Against the backdrop of Atelier M’s gargantuan glass windows, which spectacle a 360-degree view of the Dubai Marina, I join Laura Lusuardi, the Fashion Director of Max Mara, to discuss what it takes to become a successful and distinguished female professional. Having worked for the Max Mara brand since 1964, Lusaurdi has watched the brand spin off more than 30 labels over the years and become a billion-d0llar-a-year business since its founding in 1951. With curious eyes and passionate hand gestures, Lusaurdi speaks mile-a-minute Italian as her translator races to keep pace – all testimony to her buzzing intellect. In the interview below, Lusuardi opens up exclusively to Savoir Flair about her history with the brand, the evolution of the Max Mara woman, and her professional influences.
What are your impressions of Dubai so far?
It is a very strong city because there is luxury everywhere. It’s another world, a very positive place. What is nice to see and very important is that there are women from all over the world here. Today I went to the Max Mara shop and in ten minutes I saw an Emirati woman, a Lebanese woman, and an American woman, and the three of them were shopping in the same store.
What do you think about the fashion you’ve seen in the city?
The Arab woman wanted to meet me immediately; she was very pleased with the Max Mara product and she complimented me right away. But the important thing for me was when I asked the shopkeeper about the average age of our customer and her reply was that she sees both mothers and daughters shopping in the store. The daughter will buy Max S and the mother will buy Max Mara. Today, for Max Mara, the average age of the customer ranges from 19 to 50.
Can you talk more about your role at Max Mara?
It is a story that dates back 60 years ago. In 1964 I was 18 years old, and I started with Max Mara. My family was very into retail business. They used to have a shop. I started very early with Max Mara and I was originally in charge of design. My first project was with Sportmax in 1969 because when I started with the company there were only coats. The story of the brand is closely linked to the story of fashion. In the 1960s, Max Mara started working with very important fashion designers from France. It’s a very long story, but in the 1980s the brand started to sell all over the world, in the US, Japan, etc. We were always known for our coats. Our brand philosophy has been to create products that cater to the needs of women. In the 80s, the needs of women changed a lot. From the 1980s onward she had to wear certain types of dresses for work and certain types of clothes on the weekend. As this happened, Max Mara continued to cater to women’s needs naturally.
Did you learn fashion design through your family or did you study fashion design?
It is a passion. From my family I learned about many different types of fabrics. Because in the 1970s, the trend was in fabrics and women used to go to their own tailor in order to have things custom-made.
How do you strike a balance between changing fashion trends and the essence of the Max Mara brand?
Our experience is in our DNA. But we are ever changing and at the same time keeping our roots. The secret is to keep the identity while trying to understand the needs of women, and evolving with new projects and new collections.
Our experience is in our DNA. But we are ever changing and at the same time keeping our roots.
There are so many brands under the Max Mara umbrella. How do you maintain the integrity of each?
Each of the brands is for a special type of woman, a special category. Max Mara is for an international woman, a woman who can interpret the trends in a more discrete way. Sport Max is trendier. The big change is that now it can be trendy Max Mara and trendy Sport Max. Now it is no longer an issue of age, it is an issue of style. It is more about how comfortable you feel with a certain style.
Do you think women of all ages are looking for trendier style?
This is the most recent shift.
What is on the horizon for the brand?
The brand is now focusing mostly on exclusive projects – for example, couture coats. I think this shift works well for Dubai because women here want to see exclusive garments. She wants to be one of the few to own something. We have a super niche project in which we have men’s jackets for businesswomen. I think it is the dream of any woman to go to a men’s tailor and to have a custom-made jacket just for them. It is the time. This is very exclusive because it is a niche project and it is only available in 30 stores in the world.
Who is your professional inspiration?
A woman who feels good about herself; who feels at ease with her dress from the morning until the evening. She feels comfortable. Her style has to be practical, but at the same time very elegant. Max Mara products are not seasonal. You can use them any time. It is an endless product.
Photos: Courtesy of Max Mara