By Bianca O’Neill
As any true fashion obsessive knows, there are coveted wardrobe essentials that never go out of style. A Burberry trench. A Chanel tweed jacket. An Hermès Kelly bag. And, of course, a Max Mara 101801 coat. This year the outerwear staple turns 40, and there’s a reason it has endured for so long as a favourite amongst low-key fashionistas.
Italian fashion house Max Mara was founded back in 1951 by visionary designer Achille Maramotti, who wanted to combine the care and detail of hand sewing with the precision and scope of machine manufacturing. Maramotti wanted to dress ‘the doctor’s wife’ — a woman who was subtly stylish, understated, and rarely followed popular trends. By the ‘80s, the Max Mara brand hit its stride, instead aiming to dress the doctor herself. It was a decade rooted in feminine power, when independent working women were seeking versatile, day-to-night workwear.
It was in this era of ‘power dressing’ that Max Mara’s 101801 coat became a cult classic. Released in 1981, it was double breasted, oversized, and soft and luxurious in a wool and cashmere blend. Maramotti wanted to recreate the silhouette of a classic men’s coat for women. Details like the trademark kimono sleeve delivered working women a functional design that was previously only afforded to men. The roomy design created space for a variety of different outfits to easily sit underneath – whether it be a suit jacket or cocktail dress.
Thanks to the raging success of the 101801, it took Max Mara almost two decades to release another coat shape. The ‘Manuela’ was added in 1998, and was created with a more feminine silhouette in mind. The wrap-around design was a hit, copied the world over – and rendered in various iterations for later updated styles within the Max Mara stable. A petite collar and soft belt delivered the understated elegance that the brand was known for, a clever counterpoint to the harder, masculine edge of the 101801.
Even today, the brand continues to tap into the zeitgeist, delivering inspired and unique pieces loved by celebrities, editors, and politicians alike. Their most recent ‘icon’, the Teddy Bear coat, was inspired by archival 80s designs. The unique silk and camel blend came to life in 2013, and was meant to evoke the feel of a plush children’s teddy bear. It has now become a classic wardrobe must-have, and has been emulated by high end and fast fashion brands worldwide after Rosie Huntington-Whiteley reinvigorated its relevance back in 2017.
Today, a purpose built factory in San Maurizio specialises in creating Max Mara’s sought-after coats, and produces up to a staggering 65,000 pieces each year. Over 230 artisans produce almost 20 different models, with each design requiring its own bespoke manufacturing process. The 101801, for example, is created in 73 different stages, accompanied by meticulous attention to detail to ensure quality control.
Max Mara coats continue to tantalise A-listers, seen everywhere from atop Taylor Swift’s couture gowns on the red carpet to over a pair of jeans and a crop top on street stars like Hailey Beiber. When Nancy Pelosi wore the ‘Glamis’ coat from a 2013 collection, it caused such a stir it had to be reissued, as women clamoured to get their hands on their own version.
“I often visit our stores and discreetly observe clients trying on our celebrated coats,” says long-standing Creative Director, Ian Griffiths. “A woman pulls on a camel coat, ties the belt, pulls up the collar, and looks in the mirror. She seems to have grown taller. She feels cool, confident and glamorous, like a movie star. That coat will make every woman feel that way every time she wears it, for years and years, in many cases for a lifetime. A woman develops an emotional relationship with a Max Mara coat like no other item in her wardrobe. It’s a friend for life.”
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