What Italian swish awaits in Berlin? The German capital isn’t as unlikely a setting for Max Mara as you might think. The esteemed purveyor of tailored modernity chose to stage their cruise 2020 show in the city’s Neues Museum. A repository of many histories, the museum stands as a symbol of rebirth. Bombed out during the Second World War, it was rebuilt in 2009, and is home to some of the most charismatic treasures of antiquity. If you want to gaze upon Nefertiti’s perfectly proportioned visage, this is where you come. (She looks like Christy Turlington crossed with Audrey Hepburn – her supermodel bone structure as sharp as when she was carved in 1345 BC.) Walk its halls, stuffed with fractured statues and fragmented artefacts from past civilisations, and you realise what stands the test of time. Make it well, make it beautifully and it might survive.
So, the evening before show day, after dining on the biggest schnitzel in town, we head to Spiegelsaal for Ute Lemper’s show, Rendezvous With Marlene. A legend playing a legend, Lemper descends the stairs of the famous club in a white Max Mara trouser suit, her pencilled brows arched in amused sadness. She sings Where Have All the Flowers Gone in a voice that sounds like syrup poured over cigarette smoke – full of wisdom, sorrow, defiance and sex. “She’s a magnificent, strong personality. She’s a Max Mara woman though and through,” says a mesmerised Griffiths.
That well-made philosophy is not lost on Max Mara’s creative director, Ian Griffiths. The brand was a pioneer of modern luxury ready- to-wear and still produces collections in its state-of-the-art factories in Reggio Emilia, northern Italy. “The architectural quality of the collection is always present, but more than ever with this collection,” says the British- born Griffiths, elegantly attired in a white summer suit when speak after the show. Berlin has played an important role in his design evolution. As a punk and art student in Manchester in the late 1970s, the underground culture spewing out of Berlin informed everything for him. “Bauhaus were our favourite band, David Bowie lived there between 1976 and ’79. Nico, Gina X and Nina Hagen were all part of our culture,” he says. He didn’t get to visit the city until the early 1990s. “It was the time of the techno clubs,” he says. He would spend nights in Bunker, a former air-raid-shelter-turned-seminal-techno-venue, which is now the home of the Boros Collection.
I don’t know what ley line Berlin is on but it’s the kind of place where anything could happen.The place vibrates with freedom and self-expression – every urge is catered for. After the applause dies for Lemper, Bryanboy leads a group to Berghain in search of more adventure. Not everyone stayed up all night. The club’s notorious doorman refused to let Nicky Hilton in on account of her very fancy handbag. It’s obvious who partied and who didn’t by the head count for the next morning’s city tour. I take breakfast with a prime view of the Brandenburg Gate. We’re staying at the Adlon Kempinski; Obama stayed here when he visited Germany. It’s also where Michael Jackson dangled Blanket over the balcony of his room. Our tour takes us past a memorial to Frederick the Great, whose parents were so keen to ensure their young son became a military leader that he was woken every morning by cannon fire. We stop at what’s left of the Berlin Wall. Two Italian journalists kiss in front of the famous mural of Leonid Brezhnev kissing East Germany’s former leader Erich Honecker on the mouth – the socialist fraternal kiss (a sign of loyalty and brotherhood for Eastern bloc leaders) is now a social-media magnet. Gianluca Longo poses in front of the image of a rainbow Jesus. Then it’s on to Checkpoint Charlie (it’s all fake and manned by actors – the original hut was moved to the Allied Museum). The Holocaust Memorial, with its field of monumental slabs placed on an unsettling, uneven surface, is the last stop before the newspaper journalists peel off to write about what Melania Trump is wearing for her state visit to the UK.
Berlin’s staggering ability to reinvent and renew itself was also at the back of his mind. “I was bowled over by the architectural purity of the Neues Museum, and it tied in with that idea of the complete renaissance of Berlin since the wall was demolished.” That historic event happened 30 years ago. “So it was the perfect opportunity to realise my ambition to show there and make a quasi-political point about walls coming down rather than being erected,” he says. “It was also a chance for people to talk about coming together rather than dividing.”
And so, against the backdrop of this ever-evolving city, Griffiths set up an epic fashion encounter between architecture, modernity and ancient history, shot through with a narrative inspired by the kindred Berlin spirits of Bowie and Marlene Dietrich. “I would always have based the collection on them,” says Griffiths, who was fascinated by the similarities between the two. Both lived in the city during intensely creative periods, were icons of androgyny and fans of mannish suits, wide-legged trousers and trench coats. But apart from the obvious similarities, Griffiths points out that “there was also their singularity. They both completely refused to conform to convention but had an ability to defy convention and yet be popular. Marlene was the highest-paid actress in the world but she wore a man’s suit when no one else did.” Bowie and Dietrich never actually met, even though they starred in the movie Just a Gigolo together. Dietrich’s scenes for the 1978 movie were filmed in Paris because she couldn’t bear to return to Berlin after the war.
We reconvene that evening for the show at the Neues Museum. As Max Mara’s models cascade down the stone steps of its central atrium, the collection brings together all of Griffiths’s threads. The sharp suiting and lean trench coats channel Bowie and Dietrich’s androgyny. Stone Age artefacts in the museum have inspired the chalky colour palette, while sculptural gold jewellery pays tribute to Bronze Age items. Carolyn Murphy closes the show in the Berlin coat, pure white, with flower embroidery at the shoulders in tribute to Meissen porcelain, the epitome of German craftsmanship. “The Max Mara woman knows her mind absolutely,” says Griffiths. “She’s independent. I always think of her as being rather heroic. She won’t accept compromise. Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that just because the clothes come from a classic background they are conservative. But the Max Mara woman is actually quite radical because she’s got an agenda to change the world in her own way. I respect this woman so much. I would never want to make her look outlandish or ridiculous. One of the fundamental rules of Max Mara is that it comes from the position always of respecting the woman who is going to wear it. It sounds obvious, but I’ve been reflecting on the fact that much of what is done in the name of fashion doesn’t actually make people feel very good about themselves.” Indeed, Griffiths is about the opposite.
You can’t escape history in Berlin. It’s one of those places where the past feels so recent. The layers are everywhere. Gold cobbles mark houses once lived in by forcibly removed Jewish families, while a white line shadows the route of the wall that once divided the city. The story of Berlin goes from dark to light. A tour of the Reichstag, rebuilt by Norman Foster with a soaring glass dome in 1999, is the ultimate symbol of unity and rebirth. “Places have great meaning in Berlin. The depth of culture infiltrates every aspect of the city,” says Griffiths, whether it’s Berghain or Cabaret’s Kit Kat Klub. “It’s about high design and hedonism. Going to a club in Berlin is an important cultural experience. Ever since the time of the cabarets and even before, Berliners have always turned social activities into cultural activities.”
Afterwards, we dine in one of the museum’s vast galleries and drink champagne in its cloistered courtyard. Guests are posing with a giant Max Mara teddy bear in the same material as the house’s famous fluffy coat. Marc Goehring, of the Berlin-based O32c, decides to straddle it. He’s wearing his favourite, bespoke leather shorts, made by Berlin’s finest fetish shop. Anything goes in Berlin. Freedom, beauty, history, art, power, strength and kinky bears.
Issue 1 of 10+ Australia is OUT NOW and available to order here.
Photographer BASTIAN THIERY
Text CLAUDIA CROFT
Date JUNE 3, 2019
Designer IAN GRIFFITHS
Hair PIERPAOLO LAI
Make-up LYNSEY ALEXANDER
Casting PIER GIORGIO DEL MORO