Max Mara: Creative director Ian Griffiths on fashion in the digital age

A English ex-punk designing for an Italian fashion maison in the digital age, Max Mara’s creative director Ian Griffiths talks to David Ho about how social media has influenced him and his continued passion for fashion

Ian Griffiths, Max Mara’s creative director, spends a lot of time on Instagram. In fact, life on the grid is what captures his eyeballs most these days. “I have an eye on Instagram just about all day long, just to keep up with what’s happening in our world of fashion and who thinks what,” Griffiths tells us. In fact, the social media platform plays a rather integral role in his work.

Besides getting his feed of news from reliable online sources, the designer uses the digital platform to conduct research for his latest works. “I spend a lot of time browsing whatever the collection I’m working on is inspired by. I can remember the days before Internet when you had to go to a library and search for images in books. Now just about everything is available online,” he recalls.

“That said, I still think nothing beats seeing an object in the flesh or visiting a place in real life to get inspired. You don’t get much of the atmosphere or the mood from Google. In my own time, I spend hours researching things for my home and garden. I’m currently planning a restyle of my cottage in Suffolk. I can spend hours at a time browsing wallpaper or lampshades!”

Given his constant online presence, it’s inevitable that Griffiths finds inspiration amongst the waves of influencers that have cropped up across all digital platforms. “This constant stream of images and ideas gets poured into one’s brain. I look at what the influencers are wearing and that all goes in there too. A designer’s brain is a marvelous organ because it sifts through all of this material and distills it into ideas which are new. Sometimes it’s hard to say what precisely inspired what, but the influencers are definitely in there,” he reckons.

Of course, Griffiths has met many of the top influencers given his post. “I meet the important influencers quite often in my job, as you would expect and I would say that almost without exception they are warm, generous, charismatic people with very strong personalities. I love to spend time with them when the opportunity presents itself, for example when we have a Resort show like the one we did in Stockholm last year. I love to see how they put together or restyle pieces from our collections. It feeds back into my design process for the following season,” he says Griffiths.  

Given his immersion into all things digital, Griffiths is naturally curious about what the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) in the fashion industry can achieve. “I believe that nothing can beat a human for creativity. I am curious to work with AI but I would always regard it as a tool rather than an agent,” he says.   

One thing that caught our eye on Griffiths’ social media is the constant appearance of the #ilovemyjob in his posts. Given his reign of over 35 years at Max Mara and the current era of quiet quitting we are in, that enthusiasm is unmatched and quite a rarity.

He shares that the secret to his continued interest and enthusiasm in his career Max Mara is “all about the narrative.” Like any good storyteller, Griffiths is keen to give each new collection a fresh plot. “Each collection is a new chapter in a story that never ends, the story of the Max Mara woman and her ascent to the stratosphere. I’m the author but it doesn’t always feel that way; often it feels like I’m uncovering the plot and I can’t wait to find out what comes next. The Max Mara woman has come a long long way, I love her and I want to stay with her, and I want to welcome younger generations to the Max Mara story,” he says.

Previously, Griffiths had waxed lyrical about Max Mara’s quiet feminism. It has been evident since the label’s beginnings in 1951, when founder Achille Maramotti designed with the working woman in mind, rather than the rich ladies of leisure that other maisons cater to. It’s an ethos that still serves as an anchor to his take on design. But we wonder if he ever finds it limiting.

“I always thought that design parameters are a stimulus to finding creative solutions. When you leave reality behind you enter the world of fantasy, and you quickly discover that nothing is ever fantastic enough. It’s the element of reality that gives a Max Mara show its edge. It’s like ‘Cinema Verite’…….. I think of my shows like a mirror where I show anyone watching what they themselves could be. I want Max Mara to be relatable,” says Griffiths.

It makes sense that his inspiration behind Max Mara’s spring-summer 2024 collection is The Women’s Land Army, that formidable corps of women who nourished Britain during wartime.

“It’s a military look with pacifist overtones so it chimes with modern sensibilities. The so-called land girls lived in the Elysian British landscape and tended its magnificent gardens. I was inspired by my own cottage in Suffolk to dye everything in the colours of the spectacular summer borders with their beautiful blooms, in particular my favourites, sweet peas,” he explains.

“We used a lot of garment dying which produces uneven colour and character. it’s a completely non-digital narrative, but I think that’s what a lot of people are looking for or feel nostalgic for. Pre-digital charm!”

Even with the somewhat vintage inspirations, Max Mara positions itself to resonate with Gen Z consumers in the digital age.  Griffiths believes that the maison’s “genuine heritage” is what makes it important for Gen Z. “They are looking for narratives and we have a narrative. Max Mara makes clothes with meaning. In a world awash with meaningless stuff, Max Mara is like a rock to cling to,” he surmises.

Gen Z consumers are known for their emphasis on sustainability and ethical fashion. Like with its feminism, Max Mara address these concerns about sustainability in a simple and quiet fashion.

“Max Mara is about quality design; clothes that will have a life beyond the current season, a lifetime even. The concept of sustainability is intrinsic to the design, and it’s very self-evident. We don’t shout about it, but we are fully signed up to the latest industrial code of standards which dictate everything from the food, the sheep that made the wool, the dyeing process to the method of transport,” explains Griffiths.

Despite paying careful attention to the Gen Z fanbase, Griffiths has an equal amount of love for the ladies of yore, the legends who have paved the way for those today.

“There are so many exemplary women who have inspired me, from Marilyn Monroe to Margaret Atwood, from Greta Garbo to Greta Tunberg. The wall next to my desk is covered with images of the women I am inspired by, like a constantly evolving hall of fame,” he ponders.

“But if I have to choose one, there’s no question about it. It’s that anonymous woman who I sit next to on a plane or see walking in the street. The Max Mara woman. It’s all about her.”

Also see: What did we see at Milan’s men fashion week 2024?

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