These days, a fashion show with any integrity can’t just be a call to arms to buy more “stuff”. It must offer ideas about how to refresh what you already own.
Certainly, there was plenty you might want to buy from Max Mara’s spring/summer 2024 collection – from the bleu de travail jumpsuits and slim midi skirts to the apron dresses and satin opera coats and practical leather-trimmed canvas bags.
But this show also provided a valuable workshop in tweaking classic style. If you treasure the Max Mara camel coat, trench or safari jacket you saved up to buy, there’s nothing here to make you feel it’s now redundant. But there were ideas about how to update it.
Swapping the belt for a dark leather one, perhaps. Another teeny tweak that makes a big difference is to note that cable-knit jumpers look smarter with a crisp cotton shirt collar peeking over the neckline than when worn on their own.
Speaking of shirts – they remain a hero item across many collections. At Max Mara, oversized structured shirts in black or white were deployed, instead of jackets (too formal) or skimpy halter necks (too predictable), to add a relaxed drama to a black maxi skirt or, if you prefer, shorts. Something for everyone here.
Backstage after the show, Ian Griffiths – Max Mara’s creative director for the past quarter of a century – said how he’d been inspired by the British Land Army, those plucky women who helped save the country’s bacon when they took up farm work during the Second World War.
You could see the influences – the dinky cross-body bags inspired by binocular cases, the utility boiler suits and the chunky knits. But more than specific items, it was the Land Girls’ make-do-and-mend spirit that infused this collection, albeit at a luxury level. And that way they had, judging from photographs from the era, of changing the way women thought about clothes ever after – comfort, relaxation and function.
The modern take from that? A floral silk opera coat worn not over a stiff gown, but shorts. If shorts aren’t your evening look of choice, trousers will do just as nicely, particularly if you pair them with a beautifully made shirt.
Griffiths’s mood board was an ultra-British affair of Women’s Land Army recruitment ads, portraits of Vita Sackville-West and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (a woman who frequently looks as though she has stepped straight out of a 1940s film), and pictures of his own idyllic garden in Sussex (inspiration for those multi-pocketed gardening totes). Not so much “make-do” as appreciate what you have, and buy to last.