Art and Fashion
“THE CONTRAST OF OLD AND NEW IS SO MODERN AND SO INDICATIVE OF THE ART SCENE COMING OUT OF BERLIN”
Kiri-Una Brito Meumann, the Melbourne-based artist and ELLE List alumnus, attended the show and was equally impressed by Max Mara’s art-skewed setting. “The location
really resonated with me,” she says. “I think the contrasting of old and new is so modern and so indicative of the art scene coming out of Berlin at the moment – it really is a pivotal time for the city right now. It was a balance that also really translated to the clothes you saw on the runway. You had this contrast of classic pieces with pops of colour – it was super chic.”
Bowie clearly inspired the collection – there were capes and statement shoulders – but so did another famous inhabitant of Berlin, Marlene Dietrich. “She was a pioneer of cabaret and later the film industries in both Germany and Los Angeles, but she was also incredibly stylish and courageous,” gushes Griffiths, who considers Dietrich one of his great all-time muses. “She defied convention in a way that didn’t alienate people. She wore a man’s suit in the ’30s, she was very open about her sex life, she was gender fluid and yet at one point was the highest-paid actress in the world.”
Dietrich’s influence was clear in the masculine wide-leg trousers, belted trench coats and, of course, an abundance of suiting, much of which was realized in a fresh palette of cream, ivory, and camel. It was a point driven home when Ute Lemper, the German singer, actress and something of a Dietrich protégé, was the penultimate model on the runway. “Ute really carries the torch for Marlene today. I’ve always admired her, so when we knew the show was happening in Berlin, contacting her was the first thing that came to mind,” says Griffiths. Now 56, Lemper’s presence on the runway was also intended to send a message about age inclusivity. “We wanted to make a point that Max Mara respects women of all ages – it’s something very important to us,” says Griffiths, who also enlisted 46-year-old supermodel Carolyn Murphy to close proceedings.
The day before the show, guests were treated to an intimate performance by Lemper, who presented “Rendezvous With Marlene” – her tribute to Dietrich. “The cabaret performance with Ute was iconic,” Brito Meumann says. “She’s the kind of woman that you see and just thinks, ‘Who are you?’ She oozes confidence and is effortlessly chic. It’s exactly what I aspire to pull off in my own personal style.”
The staging of a runway show in a museum gives way to the inevitable question: is fashion an art form? On this point, Griffiths – an art lover whose own collection includes pieces by Richmond Burton, Elisabeth Frink and Tracey Emin – is emphatic: “For me, the issue is settled: fashion is not art. Fashion is defined by the observer – an item of clothing isn’t fashionable unless it’s adopted by a group of people. Art is the opposite – an artist declares an object a work of art, even if nobody understands it until 500 years later.”
This may sound like an unusual opinion for a man who has dedicated the majority of his life to fashion design – and who was dubbed by The Guardian as “the most influential fashion designer you’ve never heard of” (far from a backhanded compliment, the understated Griffiths had adopted this moniker with pride). But Griffiths is quick to clarify that his views aren’t intended to denigrate the value of fashion – quite the opposite, in fact. “When you work in fashion, some of us have a chip on our shoulder about being less important than art – but we should be a little more confident with ourselves and trust in the importance of what we do,” he says. “Just because fashion isn’t art, it doesn’t make it less important than art. Fashion tells us about the time we live in.”
That may be so, but looking at the perfectly tailored suiting, buttery-soft cashmere coats and sweeping cape-style gowns that were showed in this collection, you can’t help but feel that they do look right at home among the famous artworks.
BERLIN BUCKET LIST
Kiri-Una Brito Meumann shares her best insider haunts from Europe’s coolest art-hub:
BORCHARDT: Serves some of the best food in Berlin.
BOROS COLLECTION: An art collection housed in a WWII bunker. Be sure to book in advance for a guided tour.
GEMÀLDEGALERIE: Another beautiful museum focusing on the history of art.
MEMORIAL TO THE MURDERED JEWS OF EUROPE: An extremely moving and important visit.