Ph. Elodie Nizon / Foxall Studio
Nicola Gerber Maramotti glides into Max Mara’s Old Bond Street flagship looking as cool as a cucumber on what is officially the hottest September day since 1911. Immaculately dressed in a white trouser suit, white silk T-shirt and white platforms, it’s hard to believe that she has just braved the London Underground – the heaving Central Line no less. Anyone else might have thought she had descended from the heavens on a fluffy white cloud.
Today, German-born Nicola keeps tabs on the company’s 300 plus stores across Europe. Her involvement in the company began soon after she married Ignazio Maramotti in 1993. His father Achille Maramotti founded the brand in 1951 and is widely credited with introducing ready-to-wear to Italy.
Nicola’s dedication to educating retail staff and ensuring warm and inviting retail spaces is clear to see in Max Mara’s Old Bond Street store. Recently revamped and expanded, it boasts an upstairs garden terrace – a rare find amongst Mayfair’s urban sprawl. Every little detail is Nicola’s doing, right down to the dressing room lights. “Women want to look pretty in the changing room,” she says adding that it took 20 meetings with her designer team to create the most flattering light.
Here, as in every Max Mara store, staff are well versed in the brand’s heritage and know the collections inside out – right down to the cut, stitch and fabric composition. Max Mara’s new e-learning programme, in which all employees are kept up to speed on such matters, and later tested and scored, can be thanked for that.
Meanwhile, over at the company HQ in Reggio Emilia, the Max Mara Retail Academy attracts postgraduate students from around the world. As part of this intensive in-house training course, they spend one year in Italy and one year in one of the company’s European locations. When selecting students, Nicola instinctively knows if someone has a service-orientated mindset or not. “The job of retail manager is as much about psychology as it is numbers, and if you are not interested in people, then you can’t be in retail,” she notes.
It is this investment in its workforce that makes Max Mara so unique – that and its ongoing commitment to empowering women, which starts with the clothes. The current autumn/winter 2016 collection pays homage to the 1920s Bauhaus and the women painters, textile designers, filmmakers and artists at its heart. Other hits include the ‘Whitney’ tote bag. Designed in collaboration with Italian architect Renzo Piano, its sumptuous geometric form is inspired by New York’s celebrated art museum. “It looks just like the Whitney,” she says with a smile, picking the shimmering bag up and swinging it lightly from her wrist.
Then there is the Sartorial Project – a capsule collection comprising of tailored jackets and trousers constructed with all the precision of a man’s Savile Row suit. The collection has evolved to accommodate the new working wardrobe. Describing this, Nicola says: “Women are pairing a smart blazer with a crisp white blouse or trousers with a cashmere jumper and interpreting masculine looks in far more contemporary ways.”
As a passionate advocate of championing women in the arts, Nicola also oversees the brand’s pioneering creative awards. The Max Mara Art Prize for Women in collaboration with London’s Whitechapel Gallery is the only visual art prize for women in the UK that aims to promote and nurture female artists. This year’s gong went to British artist Emma Hart. As part of her award, she will take up a six-month residency in Umbria and Lombardy, where she will create an artwork to be presented in major solo exhibitions at the Whitechapel Gallery in London and Collezione Maramotti in Reggio Emilia, Italy, next year.
Support is also given to women in the male-dominated film industry. Since 2006, Max Mara’s Women In Film Face of the Future Award has been held in LA to annually honour outstanding women in the entertainment industry – women who lead by example, are creative, groundbreaking and excel at their chosen fields. In June, Nicola presented the 2016 award to Game of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer.
Finally, I ask Nicola what she loves most about London and Bond Street. “Bond Street with its relaxed luxury vibe and glamour is unique. It attracts the best of the best – the best fashion, the best art, the best windows… And of course I love the tube!” she jokes before floating off in a white haze.