For years, the sliding doors of creative director appointments at major fashion houses have picked up such a speed that it can be difficult to keep up with them. Among the bullshit, those stable names that have quietly provided cohesive work for years tend to get lost in the noise. Grazia Malagoli is one such designer – a low-key director whose long-term reign as the fashion director of Sportmax (she started with the brand in 1979), has always responded to bright young people in the fashion world. , both in his native Italy and abroad, including a loyal and growing customer base in Australia.
Considered the cooler younger sister of Max Mara, Sportmax’s Spring / Summer 2022 release, presented in Milan last week, mixes an opulent baroque sensibility – corsetry, jacquard prints – with a ascetic minimalism, courtesy of ribbed knit leggings and rugged structured jackets. After the show, Malagoli invited Grazia at the brand’s Milan headquarters, located a stone’s throw from the bustling Duomo, for an exclusive interview and a preview of the new collection. Our conversation is below and condensed for clarity.
The spring / summer 2022 collection you presented was inspired by the iconic American philosopher and composer John Cage. How did he influence the collection?
When the team and I started designing this collection, we started to think about the idea of silence, and in particular the studies of John Cage. He really focused on the idea that everything needs an opposite to exist: so there is only sound if there is also silence. With his partner, a very important choreographer Merce Cunningham, who had an impact on avant-garde dance, Cage explored the relationship of opposites in music and dance. So from this idea, we tried to put in place concepts and features that are poles apart from each other, like baroque and minimal.
The result are those important pieces that we call “fragments” characterized by a clash between essential silhouettes and volumes. These are historical costumes defined by side cuts and worn with super clean pieces, this could be a tank top or soft leggings for example. We have also introduced some references to ballet: the lightness of the gauze, georgette and tulle has helped to give an idea of fragility and poetic movement. All this differs from the consistency of leather, very resistant cotton used for example for structured jackets, coats and pants, and jacquard. The color palette includes different shades of white, from nude to ecru, but, again, contrasted with a touch of color, such as bright colors like orange, fuchsia, yellow, light blue and lilac.
There was a quote that played over and over as the models walked – “Silence and love are the only untranslatable languages” – was that a quote from John Cage?
No, the music is by Teho Teardo, a Italian musician and composer who will also be performing at La Triennale here in Milan this evening. He understood Cage’s feeling and composed music along the same lines as the collection.
What do you think is the key to being able to tap into what young people think is really cool?
When I joined the company, Sportmax was a collection, among the Group’s brands, for the young generation, dedicated to a younger target. And over the years, we have tried to stay true to this, Sportmax continues this path of research and experimentation to offer a product that is always innovative.. I work with a team of young designers and they put a lot of energy into it and they have a lot of new ideas that I can help turn into something in line with the company and the brand.
You started with Max Mara in 1979. Do you remember when you first met the brand?
My mother had a small workshop, so I grew up in this environment. I was very young, but in my head I started to think that I wanted to do this kind of work but in a real company, so I studied design. Max Mara is based in Reggio Emilia, and I’m also from Reggio Emilia, and where I was educated, Max Mara had, I think, one of the first shops in the world. At that time, it was a sort of multi-brand store. When I saw the Sportmax label, for me it was something very interesting.
I was lucky because when I finished school I tried to work there and they chose me. So I was very lucky. At first I worked with Laura Lusuardi who was the fashion director so from the start I worked for Sportmax and then after three or four years the founder of Max Mara Company asked me if I wanted to work alone, and I said “I’ll try”. At that time, I remember that there was only one other brand that worked the same as Sportmax. It was the only collection dedicated to young customers. At that time, there was no strict distinction in terms of style, as we have today. Today we have a more precise distinction in terms of attitude and style, and so do the collections. Everything has changed since: communication, the way you buy and the way you sell. So this means that you have to manage the collection in a different way than in the past.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for designers these days? What has been the biggest change for you in the decades since you started?
I believe the biggest challenge is to understand your surroundings, because if you don’t understand it, you will not receive any response. But also to create projects capable of receiving rapid responses from the public. And create stimulating and fun content that reflects the strong energy of the moment. One of the biggest changes in fashion has been the style. Today styling is crucial when working on a collection, it’s almost a priority. In the past this did not happen, the important thing was to create an article of good quality and shape but everything else was of minor importance.
How do you stay creative when there is so much noise? Is there something you’re doing in your design process to get away from the hectic nature of social media or the constant demands of retail?
For me, social media is a way to get to know humanity, not customers. I would say I am an observer and not an active user. It is clear that social media is useful for disseminating institutional messages. Creativity is something else, it comes from several sources of inspiration, it can be an artist or vintage fashion or visiting a museum and so on. All these inspirations finally converge together and after an assembly process we find our way.
Can you tell me about the moodboard of this collection?
The moodboard reflects the dichotomy between the opulence of the baroque and the minimalism of the ballet world, we refer in particular to the avant-garde ballet. The collection includes clean and essential elements of the ballet world, as well as some clothing from ballet, such as leggings, all-in-ones, bras. The baroque is in the forms and in the consistency of certain fabrics, such as satin and jacquard. Some images represent the concept of a fragment, which we have developed in the collection. Another important theme is the concept of corsetry. The color palette of the collection is also represented in the moodboard: we mostly used very pale colors with some delicate color injections and some super bright colors in an attempt to shock the audience.