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MaxMara Womenswear Design Prize

Lindsay Marsh, first prize winner at MaxMara Womenswear Design Prize, talks about her capsule collection for the historical Italian fashion group.

Founded almost 60 years ago in Reggio Emilia by Achille Maramotti, Max Mara has for decades been synonymous with iconic pieces of womenswear such as perfectly cut coats and beautiful knitwear, more similar for their silhouettes, lines and choice of fabrics to little artworks than to simple garments. Throughout the decades Max Mara’s designs chronicled the evolution of tastes, trends and textile research and, as time passed, the company collaborated with famous names of fashion such as Dolce & Gabbana, Karl Lagerfeld, Luciano Soprani and Jean-Charles De Castelbajac who all worked at some point in their career for the fashion group.

To renew itself further and promote the new talents of fashion, the Italian group launched last year in collaboration with the British fashion Council, the Max Mara Womenswear Design Prize, an award open to all final year students whose colleges are members of the BFC’s Colleges Council. The panel judging the 189 entries from 22 colleges throughout the UK featured among the other members also Max Mara Board Director Maria Ludovica Maramotti, BFC Colleges Council Chair Anne Tyrrell, Grazia Style Director Paula Reed and The Daily Telegraph Fashion Director Hilary Alexander. Lindsay Marsh from Northumbria University was awarded first prize, Sian Lendrum from Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication second prize and the third prize was awarded to Catherine Gerrard from The University of Brighton. All three students won a five-month fully paid apprenticeship - from July to November 2009 - at the Max Mara head quarters in Reggio Emilia, Italy, and received a cash prize for themselves and their colleges.

“In British schools we have always found student designers able to transfer their original and creative ideas into real and consistent garments,” Maria Ludovica Maramotti stated during the awarding ceremony that took place in January, “At Max Mara we deeply believe that the goal for any fashion designer, irrespective of the market in which they are working, should be that a real customer chooses and wears what they have created. My brother Luigi often tells young designers ‘Your idea does not exist until a woman walks out of the shop wearing the garment you have designer.’ That is what defines fashion, it’s indisputable.” The three winners developed innovative and functional products that matched the philosophy of the brand, but, Maramotti highlighted, Lindsay Marsh “astounded the panel with the integrity of her approach”.

Dazed Digital: Can you describe us your capsule collection?
Lindsay Marsh: I created a series of photographs inspired by the idea of the ‘persona’ and combined this with diagrams of ‘equivalent projections’ from an interesting book I found in a second-hand shop. This resulted in designs inspired by the shapes created by overlapping these diagrams and applying them to my illustrations. I designed eight outfits, my fabrics included cotton, viscose and cashmere/silk. I knitted miniature garments - swatches - to show the knit techniques and finish that I would use.

DD: What inspired your collection and what inspires your designs?
LM: My main inspiration came from surrealist photographers Francesca Woodman and Claude Cahun, I like to experiment with my camera to create my own imagery. I became interested in the idea of the ‘Persona’ through my research for my dissertation, ‘The Mask in Contemporary Fashion’, for this I have written about the use of the mask by designers such as Martin Margiela as a way of focusing the audience’s attention on his designs. I think this idea is problematic as the masked face is in fact quite a disturbing image. Reading fashion theory and writing really inspires me, but also the challenge of creating knitwear. My designs for Max Mara consisted of completely tubular knitted garments and garments with curves/circles knitted into sleeves, they had quite a geometric and sculptural feel to them. I am currently designing my final collection which was inspired by another series of images which I took using myself and a chair. I used a slow shutter speed and moved quickly in and out of the frame, you can see the features of the chair through my body which gave me the idea to create knitted garments using chair shapes.

DD: Was there a main theme behind your capsule collection?
LM: I thought the idea of the persona worked well for the Max Mara customer, the adaptation of the personality which we assume when dealing with others and change according to situation. The professional woman when dressed for work takes on a different persona to the one she would assume at home or in more relaxed situations.

DD: How difficult do you think would be for a historical company such as Max Mara to stay true to its principles while renewing its womenswear ranges?
LM: I actually think that Max Mara is an extremely forward thinking company, the knitwear which they create for example is very interesting and often technologically advanced. I don't think it is hard for them as their use of the highest quality fabric is peerless and the clothes are highly wearable, yet there might be something unusual going on with the shape or an interesting technique.

DD: How did you feel when you heard you had won the award?
LM: I was shocked. The other students work was a such high standard I really didn’t expect to win. It was actually my birthday that day so it was quite a nice present! I was also really pleased to have won for my university as often courses outside of London are overlooked.

DD: What do you expect from this apprenticeship at Max Mara and what do you think you will be able to offer to the company?
LM: I expect it to be an invaluable experience, I am really looking forward to working for a company at such a high level of quality and design. I’m also really looking forward to working in Italy to develop my knowledge of the fashion industry internationally. I know from my year in industry (part of my university course) - which I spent working for a knitwear design company in Brighton called Knit-1, followed by Rubecksen Yamanaka in London - that I will develop my skills and confidence as a designer and hope to learn about the technology available to me. I think that a love for what I do is really important and I hope to contribute to the company in continuing to make interesting and beautiful knitwear.