Max Doerr | Design Director at Berluti
Paris has the most fantastic hidden courtyards in improbable locations. The home of Max Doerr is behind a modern-looking school building in a not particularly shiny part of the City of Lights. However, once past the steel door, you find yourself in a postcard, surrounded by plants while the sound of an accordion drifts on the breeze. Soon, we are standing in a dramatic old meets new Parisian apartment that Max designed and built himself – “the parquet is from an English school. I had to sand each piece individually to get all the chewing gum off! They were filthy, but it’s solid oak and a lot better than any of the modern crap you get here.” Everything about Max seems extremely well calculated. “I got into fashion totally by accident. It wasn't on my agenda at all!”
Ah! Maybe not.
Max is the Design Director of Berluti, the Italian fashion house founded in 1895 that turns over some €150m a year, but he insists (in an extreme showing of modesty) that his success was as much through luck as judgement. “I ended up in the UK to study the language, and the people I made friends with were all very into fashion. I figured I had to study fashion if I wanted to keep hanging out with them.” So far, so innocuous, although he glosses over the fact that he was accepted on a scholarship to arguably the best fashion college in the world, Central Saint Martins in London. He insists that the scholarship was thanks to the help he got from his mother who owned a small couturier in Munich, but his Masters project and his CV suggest that there was some talent lurking amid all that humility. Following the Masters in London, he left the UK for Milan where he started to make a name for himself at Jil Sander and Raf Simons.
After a few years of helping Jil Sander become a real success – including designing the suiting and knitwear for Inter Milan – Max was approached by Dior to head to Paris and bring some of that impetus to France. “Immediately I was working in tandem with Kris Van Assche – but don’t forget, he was always my superior! It was a great collaboration, actually more of a collective work ethic. We would have non-stop conversations about all topics because I oversaw everything from coats to glasses to cufflinks. We normally agree on everything, but he has the final say. But, if he goes off the rails, or I go off the rails, we can recalibrate one another. We would say, let’s rethink, let’s re-approach the problem in a different way.” After having barely opened the book on Max’s story, it is clear that teamwork is very important to him. He is quick to attribute success and responsibility to the other people in his life and bases his success and happiness on a shared selflessness between him and his partners.
“Settling in Paris was difficult for me. I had been coming to the city for 15 years, but I had never had a good experience. It was always stressful, always for fashion week or for shows.” However, a colleague of Max’s at Dior was part of a team – the aptly named Public House FC – in Le Ballon Football League and invited Max to be a part of it and everything clicked into place. “The league was a real life-saving experience for me. I didn't know much, I didn't know the language, I had only had superficial interactions with people in Paris and then I came into Pub FC, the league and it built friendships. I like walking around and seeing the Ballon kitbags or a jacket every now and then – I feel more at home, more connected to the city. You see these people with the same bag but in a different colour or a different team crest and you know you know one another, even if you don’t know one another!”
He recalls meeting his teammates for the first time with a beaming smile and genuine emotion. “The chemistry was instantly magnificent! Everyone took me in and looked out for me because my French was not good. There was a good mix of people and professions. On the pitch we knew who the stronger players were but it never affected the playing time. Everyone got their goal, whether that was to our advantage or not! The most important thing was the feeling that we all had together, the group sensation that we had.” The sense of community at Pub FC was more important than the quality of the football, and Max believes it is that which made them a force to be reckoned with, both on the pitch and in the bar. “It’s the same as in the fashion houses that I’ve worked in, you either win as a team or you lose as a team. It’s a cliché but it’s true. In all the places I’ve worked, communication is the key element. In all things.”
His desire to communicate otherwise complex feelings can be found in his contemporary artwork that is dotted around his house, expressing his views on life, religion, and sustainability… He tells me that he has been doing it for years, “recycling stuff, stuff I found, stuff I inherited,” but only recently has he started sharing it with the world, at the behest of his wife, Lisa (whom he speaks to in French!). “She told me that more people should see them, that it needed a platform. As a result, I started putting it out there and was able to do a solo show at a gallery last May. I was really happy; it was great to get some feedback from people. Having an exchange, getting a reaction and some real life insight was really rewarding. It gave me a lot of energy.” He calls his art “playful,” but there is a serious tone to the work, something that mirrors Max himself – a combination of levity and substance. “It’s all quite versatile and there’s a lot about religion because, well, I guess everything starts with religion. But then it becomes quite playful. I guess it shows that we need to be a little less serious and have a little bit more fun.” Max is typically self-deprecating when he talks about the success of his art. Instead, his joy comes from the communal aspect of it, bringing people together to experience and discuss the work face to face. “If someone I know comes to the gallery and says, that’s great. That’s fair enough. That gives me a lot more energy than any ‘fame’ or Instagram.”
This ‘realness’ manifests itself in the way Max plays and interacts with football as well. A fan of 1860 Munich, he has been more than happy to live in FC Bayern’s shadow because of the feelings. “1860 is like Schalke, it’s religion. It’s a people’s club. There’s none of that with Bayern, they’ve won too many trophies. We won our last one in 1966, I think!” On the pitch, cast your presumptions of how a fashion designer might play football to one side. Max – despite turning up to the first training session with painted nails and an outfit that was more at home on an avant-garde runway than a football pitch – is a tough-tackling centre back. One of the “three butchers” in the league, he is happy to tell me. “They called us butchers, but I preferred to think of them as well-timed tackles! I like the physical aspect of the game. I like the beautiful parts, a nice first touch, a beautiful goal, but I also really like a guy running down the wing and someone coming in from the side and slide-tackling him and the ball into touch.” Unfortunately, the low standing of his 1860 means that he cannot use them when he plays FIFA. “Me and my friends would play as a 4, with two people close to the screen trying to charge the controllers on the tiny USB cable, while the two people behind would yell at us that they couldn't see the TV!” As a man who is finely in tune with his emotions and the finer things in life, these moments of shared joy in the stands or on a pitch or computer game are as important as being on the walls of major art collectors.
As we wind down, Max tells me that he is taking every day as it comes in the current climate, and that he wants to stay positive. He has his family and his health and these are the most important things. Before I push stop on the recorder, he leans forward to tell me again just how important the football community is to him. “It really wouldn't have turned out the way it turned out. My life wouldn’t be the way it is if it wasn't for Le Ballon and Pub FC… maybe that's why I'm a little melodramatic today! I thought I was going to be a little bit funnier, but I wasn’t so funny at all!” Quintessential Max: tender yet playful and oh-so happy-go-lucky. Danke.