Max Mara’s Secret Weapon

Williams + Hirakawa

Nicola Maramotti is the public and private face of the fashion house.

In 1993, when Nicola Maramotti married Ignazio Maramotti, now head of Max Mara Fashion Group, the German-born manager of Wempe jewelers in New York City found herself thrust into one of the wealthiest and most private families in Italian fashion. Never did she expect to become an integral part of the family business.

Almost two decades later, the tall and slender Maramotti, with choppy blonde hair (aristo sportif–cum–Meg Ryan), is probably best known for her role as brand ambassador: an elegant public figure at company-sponsored events like the Women in Film gala in Los Angeles, where in June she presented Katie Holmes with the Max Mara Face of the Future award.

But Maramotti’s abilities run well beyond hobnobbing. And her potential certainly didn’t escape the notice of her father-in-law, Achille, who founded Max Mara in 1951, later when the newish bride with lovely looks and an economics degree moved to the family’s thousand-year-old castle in the company’s northern Italian home base of Reggio Emilia. “I had no expectations when I arrived,” says Maramotti, dressed simply in a cotton blouse and pants—all by Max Mara, naturally—between bites of scrambled egg and rye toast at the Hotel Plaza Athenée on New York’s Upper East Side. “But I had energy. I think everyone saw it. I could have done anything. I could’ve sold Parmesan or balsamic vinegar.”

She began working with her brother-in-law Luigi, developing Max&Co., the label’s younger line. “I was involved in the whole process, from creating the product to getting it in the stores,” she says. “I entered fashion in every sense.” It all came to her “quite naturally” and she grew her role from there, taking over the European market for Max Mara and Max&Co. and becoming responsible for “what happens in all the European stores—the image, everything.” These days, her energy is channeled into launching new Max Mara stores—to add to the more than 2,000 across the globe that generate more than a billion dollars a year in revenue—as well as helping maintain the hallmarks of the 60-year-old fashion house: an under-the-radar discretion, clean and classic design and razor-sharp tailoring, all of which culminate in the brand’s signature camel coat.

She’s tackling this through education and technology. “We do so much creating of our clothes in-house; we are still producing in Italy—no one else is anymore. So our customers need to know we are crafting the pieces ourselves, like how we sew a coat,” Maramotti says. Once she has her way, the entire sales staff will be able to show customers with a savvy swipe of an iPad why, for example, the double-face (“doo-bahl fahs,” in Maramotti’s Italian-inflected German accent) angora wool coat they’re considering is worth the thousands of dollars it costs. “Knowledge gives added value to a product that already has a lot of value but that might not really be understood,” she says. This season, each coat will have a little tuft of raw angora wool and a tag describing exactly how the luxe material is cucita a mano (created by hand).

Also on her roster is the company’s 60th-anniversary celebration in Moscow, which kicked off in October, complete with a black-tie dinner and a première of its “Coats!” exhibit (through January 10, 2012) at the State Historical Museum on Red Square, detailing 55 years of Max Mara’s history through a selection of 70 coats from the archives as well as photographs and special collaborations with designers like Karl Lagerfeld and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac.

Busy as Maramotti is (she’s also mother to four kids, aged 12 to 17), she doesn’t dream of being a lady of leisure at the castello. She is briefly stumped when asked what she’d be doing if she hadn’t joined the family business. “I think I’d always be in fashion,” Maramotti starts. “Now, after 17 years, what else would I do?” She turns to Giorgio Guidotti, the very Italian president of public relations and her partner in crime in her ambassadorial duties.

“Gaaaardening,” responds Guidotti.

“My roses!” she says. “That’s a great thing, but I couldn’t imagine having only that to do.”