With less than two weeks until we hit midsommar—the Northern hemisphere’s longest day—Ian Griffiths migrated Max Mara to Stockholm to revel in the light. Even before this resort show began in the City Hall’s Blå hallen, site of the annual Nobel Banquet, the designer proved as reflective as the sun-dappled Baltic waters outside.

Being Max Mara, an exclusively womenswear brand founded by Achille Maramotti in 1951 to empower through clothing a new generation of economically emancipated females, the collection demanded a fiersomely feminocentric origin story. Griffiths—whose Stephen Fry-esque erudition he confesses is at least in part powered by Google—pieced this together in several parts. He began by nodding to Vikings (he claimed evidence their pillaging was gender-equitable) and folklore, then the “troublesome lesbian” Queen Christina of Sweden, then the progressive female protagonists of Ibsen (sometimes played by the supremely witchy Italian actress Eleonora Duse) and the playwright’s contemporary real-life art-collecting Stockholm notables, and then finally Selma Lagerlöf. In 1909 this first-wave suffrage activist and prolific author became the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize, for her writing.

Griffiths’s enduring skill is to compose his narratives from multiple and sometimes oppositional sources—complicated stuff—but then refine them into cohesive collections that appeal whether you know (or care) about that source material or not. He said: “The problem you face when you combine all these intellectual concepts is how do you express them in clothes? How does a shirt express the idea of a modern metropolitan self?” To ask this question proved the start of its answer. So despite this Scandi show’s swirling melange of ingredients the clothes looked light, sophisticated, and more overtfully youthful than your average Max Mara collection.

One effective way of simplifying the message was to render the collection in Ingmar Bergman monochrome for all but the show’s final section. The folkloric elements veered from hygge (Fair Isle snowflakes on waffled knit ponchos) to pagan (paper floral wreaths). A drawstring cord belt built into a house signature cashmere coat, this one with peaked collar and cut in the palest shade of camel, was edged with the pompoms that delivered bouncy punctuation across the collection. Similarly a sleeveless tailored jacket was frogged with folk-sourced fringed tassels.

There were plenty of vaguely pre-Raphaelite and totally Duse-worthy off-the-shoulder dresses that balanced shirred midsection against full sleeve and skirt. A Lagerlöf storyline hinting at early 20th century gender-tension played out in the ivory shirting played against black pussy bow or undone bow tie. More overtly modern were the slim-fitted vest and pants and silk shirts and boxers worn above the elevated flat boots that ran through the collection. A bomber and sweatshirt, black and white respectively, were delivered in mohair fringed sequin check.

Folkish criss-cross stitching on smocked silk shirt-dresses was translated into crystal grosgrain edging on color-blocked dresses. This was the precursor to a floral finale featuring the seven flowers which, it is said, you should collect on Midsummer’s eve and then place under your pillow before sleeping in order to learn the identity of your true love in a dream. Embroidered or in jacquard, they garlanded organza shirts and boxers, layered suits, a vest-top midi, and a series of attractive full dresses of which none could quite rightly be described as a gown. That’s notable because a gown of some sort, something stately and considerable, is usually guaranteed to be on the Max Mara runway playlist. These traveling resort shows, now in their fifth season, are enabling the house with increasing confidence to tell new stories in order to cast a fresh light on its own—and thus ignite the interest of a new generation of women.

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