You are going to be surprised, but Keith Richards is my style icon," says Maria Giulia Maramotti with a laugh. "He's a little rocker and a little downtown, just like me." She's right. Still, it's a bit of a shock to hear the Max Mara heiress—last year she was appointed director of retail for Max Mara USA—name-check a chain-smoking, badass guitarist as her muse.

After all, Max Mara is hardly known for gritty-chic. The venerable Italian fashion house, founded in 1951, specializes in elegance—modern elegance that's defined by classic, ladylike ready-to-wear. Sleek, architectural coats and corner office-worthy pencil skirts anchor most runway collections. The recent spring line is a gorgeous riot of '60s-inspired sorbet-hued separates—think pale yellow leather minis and icy turquoise knitwear that would elate a modern-day Jane Birkin.

"The Max Mara woman is smart and independent. She's always fashion-forward, but never a fashionista," says Maramotti, 28, who relocated to Manhattan from Paris last September.

These days, the tall, lithe brunette spends 85 percent of her day strategizing with store managers and observing the clientele at the brand's stateside shops, including those on Rodeo Drive and at South Coast Plaza. She's on the lookout for cultural trends while trying to tap the sartorial psyche of the American woman. "I see that working women [in the US] don't want to wear a jacket with matching pants or skirts. They might wear a dress with a cardigan or a short vest instead," says Maramotti. "I have also noticed that women want a 24-hour look they can wear during the day or at night. No one has time to go home and get dressed again."

Maramotti should know. She has distilled her own daily look down to a few cool staples. "This is my uniform: a blazer with a T-shirt or white button-down, skinny jeans, and boots or heels in the summer," she says. She also has seven tattoos, including an homage to Richards in the one on her wrist that reads "GIMME SHELTER." She says, "In my work life I am very strict and focused. But I'm more of a rebel in my personal life." To season her straightforward style or amp it up for night, she adds accessories from her far-flung travels, such as an ornate Peruvian necklace. A passionate jet-setter and sailor, she says she would be content hopping around the high seas if she weren't devoted to the family business. "One day, I will sail around the world," she says.

In the meantime, she has a legacy to uphold. More than six decades ago, Maramotti's grandfather, Achille, had a vision for Max Mara. The son of the founder of a dressmaking school in northern Italy, he launched the company in pastoral Reggio Emilia, Italy, with affluent and stylish housewives in mind. His first designs were manufactured coats—a Max Mara signature to this day—that mimicked the silhouettes of French high fashion.

From there the label took off and expanded internationally within years, but the focus on design has never wavered. In the past 10 years, Max Mara has quietly enlisted fashion luminaries including Karl Lagerfeld and Proenza Schouler's Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez to collaborate on capsule collections. But the company doesn't publicize these liaisons or fête their star power for hire. "It's a savvy maneuver," says Maramotti. "Max Mara has its own DNA, which we would never change. But having amazing people interpret our DNA keeps the brand fresh and modern."

Today, with a global operation worth an estimated $1.2 billion, Max Mara is available in 2,279 locations in 100 countries, and such high-profile fans as Katie Couric, Dianna Agron, Emma Stone, and Malin Akerman regularly wear the label on red carpets. Michelle Obama counts a few elegant suits in her wardrobe. It's now a sprawling empire, but Maramotti—who as a teen in Italy was employed as a salesgirl in a Max Mara boutique to learn the business from the ground up—still appreciates its close-knit beginnings. "When I was a little girl, I would do my homework in my mom's office and listen to her talk to designers and stylists," she says with a wistful sigh. "I've been breathing Max Mara since I was born."

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