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British Designer Maximilian Davis: “I Want to Prove Ferragamo is Not Just the Brand Your Parents Wear”

At only 28 years old and in just two seasons, Maximilian Davis has transformed the century-old Ferragamo into the brand everyone wants to wear now. Vogue Arabia meets with fashion’s rising star in Florence.

Photo: Bohdan Bohdanov

To some, red is the color of passion. To others, a color of fear. Some civilizations associate red with power and majesty. For Maximilian Davis, the recently appointed creative director at Ferragamo, red was the perfect color to coat the floor and walls of the 500-year-old palazzo of the former Archbishop’s Seminary in Milan, when he presented his much-applauded debut collection for the heritage brand last year. This is not the only drastic move that came with the appointment of the young British designer. Fearless, Davis has fully rebranded the fashion house from day one in the office, starting with the name and the logo – dropping Salvatore and altering the typeface to a modernist take on a classic font (serif) – to adopting the new flaming shade. “When someone arrives at a brand, they need to change the whole perspective of what the past was, and the way we can energize and renovate what we have,” shares the 28-year-old creative in his atelier in Florence. “First, though, was to focus on the brand’s name, to make it easier to refer to. The next thing was the color. I feel that every brand has a shade, which really helps it to be recognized. Red has many meanings behind it. For some it’s anger, but for me, it’s romance, sensuality, and passion. Ferragamo did have a dark Bordeaux, almost like a red, so I didn’t want to change that too much, but rather provide a new energy to the color. Honestly, these were the steps that I was thinking of even before my first day at work.”

Ferragamo SS23

Maximilian Davis

Starting with a bang, besides the brand’s new visual identity, a shift in the style of clothes was immediate. Worn on his scarlet runway by an inclusive cast of models –under a rain shower that made everything even more dramatic – his debut collection featured sensual dresses in solid colors, dégradé or see-through, looks fully bejeweled with sparkling stones, and tailored trousers and jackets that tightly hug the body. The message was clear: the new Ferragamo woman is not to be ignored. “With clothing, I always want to give a sense of power. I would never make clothing that makes people feel weak, you know? I also want to prove that Ferragamo is not just the brand your parents wear.”

Photo: Bohdan Bohdanov

While many might question the appointment of a designer in his 20s to take the helm at a brand with almost 100 years of fashion history, the answer lies exactly in the legacy of Ferragamo. Salvatore Ferragamo made his first pair of shoes for his sister’s communion at age nine; at 16 years old, without speaking English and all alone, he crossed the Atlantic to relocate to the United States, to work in a shoe factory. A few years later, once established in Santa Barbara, California, he quickly became the favorite designer of leading ladies such as Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, and Sophia Loren. Judy Garland was also one of his clients, with Ferragamo creating for her in 1938 what would become one of the brand’s most recognizable symbols: the iconic Rainbow platform shoes. Looking at Davis’s biography, the similarities are obvious. Although the designer was born in Manchester, he is the descendant of immigrant parents from Jamaica and Trinidad. He was taught sewing at age six by his grandmother, and made his first leather jacket at 13, while working for his family tailor. After graduating from the London College of Fashion in 2017, he launched his eponymous label in 2020, with the brand Maximilian quickly spotted on trendsetting celebrities such as Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, and Dua Lipa. “My father studied fashion design. My mother modeled when she was between 16 and 20 years old. And my sister also studied fashion design – but none of them continued a career in this area,” says Davis, when asked about growing up in a household where there was a serious sense of style. “When I was a teenager, I remember having a conversation with my headmaster, who was pushing me to pursue some sort of corporate job. But I remember sitting and telling him that what I really wanted was to make clothes. And that is what I did.”

Photo: Bohdan Bohdanov

Officially relocating his brand to Florence after returning to Italy in 1927, Ferragamo created some of the most iconic shoe designs of our century, including the stiletto, and even cork and gold heels. There’s an infinite richness in the Ferragamo archives that Davis is proud to acknowledge, showing once again his maturity and confidence. “Working with this heritage doesn’t hold me back,” he says. “As a creative, you always need some source of inspiration. Many designers go around the world for ideas. In my case, there’s a lot of legacy that I really want to talk about. I want to educate the new clients of the brand, as there are many things that are so fascinating… Look at the career of Mr Ferragamo, from working in a tiny shoe shop to becoming the shoe couturier of Hollywood.” The brand’s vast archive counts more that 15 000 pieces of museum-quality shoes that completely reshaped contemporary fashion. “There are so many techniques, so many constructions, materials, and ideas,” says Davis, without hiding his excitement. “There are crazy designs, so innovative and full of technology having in consideration that they were produced in the 1930s and 1940s. It’s real craftsmanship at the highest level.”

Photo: Bohdan Bohdanov

This true admiration for the life of Salvatore Ferragamo is, perhaps, one important tool to navigate the politics and the reality of a brand where the founding family is still present. Up until today, the Ferragamo clan is the major stakeholder of the company, which means that members have a say in the present and future of the brand. But Davis shares that so far, he has only experienced support from the family, and that he feels more and more empowered as his work blossoms, from receiving amazing reviews to dressing Beyoncé. “When the CEO [Marco Gobbetti] and I joined the brand, we were allowed to implement our vision with the teams, to take it where we needed to. There’s a big level of trust, and even a push to go further,” says Davis. “Of course, we need to show the collections before they go out to the world, but the reactions are always positive. It’s also important that the family sees my clothes connecting to the existing clients – that’s reassuring – while our audience is also changing and becoming younger. We are not doing something super crazy, so there’s a big support.”

Photo: Bohdan Bohdanov

As this magazine hits newsstands, the Ferragamo boutiques will be carrying the designer’s FW23-24 collection, paying a tribute to Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe, and photographed for these pages in Florence, exclusive to Vogue Arabia. “I decided to refer to these icons as they hold timeless beauty and elegance. The timelessness comes from their self-awareness and sophistication. They were also Ferragamo clients and allowed the brand to be more sensual and desirable. Their sensuality is something that still works for us today.”

Photo: Bohdan Bohdanov

With everything happening so fast, one wonders how the 28-year-old manages the overnight fame and success, and how he stays centered to continue to perform his job with the level of creativity, detail, and obsessive search for quality that Ferragamo requires. “I do scream inside. And I scream at home when I call my friends,” Davis laughs. “I’m super happy with the response we have been receiving from all the celebrities that wear my clothes. But, most importantly, I value the feedback of our regular clients, who wear the brand with their own personality and style. I feel that I’m designing for different women and different people, and this is allowing me to expand my creativity. I’m honestly grateful.”

Photo: Bohdan Bohdanov

Appointed not long after the much-needed racial discussions ignited by the impact and reach of the Black Lives Matter movement, Davis became an unintentional symbol of diversity and inclusion in fashion, standing as one of the very few designers of color to take the helm at a European heritage brand. But Davis is quick to add that he doesn’t believe one should accept any kind of obstacle linked with skin color. “I think you really need to put yourself out there or encourage yourself in these positions that you don’t feel comfortable in. I don’t think it has to do with race. You just need to go into a situation where you don’t feel comfortable and try to make it your own,” he says. “In order to succeed in fashion, you need drive, to find your passion, and to study and research what you must do to get to where you want to be. In my case, it was my family that gave me that support system.” But do we, as a collective industry, not have the obligation to open doors to communities that haven’t had the same opportunities in the past? “These changes can’t happen overnight, as our industry wasn’t built in one day either,” Davis concludes. “For the shift to happen, people need to come together and work on the improvements. And it will also take time for people to accept the flaws and the growth opportunities. This is something that will not happen next week, for sure…”

Naomi Campbell at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards in March

Beyoncé at her Renaissance World Tour show in Amsterdam in June

Imaan Hammam at the Fashion Trust Arabia in London in June, wearing Ferragamo

Originally published in the September 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia

Style: Ellen Mirck
Hair and makeup: Katja Wilhelmus
Photography assistant: Andrea Serioli
Style assistants: Torrin Gouskos, Eleonora Bacci, Irene Chiaramonti
Creative production: Anaïs Isabelle
Local producer: Olimpia Balli
Casting director: Reinard Grevin
Model: Samia Gisage at Independent Model Management 

Read Next: 6 Celebrity Who Are Already Fans of Maximilian Davis – Ferragamo’s New Creative Director

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