Achille Maramotti

Tycoon who pioneered 'off the peg' designer clothes with his fashion label MaxMara

The Italian fashion label MaxMara has always stood out: because there is no one person behind the label, there is no figurehead. MaxMara was founded by Achille Maramotti in 1951; he wanted a name that could be pronounced in any language and yet hinted at no one in particular. The "Max" came from a local character called Count Max, a man perennially drunk but always dashing, the "Mara" from the family surname.

Achille Maramotti, businessman: born Reggio Emilia, Italy 7 January 1927; married 1952 Ida Lombardini (two sons, one daughter); died Albinea, Italy 12 January 2005.

The Italian fashion label MaxMara has always stood out: because there is no one person behind the label, there is no figurehead. MaxMara was founded by Achille Maramotti in 1951; he wanted a name that could be pronounced in any language and yet hinted at no one in particular. The "Max" came from a local character called Count Max, a man perennially drunk but always dashing, the "Mara" from the family surname.

This lack of ego was even more incredible when you consider that Italians have long been obsessed with " la marca" (the label) and that in the 1950s most women still had their clothes made at the local dressmakers, or, if they were rich enough, at a couture house.

And yet there was MaxMara, neither one nor the other, producing ready-made designer clothes. Maramotti showed great foresight, because designer "off the peg" was the way the industry would go, and yet he was only 24 years old when he started MaxMara.

Fashion was not Maramotti's first choice of career. Perhaps to follow in the footsteps of his father - a professor of literature who died when Achille was 12 - he chose a professional path first, as a lawyer. But he had barely started practising when he decided to go into the clothing business instead.

Achille Maramotti was born in Reggio Emilia in 1927, a part of Italy with a dialect almost incomprehensible even to Italians not from the region. His mother, Giulia, ran a tailoring school and his great-grandmother, remarkably, had run a clothes shop in the 1850s. Many years later, in 1980 Maramotti would launch a "plus size" designer fashion label which he did call after someone: this great-grandmother, Marina Rinaldi. It remains one of the most successful collections for size 16-plus women.

Maramotti never had a yearning to be a typical designer and he didn't go about selling the MaxMara clothes in a conventional way, either. At the time the majority of women bought fabric to have made up by a local seamstress, so he persuaded those fabric shops to display his wares (they little realised that the more popular he became the less fabric they would sell).

MaxMara's success is based on clothes that are stylish but skim over the major trends; thus a MaxMara coat can be worn for several seasons. The label is a creative "co-op" - no one takes the sole credit because Maramotti believed everyone, in each stage of the garment's making, from the textile designers to the machinists, plays a part. Over the years various named designers were called in for their input - Karl Lagerfeld, Jean-Charles Castelbajac, Dolce e Gabbana, Narciso Rodriguez - but they all contributed anonymously.

Around the same time that Maramotti launched MaxMara he started investing in art, his first piece being by Alberto Burri, an Italian Expressionist painter. Maramotti adored Expressionist art and went on to collect it for the rest of his life; the walls of his 13th-century home in Albinea were hung with a riot of colour quite at odds with the understated chic associated with the fashion label.

Art was not all he traded in. At the age of 25, Maramotti also bought his first bank shares and at the time of his death was deputy chairman of the Credito Emiliano bank, Credem (controlled by the Maramotti family), and director of Unicredito and Mediobank. Last year he was listed by Forbes as the 262nd richest man in the world, with a wealth of $2.1bn. The company never made any acquisitions.

The MaxMara stable now consists of 35 different labels, Marella, Sportmax, Pennyblack and Marina Rinaldi being the best known. It employs 3,600 people worldwide, with nearly 1,800 boutiques in 90 countries. Despite his immense wealth, Maramotti was uninterested in self-publicity. He concentrated on his family (all his children followed him into the business), his herd of cows, from whose milk he made his own Parmesan, and his art.

Annalisa Barbieri



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