Max Mara is justifiably famous for the camel coat. And you probably don’t know this, but the camel coat that reigns supreme at Max Mara is known internally by an anonymous style number: 101801. The double-breasted, kimono-sleeved topper, made of a soft yet hearty blend of cashmere and beaver wool, has been a best seller since it hit the market in 1981.
This year the family-owned Italian fashion house is celebrating the coat’s 35th birthday with a black beaded version. Originally created by then Max Mara designer Anne-Marie Beretta, the 101801 was inspired by a man’s overcoat but modified to complement (and accommodate) the era’s bold-shoulder blazers. From the beginning, the shape was simple but roomy, falling straight to midcalf from the shoulders. An early antecedent of the 101801, notes fashion historian Colin McDowell, was worn by British soldiers in the trenches during World War I. The coat’s heavy material provided its shape; the same can be said about the 101801.
Why does the 101801 remain the brand’s signature piece? “Its proportions make it perfect for every body, shape, and height, making its way back into every subsequent collection without any modification,” says current creative director Ian Griffiths.
And while this season’s special beaded and embroidered edition took more than 300 hours to create by hand (hence the $11,000 price tag), the traditional 101801 requires a bit of handwork as well (168 minutes). That process hasn’t changed once in 35 years. “The underlying style is completely faithful to the original design, down to the last millimeter,” says Griffiths. But if he could change something? “As a designer there’s always an urge to tweak,” he says. “But in this case it’s definitely a case of ‘hands off.’ The coat is an all-time classic. A very rare thing in fashion.”
Max Mara’s limited-edition beaded 101801 coat, $10,890; Max Mara, 212-879-6100.