A silly image on Instagram caught my eye – a frivolous reaction to staying home to isolate from COVID-19. The image showed two kitchen visits to the same refrigerator. One female character had a slender body, and “one month later” an identical woman was blown up a little larger.
Even now, in the context of staying safe for our own health and those around us, putting on weight implies something bad.
But why should it?
Suzy with Lynne Webber, Managing Director of Marina Rinaldi, in the London boutique
In Milan, before the Coronavirus crisis, I talked at length to Lynne Webber, CEO of Marina Rinaldi, which is a rare luxury label for clothing sizes from a UK 14 to 28, established by the Max Mara fashion group.
The company, founded in 1951 by Achille Maramotti, is based in Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy, and “Marina Rinaldi” is the name of the family’s legendary great grandmother who, in the 1800s, was the effective founder of clothes cut to fit curvy shapes .
Now, Marina Rinaldi has around 200 stores worldwide, and in the most prestigious locations – including Beverly Hills, Madison Avenue, and so many more, from London to Asia, the Middle East, and Russia.
The Marina Rinaldi boutique in Milan
Condé Nast has chosen the subject of a more inclusive range of sizes for this year’s sixth annual luxury conference, now slated for the end of July in Vienna.
Visiting the spacious and glamorous Marina Rinaldi store in Milan (sadly now shuttered, like so many other boutiques around the world) earlier this year, I had the opportunity to ask the British-born and Italy-based Webber about how the company had achieved ” the impossible “: making big beautiful.
“It’s all part of the challenge of breaking through taboos – a brand to show athat nybody can express flair and a particular style,” Webber explained. “We start with an Italian size 46 [UK 14 or US 12] up to a size 60 [UK 28/US 26] worldwide, except for Asia because there we go down. Even a UK 8 or 10 is “plus” in Asia. But the point is that our style is adapted to size. “
Roksanda for Marina Rinaldi Autumn / Winter 2019
“So, if you’re a size 12 but you have a bust, you can fit into it, whereas another brand might always be that little bit tight,” the executive said, explaining a tailoring technique of using either paneling or darts, ” taken up and down, which makes a difference to the actual construction. “
It seems so very Italian that the skills of today should have been developed by the historic great-grandmother of the Maramotti family. The real-life Marina Rinaldi was an early enthusiast for empowering women as she ran a tailoring atelier in Reggio Emilia back in the 1850s.
“She started an atelier of seamstresses – in her generation, when women could not get employment,” Webber said. “So it was a kind of vocation – providing female employment at a time when there wasn’t any. That’s why she has always been the inspiration. “
A suit by Anttonio Berardi for Marina Rinaldi. Ingenious tailoring “tricks” enable the brand to scale up in size without compromising style or fit
The mom, pop and granny years have changed beyond imagination, with Webber listing more than 300 staff just for the Italian headquarters of the Marina Rinaldi group.
There has been a concerted effort to bring style, as well as fit, to the brand: I watched the arrival at the store of colorful clothes by one of the new guest designers – British-based Roksanda Ilinčić, originally from Serbia, whose 20- piece collection had the statuesque elegance and power colors of her own brand.
Suzy with Roksanda at her London Fashion Week show, February 2020
“I believe in the inclusivity of fashion, and that everyone should be able to enjoy it equally, no matter their age, body type, or cultural background,” Roksanda told me. “I design to empower women while celebrating femininity in all its forms, and Marina Rinaldi does exactly the same. So, when the collaboration came about, it felt incredibly natural – not only because of our shared vision around embracing female diversity, but also our love of art. I was invited to be inspired by artworks in the wonderful Maramotti Collection, which was established by Mr Maramotti, the family owner of the Max Mara group. Their collective and profound interest in the importance of modern art resonated with my own brand values, so that working together made complete sense. “
Roksanda for Marina Rinaldi, Autumn / Winter 2019
Other designers who have worked for the brand over the last four years include Italy’s Fausto Puglisi, the Haitian-Italian Stella Jean and Japan’s Tsumori Chisato
I also talked to Antonio Berardi, the London-based designer who has made a high-end Marina Rinaldi collection after years of buying their clothes for his Italian mother.
Antonio Berardi gives Suzy a tour of his collection for Marina Rinaldi
“It was really easy for me – they let me into their world, which I knew because I used to buy it for my mother all the time,” Berardi said. “I did a small ten-piece collection of things that we thought would complement everything else they have.”
Berardi’s collection, clothes cut with a flourish, are a fine example of offering confidence and style for larger figures.
Antonio Berardi for Marina Rinaldi
© Natasha Cowan
I asked Webber, who was telling me about the company’s powerful sales in Russia, for example, why and how larger sizes are finally being addressed by more of the fashion industry.
“Until today, it has been a subject of taboo, but now the digital revolution and social media have provided a platform to give voice to a huge community of women,” Webber said.
And why have so few companies answered this obvious fashion need?
Accessories by Antonio Berardi for Marina Rinaldi
© Natasha Cowan
“There is a divide,” Webber continued. “Other brands don’t address the ‘plus-size’ community because you can’t do both. We have a design and testing process to make sure that they are suitable for production. “
I would argue that Marina Rinaldi’s strength is also that it dares to be bold – and that its success is due to attitude as well as technical skills.
“You name it, we’ve got it!” Webber said, referring to the sporty or glamorous looks, and including clothes for clients, say in the Middle East, who are obliged to dress modestly in public.
Antonio Berardi for Marina Rinaldi – modest yet sleek, modern and elegant
© Natasha Cowan
“But in their private, social life, when they can express freely how they want to dress, they make very flamboyant choices,” Webber confided. “Outfits are very sophisticated, rich, and decorated, from décolleté to sequins!”
The sixth Condé Nast International Conference, “Gateways to Luxury”, takes place in Vienna on the 29th and 30th July. For more information, visit cniluxury.com.