Image: Aziz Hussin for The Straits Times
When 18-year-old Laura Lusuardi first joined Italian fashion house Max Mara in 1964 as an office assistant, her job entailed making coffee and fetching pins for her colleagues.
Five years later, in spite of having no formal training in fashion, she was put in charge of one of its labels, Sportmax.
Max Mara's founder Achille Maramotti must have seen something in her because the first Sportmax collection Ms Lusuardi designed received a great deal of attention from the press and consumers.
She says: "It stood out thanks to a more diversified and modern range and it was a totally new way of interpreting and designing clothes.
Today, she is the Max Mara group's fashion director, overseeing its nine brands which churn out 60 collections a year. Aside from Max Mara and Sportmax, the other brands she takes care of are Weekend Max Mara, Max & Co., Marella, iBlues, Pennyblack, Marina Rinaldi and Persona.
In Singapore, the Max Mara and Sportmax brands are sold at the brand's flagship at Mandarin Gallery; Weekend by Max Mara is sold at Takashimaya; Max & Co. is sold at Paragon and Takashimaya; Marella is sold at Takashimaya and Isetan Scotts; and iBlues is sold at Isetan Scotts. Marina Rinaldi and Persona (which are both targeted at curvy women) and casual-wear brand Pennyblack are not sold here.
Max Mara’s best-selling item in Singapore is the Max Mara 101801 coat. / Image: Max Mara
Ms Lusuardi, 70, who was in Singapore last month, describes Max Mara as everyday contemporary wear for the working woman; Sportmax is more glamorous and has stronger silhouettes; while Weekend by Max Mara and Max & Co. offer casual wear such as denim jeans and T-shirts.
Prices start from $300 for a top from Weekend Max Mara and from $600 for a top from Sportmax or Max Mara.
In Singapore, Max Mara's best- selling item is its Max Mara 101801 coat ($4,979). Popular among the brand's well-travelled clientele, a spokesman for the brand says the boxy shoulders of the cashmere- wool coat make for a flattering fit for all body shapes and its design is timeless - a signature of the brand. The spokesman declined to reveal how well the brand as a whole is doing in Singapore.
Max Mara was founded in 1951 in Reggio Emilia, a city in northern Italy. On how it has managed to stay relevant all these years, Ms Lusuardi attributes it to her decades of experience in the fashion industry, which have made her more "attentive to consumer's needs".
Through a translator, she says in Italian: "Women have developed tremendously and we have to adapt to their needs and lifestyle and keep up with the pace of their progress."
In order to keep up with the times, Ms Lusuardi is constantly on the lookout for new talent to hire and train for the fashion house's numerous brands. She says this allows each to have a style that is constantly evolving while staying true to the brands' values of creativity and practicality.
Even though she is past retirement age, Ms Lusuardi shows no signs of slowing down. She travels twice a month for work and always makes it a point to take along a camera with her on her travels to photograph women wearing Max Mara. She shares these photos with her team.
"Wherever I go in the world, I see someone I can identify as a Max Mara woman. To me, that's a confirmation that our style is a kind of universal language."
This article was first published in The Straits Times newspaper on July 7, 2016. For similar stories, go to http://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle.