Debbie Harry would’ve been Ian Griffiths’s dream date if he had been invited to a New York art gallery sometime in the ’70s—when the city was at its most gritty, though with a thriving art and club scene. “She was one of my idols,” said Max Mara’s creative director, who cast Harry as his pre-fall muse. The Blondie star’s recently published memoirs fueled Griffiths’s fascination with her transgressive take on femininity. “In her book, she talks about the difficulties of being a womanly woman in the rock world,” said the designer. What intrigued him was not only her striking looks, but her rule-breaking stance: “To be an artistic, assertive woman in girl drag, not boy drag, was then an act of transgression,” writes Harry in her book.
Griffiths came up with a rather cinematic fictional narrative, in which the exhibition in question would be hosted at the gallery of Holly Solomon, the legendary American patron of the arts, whose private collection was recently on show at London’s Marlborough Contemporary. She was a vastly influential figure in the art world, launching and supporting the careers of Robert Mapplethorpe, Nam June Paik, and William Wegman, just to name a few. They would obviously all be present at the opening, mingling with the likes of Laurie Anderson and Mary Heilmann. Andy Warhol would make an appearance with his stylish posse in tow—Bianca Jagger, Trisha Brown, and Lydia Lunch—and Lee Krasner would also join in, though without her famous husband, Jackson Pollock. She was probably tired of her work being overshadowed by his, so for once he was left at home. (Krasner was recently the subject of a retrospective at London’s Barbican, a due tribute to her talent and to that of her fellow Abstract Expressionist women
In keeping with this artsy inspiration, Griffiths softened the tailoring, played with fluid shapes, and drew attention to feminine details. “We reclaimed the ruffle as a symbol of something that can be sassy rather than romantic,” he said, pointing out a black pencil skirt with an asymmetrical frill at the front. It was worn under a camel coat and paired with a white cotton tee featuring a William Wegman picture in which one of his Weimaraners wears the Max Mara 101801 camel coat. The image was shot in 2001 to mark the label’s 50th anniversary, and has proved so successful that the T-shirt has become a collector’s item. It was also the collection’s underpinning, worn under soft-tailored skirtsuits and sleeveless elongated blazers, or paired with ruffled and striped midi skirts and short-sleeved jackets in lightweight leather.
Reclaimed ruffles were a theme in the collection; they were transformed into a tiered taffeta trench coat with balloon sleeves, and used as a trimming on the cuffs of tailored blazers and the lapels of short fitted jackets. More ruffles were proposed in a series of cocktail dresses in brightly hued taffeta, rather glamorous and dramatic in their asymmetrical, billowing proportions. A ruffled one-shouldered number in hot pink inspired by Warhol’s portrait of Holly Solomon had the designer raving about how fabulous Harry would’ve looked wearing it. “I can absolutely see her in it,” he said. About the inspiring role Harry played in the collection he concluded, “Now we take it for granted, but her brazen interpretation of femininity was totally pioneering.”