonates with women because it presents them with an image they can relate to. Even the runway shows are like a heightened reality; it’s like holding up a mirror and saying ‘can you see yourself?’ By remembering Achille’s words, I avoid straying into bizarre fantasy or fashion that alienates women.

How do you maintain clarity in your life and work practice and how do you balance the creative and commercial sides of the business.

I avoid thinking about them as opposing values. When I think primarily about the woman I’m dressing, commerciality and creativity come together in the correct measure without having to rationalize the balance too much. I follow my instinct, and let the muse guide me. Thinking about clothes that she will want to wear involves exercising the imagination, but imagining her as a real woman with a busy modern life automatically addresses the commerciality issue.


Ian Griffiths, Creative Director Max Mara

What have been the biggest challenges to date and how did you overcome them?

Design is nothing less than a series of challenges and problems to be overcome. I regard challenges such as adverse market condItions and  logistical problems as a  stimulus to design. I think the biggest challenge so far has been reaching out to younger generations of women whilst continuing to serve those women who have been loyal customers for twenty, thirty or forty years. Having accompanied those women on their rise to the top, it would seem like a betrayal to abandon them in favour of a younger woman. Instead, I’ve tried to aim for cross-generational appeal. And it seems to be working; younger women are coming into the Max Mara world looking for the icons and classics but we haven’t lost our established clientele.

Have/did you have early mentors along the way and if so, what knowledge did they impart? 

Ossie Clarke was my tutor when I was studying for my BA at Manchester. He got me thinking about different types of women, different body shapes and how to design for them. And he encouraged me to apply to the Royal College of Art to study for a Masters degree. And it was at the Royal that I came into contact with Max Mara so you could say I owe it all to Ossie. Thank you Ossie.

Is there a particular muse you look to each season or does this change each time?

The board next to my desk is covered in images of women who inspire me. From Patti Smith to Marilyn Monroe to poet Ousha Bint Khalifa. There must be 100 women on my board and I’m always discovering new ones. Quite often, a collection will focus on one or more of these power women, but there’s an underlying consistency because ultimately I’m thinking about the Max Mara woman. The seasonal muse is a way to unlock a less well explored aspect of her personality, but the story is always about her.

The core DNA of Max Mara remains prevalent and iconic season after season. How would you define this?

Chic, understated, modern and elegant. The Max Mara woman is discrete but that doesn’t mean she wants to blend into the background. On the contrary, she likes to be noticed, but for the right reasons. She knows that when she walks into room, people will say ‘wow’, but they will say it under their breath. That quiet wow is exactly what she is looking for.


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If you weren’t a designer, is there another avenue you would have followed career wise?

I would love to go back to architecture. That’s where I started out. I was an architecture student but I left my course to pursue fashion. I think I was too young at the time but now I’m older, I would really enjoy designing buildings, spaces and interiors.

How do you stay relevant over time, and how does this include new ways of communicating in an ever-digital world with clients?

I would say that it has become easier to communicate with clients, not harder. Through social media we can get direct feedback from our clients and we can keep them up to date with what’s happening in the world of Max Mara. For example, when we have a runway show they can see it in real time, and let us know what they think.

Do you see any global buying patterns within the GCC?

There’s definitely an appetite for the more expensive, prestigious,  ‘luxury’ items in the GCC. And a greater demand for evening wear than in other regions. But, having said that I would add that Max Mara is a kind of lingua franca that speaks to a certain kind of woman wherever in the world they happen to be. Primarily, they want the Max  Mara look, not a regionally adapted variation.

Which pieces drive sales season after season?

Coats, coats, coats! I think our coats are unrivaled in quality. A Max Mara coat is your friend, a life companion. You develop an emotional relationship with it like nothing else in your wardrobe.

What advice can you give to aspiring designers?

I would refer them to Achille Maramotti and tell them to ‘keep it real’. To use their imaginations, their creativity and their know how to dress a woman who really exists, not a fantasy.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would say ‘don’t break in a hurry, take your time, get to know the woman you’re designing for’.


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