How to reboot a fashion house, according to Maximilian Davis at Ferragamo

It's a new dawn at the Italian fashion house.
Image courtesy of Ferragamo

Once upon a time in Hollywood,a young Italian immigrant made his way to the City of Angels with dreams of crafting the perfect shoe. At the tender age of 16, Salvatore Ferragamo boarded an ocean-liner from Naples to the United States, and soon found fame as “shoemaker to the stars” in Los Angeles, where he started creating custom-made footwear for the leading ladies of the age.

Cut to last September, nearly a hundred years later, this Hollywood history so integral to the foundation of Ferragamo was the starting point of 27-year-old Maximilian Davis’ first collection as the Florentine brand’s recently-appointed creative director. It was a debut show to remember—of red sand, a palace for a set and a Spring/Summer 2023 collection that bridged the house’s past, present, and future with one resounding message: there’s a new dawn at Ferragamo, and it’s red-hot exciting.

Born to a close-knit Trinidadian-Jamaican family in Manchester, Davis had fashion in his blood. His mom and sister modelled, his father studied fashion design and his grandmother taught him how to use a sewing machine at the age of 6. The young designer graduated from the London College of Fashion in 2017, and went on to cut his teeth under Grace Wales Bonner and Supriya Lele beforelaunching his namesake label from his bedroom in 2020.

Elina sandal. – Image courtesy of Ferragamo

That September, Maximilian made his fashion week debut under British talent incubator Fashion East (credited for kickstarting the careers of designers like Kim Jones, Jonathan Anderson and Simone Rocha), with a Spring/Summer 2021 collection that garnered the immediate attention of the fashion world. Inspired by Trinidad’s annual carnival and its joyous celebration of freedom, his designs were manifested through sharp tailoring, bold silhouettes and a strong colour palette.There were slinky leather skirts, bodycon dresses with plunging necklines and exquisite suiting all rendered with an elegant sensibility that pushed and pulled between restraint and provocation, while celebrating Black heritage and style. Succeeding collections delineated a research-heavy design process rooted in deep, personal experiences: there were references to the Sunday best wardrobe of his grandmother, family holidays at the beach and patterns of migration. Davis was on a mission to bring a new vision of timeless luxury to the fore—with a perspective that broadened perceptions and narratives around Black identity.

Wanda top handle with airbrushing. – Image courtesy of Ferragamo

Maximilian’s pieces were soon spotted on celebrities like Rihanna and Dua Lipa, and stocked at retailers like Ssense, Net-a-Porter and MatchesFashion. Testament to Davis’ skills was formally paid when he was announced as one of the 20 finalists of the 2022 LVMH Prize, but then news broke of his last minute withdrawal that had the rumour mill spinning.

“The last decade has seen the industry in an endless merry-go-round cycle, where the same small batch of established designers switched and swapped places between luxury houses.”

Fashion is no stranger to the game of musical chairs. The last decade has seen the industry in an endless merry-go-round cycle, where the same small batch of established designers switched and swapped places between luxury houses. Thus, the hiring of one of London’s rising designers—backed by CEO Marco Gombetti,who brought Phoebe Philo to Celine in 2008—for an establishment like Ferragamo blew everyone out of the water. The moment was reminiscent of the late ’90s when rebellious young talents like Alexander McQueen and John Galliano were handed the keys to Givenchy and Dior. That aside, positioning a POC in a high-ranking role marked a meaningful step for an industry that often pays lip service whenit comes to the subject of diversity and inclusion. The last time a young black designer was entrusted with leading a maison was in 2011, when Olivier Rousteing took over Balmain.

Beckoned to the main stage, Davis stepped up to the challenge and delivered. He began his journey by understanding Salvatore Ferragamo’s own starting point in the industry and then birthed a Hollywood renaissance of his own for the contemporary age. Dresses were draped, hooded and languid, while archival prints were reimagined into new forms and tailoring was cut close to the body. Alongside elevated everyday essentials, hallmarks of golden age glitz appeared across crystal-touched eveningwear of liquid silk and layers of organza. A striking new Pantone red permeated the moment to codify the brand’s new signature hue—a nod tothe iconic ruby pumps Salvatore Ferragamo created for Marilyn Monroe in 1959, a colour previously seen throughout Davis’ own collections and the flag of Trinidad and Tobago. It was an offering of sophisticated glamour and subtle sensuality—Davis’ design language through and through, refracted anew through a Ferragamo lens to provide a new vision of luxury for the here and now.

Words by Kelly Lim.
This article was first published in the print edition of Grazia Malaysia March 2023.