Max Mara Creative Director Ian Griffiths’s new IT bag looks to an architectural marvel, and Boston women are taking it seriously.
Boston has a fan in Max Mara’s creative director, Ian Griffiths. “Of all the American cities, I think Boston is probably the one most suited to the classic history of Max Mara,” he says with a smile. “It’s the heartland of the academic institutions. The Boston woman expresses an aspect of the Max Mara collection because it comes from that very classic origin. She’s a woman who needs to dress to be taken seriously as a mind, not just as a body.”
Griffiths brings to the storied fashion house a bold artistic vision paired with first-rate technical acumen. He recently designed the newest item in Max Mara’s handbag line: the Whitney bag, inspired by architect Renzo Piano’s design for the new home of New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art. (Piano has also made an impact on Boston, designing the recently reopened Harvard Art Museums building and the new addition to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.) Collaborating with the master architect was easy for Griffiths, who actually studied the discipline before transitioning to fashion.
“The Boston woman expresses an aspect of Max Mara.... she dresses to be taken seriously as a mind, not just as a body.” —Ian Griffiths
“I think rather like an architect, and I have an approach to design that tends to be quite thorough. I believe in a certain kind of rigor in the way that you approach design,” he explains. “Max Mara’s forte is coats, and the design of a coat is very similar to the design of a building, so for me it’s not alien at all to work with an architect. I love the logic of an architectural approach.”
Griffiths says that he and the Renzo Piano Building Workshop wanted the bag to ref lect the museum’s form. “It is very, very literally related to the physical appearance of the building itself,” he notes, explaining how the ridges on the calfskin shell echo the design of the building’s steel ribbing. And he is quick to point out how the bag’s metal hardware is faithfully reproduced from Piano’s sketches of the stanchions that hold the tension cables to the ground. While the bag comes in shades of black, bordeaux, and tan, a special limited- edition metallic version was created with the exact slate color of the Whitney façade.
The Whitney bag is generating plenty of buzz, but so is Griffiths’s Pre-Fall collection for Max Mara. Among the standouts: the vibrant Becca sweater, a knee-length cashmere and silk number in a bobcat-print motif. “We took the design from the markings of a bobcat, so it is faithful to its inspiration, and for me that represents something quite cool and new and at the same time very chic,” he says. Griffiths adds that “a lot of people pinpointed the minimal theme, the red suit with the red coat, as a highlight of the show and the collection.”
Having worked with Max Mara since he left college, Griffiths has a very clear idea of his customer and exactly what she needs and desires in her wardrobe. “It’s so easy for a man: You just wear a jacket with or without a tie or jeans,” he says. “There are so few decisions. For a woman, it is so difficult because for any occasion there are any number of possibilities: Do you wear a dress? Do you wear a suit? Do you wear a bustier dress? Strapless? Do you cover up? Do you expose? What do you expose? I think our responsibility at Max Mara is to give our customers ways of dressing which are going to give them complete confidence to get on with their lives.” 69 Newbury St., 617-267-9775