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Salvatore Ferragamo’s New Creative Director Is Designing a More Inclusive Fashion Industry

Maximilian Davis, United Kingdom

3 minute read

For Maximilian Davis, fashion isn’t just a career choice—it’s part of his family legacy. Growing up in Manchester, England, in a close-knit Trinidadian-Jamaican family, his sister and mother modeled, and his father studied fashion design. When he was 6, his grandmother taught him to sew on her industrial machine, which he used to design unique clothes—including a pair of trousers repurposed from a sweater. While still in high school, Davis apprenticed with the tailor who dressed his mother. “I was always surrounded by people that were constantly creating,” he says.

This foundation proved crucial this spring when Davis, 27, was named creative director of Salvatore Ferragamo, the 95-year-old Italian luxury label known for its shoes and leather goods. The appointment of a rising star in the design world signaled a fresh new chapter for the establishment brand and for an industry that has few Black executives. “I feel honored that people want to see what I could do for such a respected brand with a great heritage,” he tells TIME in his first interview since taking the helm at Ferragamo. “I want to bring a new energy that’s really fresh.”

Davis’ reputation has only grown since he graduated from the London College of Fashion in 2017 and started working as a junior designer with menswear designer Grace Wales Bonner. In 2020, he launched his own label, Maximilian, under the influential talent incubator Fashion East, soon counting Rihanna and Dua Lipa as fans.

Maximilian Davis
Nicolò De March for TIME

Davis hasn’t yet debuted his first collection for Ferragamo, but the four collections he’s released for his personal brand offer a look at his burgeoning design sensibility. His work is characterized by sharp tailoring, bold silhouettes, and richly textured fabrics, all rendered with an elegant sensuality. This manifests in sleek leather dresses with plunging necklines, exquisite suiting, and luxurious jersey bodysuits. He sums up his vision as “Black elegance,” and it’s clear he finds power in celebrating his culture and identity through his designs. His first collection for his personal label debuted in fall 2020 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and a summer of reckoning with systemic racism. Inspired by Trinidad’s Carnival and its joyous celebration of freedom (which held even more significance for Trinidadians following the emancipation of slaves in 1838), Davis sought to present a thoughtful narrative about Blackness: “It was a collection that had a different outlook on people of color,” he says. “I wanted to present them in a very elegant and sophisticated way, rather than this negative context.”

His body of work is also largely inspired by his family. Past collections have paid homage to his grandmother’s “Sunday best” looks for church, family trips to Trinidad, and patterns of migration. During his research-heavy design process, he often thinks of his sisters as well as the elders in his life, ensuring that there are pieces that speak to both younger and older generations.“I think the best collections are the personal ones where people can feel a part of the story,” he says. “If they can relate to something, it always translates.”

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Write to Cady Lang at cady.lang@timemagazine.com