WEST HOLLYWOOD, LOS ANGELES: The morning sunlight streams into the arched, wood-panelled bay window of the Sunset Tower hotel’s restaurant. Maria Giulia Prezioso Maramotti – in a classic Max Mara blazer, periwinkle in shade – is sitting at the table, bathed in sunshine and patiently awaiting a cup of peppermint tea.
The serenity and romance of the moment seems a mere reprieve for a strong-willed Italian business woman known for her Manhattan-paced work ethic. Maramotti – the Max Mara Vice President of US Retail, Global Brand Ambassador and granddaughter of the label’s founder Achille Maramotti) – is largely credited with transitioning the heritage brand into the digital space and thus communicating such an aforementioned blazer’s desire to the younger consumer. Recognised throughout the world as the precursor of modern prêt-à-porter fashion, the Max Mara Group is one of the largest international fashion houses and the first Italian clothing company. Since its inception in 1951, Max Mara’s aim has never wavered from offering “haute de gamme” pieces, meticulously crafted. Maramotti’s now cyber messaging is clear: Quality and timelessness is something every young woman should have in her wardrobe.
Growing up amid the thimbles and pins splayed across the Max Mara atelier in Reggio Emilia, a small town near Bologna in Italy, Maramotti moved to Milan to study before working in London and Paris. But it was her move to New York City in 2011 that changed her – and the brand. Today, it’s the morning before the Women In Film Awards, an event Max Mara has partnered with and sponsored for years, due to its focus on parity for women. One recipient is awarded the Women In Film Max Mara Face Of The Future Award, it’s criteria being someone who is experiencing a “turning point” in their career. That honour went to Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki, but this morning I ask Maramotti about her own career fork.
“When I moved to New York City,” she says in her lilting Italian accent while taking a gulp of her scorching tea. “It changed my vision and the angle at which I looked at the company. I always say to my team, ‘Go inside out’. New York City: You hate it, you love it, but you cannot deny that it’s a city that gives you so much input. What I learned was to look at the brand with a different set of eyes. That really helped me with that precision and helped us take the brand to the next level. New York was what made me change, first of all myself, and then Max Mara.”
Here, Maramotti talks how she zeroed in on a new demographic of women, the concept of making projects happen quickly in the modern day and the hard lessons learned in the starry Big Apple.
GRAZIA: When you stepped into this role, you wanted Max Mara to appeal to a younger generation. What was the first change you made when you joined the family business?
MARAMOTTI: “It was more than making changes to be completely honest with you. I think it really was about the approach and the evolution. One of the changes – I mean one of the obvious conversations that happened twelve years ago – was really the idea of communication, product and distribution going in the same direction. For instance, if at a certain table there is a concept developing which has to do with the creative direction and the way you present it to the press and to the consumer, then within the development of what the service and the distribution is, you have to be consistent. You also have to be a little bit daring, you know.
If you want to be relevant to a certain generation of younger women, you have to keep in mind that your timelessness as a brand and an aesthetic is to be consistent. I do believe in the importance of being really true to what you are and the DNA. But you also have to be very, very thoughtful of how you present it to that consumer and you have to be a little more open within the way you present it and you have to be very consistent when you distribute it.
We really decided to go in the direction of a more contemporary design. For us it was really paid off because at the end of the day you become more relevant to a whole new set of women that were not necessarily interested in what we did twenty years ago.”
GRAZIA: How do you change the demographic of a brand without altering its DNA? And how did you capture a much younger aspirational generation – with spending power – and who weren’t already Max Mara customers?
MARAMOTTI: “First of all, it was about acknowledging the concept of what Max Mara is about; We make coats, we make suits and that’s what we do. But how do you make it interesting? Within the elements of the Max Mara product, you have timelessness; When you buy a Max Mara coat or a Max Mara jacket, it’s an investment. It can be appealing to the younger generation of women. But how do you communicate it to her? You communicate it to her in a way that says ‘You don’t have this piece in your wardrobe today and you can we can wear it with all the other pieces you already wear, and guess what? It’s going to be relevant for the next twenty years.’”
Also – to be completely transparent – I think the real game changer was showcasing Max Mara in editorials and working with influencers. It’s one thing for the younger generation with a certain budget to see an outfit on a runway, but it’s another thing to see it as actual streetwear with a camel coat that you wouldn’t necessarily think to wear paired with a combat boot or white shirt. It’s cool and all of a sudden, you have created that desire. It’s the idea of telling the story of the brand – which remains the same – but introducing the concept of quality and timelessness to a younger person’s wardrobe, which is important.”
GRAZIA: How would you describe the Australian Max Mara woman? How is she different to the consumer in Germany or Paris?
MARAMOTTI: “Well first of all, I think within the Australian market there are some of the most important style icons in today’s world like Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman and Elizabeth Dibicki. But I do believe it’s a market that is very fashion-forward, it has always been, in a good way. It’s a market that’s very sophisticated it’s not about being trendy for the sake of being trendy or bizarre, it is very, very sophisticated. The Australian woman knows what she wants. I do believe that there is a certain aspect of tailoring which is quite relevant for the Australian market, because as I said historically it is a market that has always had its own aesthetic.”
GRAZIA: Your grandfather holds an incredible legacy, do you feel a certain pressure to live up to your family’s metrics of success?
MARAMOTTI: “I don’t know if I would call it pressure, I think it is a responsibility, yes, and one I am grateful for. I have a responsibility to stay true to the brand’s legacy but in marketing to a younger generation, you have an opportunity to propel the brand forward.
GRAZIA: What was your upbringing like in Italy? Tell me about a favourite memory/family past time.
MARAMOTTI: “It’s funny to me because I grew up in a small town, it’s a very beautiful place, very quiet and so I had a very regular upbringing, if you will. I would bike to school, there was a very strong family presence. To give you an idea, my mother would take me into the office which was literally walking distance from home. On Saturdays, I would draw with the designers and after school, we would play in our grandfather’s office. We are talking about thirty years ago and it was a smaller company back then, it was the 80s. I was really surrounded by fashion – whether I liked it or not – by the fabrics, the production, the smell, the scent. It really becomes part of who you are.
GRAZIA: I’ve read that while you’re Italian born-and-bred, you have a Manhattan-paced work ethic, is that true?
MARAMOTTI: “It is yes. The best part of working in New York is that I am very organised, and you feel this sense of urgency. Working in New York gives you that approach which is similar to the non-Latin, Anglo-Saxon approach to work: very organised, very structured. And to me, it was very beneficial because in Italy you have this sense of creativity and probably you go very deep into things which is very good but sometimes we get lost.
“Fifteen years ago it was OK to take your time to develop a project. It could take you up to a year. Today, there is a concept of urgency and if there is something you need to do, you want to do it in the next two months because that’s when it’s relevant. The pace has changed. I cannot tell you whether it is good or bad, but that’s what it is.”
GRAZIA: What was the biggest culture shock when you moved to New York?
MARAMOTTI: “New York is a shock per say. It’s like you are in a mixer. I remember the first months in New York. Its feeling like in a mixer because there is so much information and it’s so fast and you are not used to that. But I think the biggest shock going back there is that as an European, you go to America thinking that it is going to be the same [as Europe]. You move to Asia and you already think about the cultural diversity, right? I didn’t think that I would see such a cultural difference when I moved to America. But Italy and America are like day and night. For me, I came to New York with the arrogance of maybe of knowing [our countries would be similar] and they are not, so that was like a big lesson learned.”
GRAZIA: You have placed a huge emphasis on influencers marketing Max Mara to younger women. Who are your top three influencers who have done the job the best?
MARAMOTTI: “Chiara Ferrani is amazing. I think she was one of the first people to understand the dynamics of her job as a digital entrepreneur. She does a phenomenal job. I respect German influencer Caroline (Caro) Daur and Brazilian influencer Helena Bordon from a style standpoint.”
GRAZIA: How would you describe your own sense of style?
MARAMOTTI: “I believe that I am very true to my lifestyle in a way which is probably more boring than daring [laughs]. No, I’m just kidding but to be honest with you, I like a good jacket and that is sort of my mantra which goes back to always having that piece in your wardrobe. A good jacket, a pair of jeans and tuxedo is all I need to be comfortable.”
GRAZIA: Why is Elizabeth Debicki an excellent choice for the Women In Film Max Mara Face Of The Future Award?
MARAMOTTI: “Thank you for using the word excellent because that’s what she is. I think that when we look at the choices of the Face Of The Future Award, its always about the personality and Elizabeth has an incredible personality. She is a woman of substance and when it comes to her role choices, I respect her tremendously because of the cultural approach she has taken towards her career. It has been an honour working with her. She’s so graceful and represents your country so well. I think that also her sense of style is literally very aligned with Max Mara.”
GRAZIA: It’s as though the coats are made for her…
MARAMOTTI: “Exactly. Yesterday we were talking with her publicist, and its true, she owns the clothes, but I think that one thing about owning the clothes is, it’s all about the woman who wears them. It goes back to the personality.”
GRAZIA: Why is Max Mara and Women In Film the perfect alignment?
MARAMOTTI: “Max Mara was a brand born with this idea of female empowerment in 1950. I always say that my grandfather was a feminist; he wanted women to look gorgeous and beautiful through the craftsmanship, the elegance, the timelessness of what they were wearing. So already right there, there is this concept of putting the woman at the centre of your work. The aesthetic which is obviously very respectful of her own body and the garments are really made for her to feel good in her skin. Then all of a sudden we had the opportunity to partner with this association which thirty years ago was really tough for women who were working in an industry. It felt natural and we wanted to do something to do something as a brand to help. As an institution, as a brand, we have a voice and can give back. We have always wanted to partner with and support women in the arts through education. Women In Film is some association that embodies that. We want to send a positive message to younger generations – it’s not a walk in the park but we want them to know they are supported.”