Max Mara’s latest resort collection entitled ‘Reason and Romance’ reads like a Tolstoy novel, which is incidentally, as creative director Ian Griffiths had intended. The pieces are inspired by the city immortalised in the lyricism of Pushkin, Tchaikovsky and of course Tolstoy himself, as a fusion of cultural influences, a blending of dichotomies. “What struck me is that this is precisely what seemed the right concept to be developed,” Griffiths shared in an interview with Vogue. “Practical, well-designed, useful clothing is what you have to do now from a design standpoint, but at the same time, a sense of the lyrical or the poetical is exactly what we need today, because we need more than ever the kind of psychological feel-good factor that beautiful, comforting clothes can give us.”
Historically, in times of uncertainty, the industry has consistently seen a return to functional fashion as consumers start to eschew extravagance in favour of timeless staples. As the ramifications of the global coronavirus pandemic set in, fashion is once again primed for a transition. Griffiths answers this call by doing away with the superfluous whilst retaining an unwavering poetic faith in the face of it all. His latest collection presents beauty as a remedy and a vehicle for progress. As Griffiths himself attests, “We need poetry whenever we can find it.”
Originally intended to debut in the gilded halls of the Yusupov Palace, the brand was forced to cancel the scheduled runway show as a result of the ongoing crisis. Nevertheless, the collection itself is testament to Griffiths’ enchantment with the Russian city and the inspiration gleaned from his honorary visit to the State Hermitage Museum’s archives which houses the extravagant finery once worn by Prince Felix and Princess Irina in their halcyon days. Their legendary masquerades epitomised the magnificence and magic of old St. Petersburg and were by all accounts a splendid spectacle, the last of its kind given there.
The collection pays homage to this golden age in its remake of the traditional kosovorotka (Russian peasant shirt) with ornate embroidery featuring rococo florals lifted straight from the Yusupovs’ palatial staterooms. Intricate gold braids inspired by the ceremonial uniforms worn by princes, counts and generals adorn the lapels of distinctly modern tuxedo jackets, softening its edges. Meanwhile, the brand’s coveted Teddy Bear coat is reissued in warm earthy tones and casually paired with gossamer slip dresses, reminiscent of the Princess’ lavish gowns, a more feminine take on the brand’s signature rigorous elegance.
In many ways, Griffiths’ collection is a nostalgic paean to a different time but it also belies a strong revolutionary impulse. One which reconciles the tensions in a period wrought with vast social upheaval, similar in a way to the situation we find ourselves in today. Griffiths reimagines the royals at the height of the Belle Époque, but also its precipice: Surrounded by the glories of ages past, they are haunted by visions of an encroaching future — the machine age, constructivism, modernity.
Griffiths adroitly harnesses these seemingly opposing forces into a display of sumptuous simplicity which celebrates the contrasts central to the collection’s story. If anything, Max Mara’s latest collection is a timely reminder that the future belongs to the versatile.
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