Flamenco dancers in Seville, sunsets in San Diego, starry night catwalks in Southern Italy… the series of Cruise collections staged by luxury fashion houses across the past few months have come with a side-show of spectacle. MaxMara’s show may have been the last, but it proved no less ambitious: with the Italian luxury brand taking over Lisbon for a show that had at the heart of it a powerhouse woman who demands clothes that work as hard as she does – without skimping on style.
Claire Danes made a strong case for the summer suit
That theme would have pleased Hollywood actress Claire Danes, who flew into Europe straight from wrapping the eagerly-awaited screen adaptation of cult book Fleishman’s In Trouble. (Spoiler alert: she says it stays incredibly true to the book.) She chose a linen suit to sit front row because of its familiar, classic silhouette. ‘It’s reminiscent of 30s and 40s designs, and the women of that era that had some sass, integrity and salt,’ she said of why the MaxMara aesthetic appeals. ‘There’s something hard about it, but it’s also beautiful luxury.’
The MaxMara muse: a multi-tasking woman
It was almost as though Claire had taken a sneak peek at the moodboard of MaxMara Creative Director Ian Griffiths. It centred around a Skapinakis painting of a woman he’d spotted in the show’s venue, the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. ‘She’s so imposing, serene, regal… she looks like a Queen with two other women sitting at her feet with a very deferential air,’ he recalled backstage. The woman, he went on to discover, was Natalia Correia – an influential figure in Lisbon’s art scene in the 50’s and 60’s and a worthy muse for the show. ‘Here is the archetypal powerful woman multitasking because she was a poet, an activist, and intellectual. She worked in film, television, theatre - she knew everybody.’
Clever clothes for real women
There was in the collection then, every element a woman like Correiea might need in her wardrobe today. Yes, the delicious camel coats MaxMara is so rightly famous for, but also pencil skirt and blouse combos that screamed modern working girl. For evening? Take your pick from a series of maxi jewel-tone cotton dresses that looked supremely easy to throw on and go, or a white silk jumpsuit that screamed stealth luxury.
The message that these were clothes real women will want to slot into their existing wardrobe straight from the catwalk was accentuated by the clever casting. The star appearance was from one of Portugal’s most famous fado and pop singers, Carmnio. ‘Casting her, is a statement about real women – real women who are happy and proud of themselves,’ said Griffiths backstage. ‘She is beautiful.’
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be sexy
If the clothes were deceptively simple though, that didn’t mean they couldn’t also be sexy. One of the elements of Correiea’s story that Griffiths liked so much was her liberal adoption of lovers – sex on her terms. For Griffiths that meant ruffled sheath dresses and flamenco-esque skirts worn with cropped tops that showed just a sliver of flesh. ‘This new spirit of sexiness is different from other manifestations of body consciousness which have almost bullied women into becoming something that they can't become,’ he explained.
Emily in Paris star Ashley Park would agree
Another of the front row guests was happy to embrace the sexier side of MaxMara: Emily in Paris star Ashley Park who wore her white suit sans… well anything. ‘I feel very strong in this suit even though it’s super feminine,’ she said of her outfit choice. ‘We decided to not wear a shirt under it because that feels very me. I feel very safe and secure in this but I also feel very sexy.’
Pushing boundaries is a lesson she says she’s learnt from her on screen character Mindy. ‘Mindy is not confined to a box, she could be in something vintage and classic in one scene and something so off the wall in another and fashion forward in another,’ Park explains. ‘I tend to love really classic timeless styles but to have a little extra oomph in it or a little pizazz.’ That’s not to say she’s pilfering outfits from set. ‘Some of those outfits we put them on and we’re like, “Yes I so want to steal this.” And then after being in them for an entire night shoot you’re like, “I never want to see that again”,’ she reveals.
One thing she is up for keeping though? That MaxMara suit. ‘This is something I’m going to wear forever and ever… except maybe not to a wedding!’ she laughs.