Having teamed up with Weekend Max Mara for its new signature collection Family Affair, New York-based stylist Gabriella Karefa-Johnson discusses her innate sense of style and the key inspirations behind her bold, colour-clashing capsule
How did the collaboration with Weekend Max Mara come about? It came about very organically – the brand approached me and it was a very easy yes. I found the challenge of infusing a heritage Italian brand with my multicultural New Gen and rather eclectic aesthetic to be very appealing, and the design team was eager to collaborate closely on merging our two worlds. As soon as we connected and I spoke about some of the influences I wanted to see in the silhouettes and patterns, they were so committed to bringing the vision to life.
You were inspired by the members of your family to create the capsule – how does your family shine through in the clothes? I am eternally inspired by my family members in every way. At the risk of sounding biased, we have an intrinsic sense of style and taste that has persisted through generations. My mother travelled the world with her parents who were diplomats, and luckily my grandfather carried a camera everywhere, so the source material of what very chic beautiful people wore in those leisurely moments abroad, on vacation, or on the weekend at home was limitless. I was really drawn to what they were all wearing in the ‘60s and ‘70s when my mom was a pre-teen.
Who would you define as a source of inspiration? My mom – there’s one particular picture of her hanging out with her friends at boarding school that really inspired some of the head scarves and mini-dresses. My grandmother is also a huge inspiration throughout the collection – she was so incredibly elegant and dressed in traditional West African attire as much as she did European designers. Style was effortless for her and that’s precisely what I wanted to communicate in this collection— a sense of innate, amazing style with very little effort. Pieces that sing all on their own.
You took inspiration from the ‘70s for the capsule – what do you like most of all about this decade? The playfulness in self presentation. Those who were stylistically inclined really dressed to be seen. Everything was about colour and print and shape – those are the elements I always look to in my self-styling and that always influence my work.
There are many prints in this collection, how did you mix them together? I’m a fan of chaos as an organizing principle. Visual dissonance is really at the heart of a lot of the styling I do, and I like when the mind has to work a bit to comprehend what the eyes are seeing. This is why I was so inspired by Bridget Riley’s op art works, which influenced a bit of the distortions in the patterns.
What kind of women do you see wearing this Signature Collection? My sincerest hope is that any woman would wear this collection – it’s bright and fun, and we all need more light and joy in our lives! I love the idea of a young adult like me pairing the prints with jeans and a T-shirt, but also the idea of a refined older woman letting loose. Almost as if you share a closet with your grandma… How fab would that be!
We are all facing a pandemic – did you learn anything special from this experience? I learned more than I could ever write during this pandemic but, specific to this collection and the process of creating it, I learned that so few things are as precious as family. The Gabriella Karefa-Johnson x Weekend Max Mara Signature Collection is available at Max Mara boutiques nationwide from March 2022
Photography by Gigi Hadid