This past summer, Maria Buccellati posed on a Jet Ski after dark for photographer Ellen von Unwerth in Miami Beach, before jetting off to Cairo to show the Faith Connexion Summer 2021 collection.
No ordinary fashion brand president, Buccellati sported Faith frocks with the Giza pyramids as her backdrop, both looking the part—she called herself Maria of Arabia, a nod to the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia—and promoting the line she has helmed since 2017. Then it was back to the States, where she stopped in New York for the opening of Public Hotel by Ian Schrager, an immersive art experience at Super Real, and a visit to the yet-to-be-opened private club Casa Cipriani, where she is a founding member.
But, even after all her glamorous travels, it was a grainy Instagram video clip of her in a car that may have captured where her heart truly resides. Wearing a white Faith Connexion asymmetrical gypsy dress, she danced in the backseat and sang along with Carlos Santana’s “Maria Maria”:
She reminds me of a West Side story
Growin’ up in Spanish Harlem
She’s livin’ a life just like a movie star”
The caption read “Back to Miami,” but the joy on her face was worth more than a thousand words. Maria Buccellati—who indeed lives her life like a movie star—was heading home to the sleek four-bedroom, two-story residence on Palm Island that she purchased in 2018. Though she has long divided her time between New York and Paris, her Miami retreat may very well become her primary residence. It is closer to her daughter, Lucrezia, and her family, who live in Palm Beach, and the area is home to friends and a healthy lifestyle Buccellati has truly come to enjoy, especially during the pandemic.
Creativity can happen anywhere, after all. “I’m loving it here,” she says. “I’ve been here for the past year during the pandemic, and I’m really loving reconnecting with friends and people I haven’t seen in a while. I’m also enjoying the healthy environment. It’s so beautiful to wake up in a place with the ocean nearby and the sunshine. Plus, there’s this energy here that I used to feel in New York. People are coming here. I feel all the cultures, and it is becoming one of the major cities for art and fashion and creativity.”
Buccellati is no stranger to the city. Born in New York, Buccellati (née Cabrera) grew up in Miami and went to art school here before meeting Eileen Ford, who convinced her to become a model. Dividing her time between New York and Miami after she was discovered, Buccellati posed for Sheila Metzner at Vogue during the Polly Mellen era as she finished her degree.
Then came the shows. Buccellati walked with Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford in Italy for Dolce & Gabbana right before the brand became hot, and eventually became its muse. “They saw me as a Sicilian Maria Callas,” says Buccellati, referring to the American-born Greek opera singer often referred to as La Divina (“The Divine One”).
Divine in her own right, Buccellati modeled for other designers, but says Dolce & Gabbana remained “very inside of my heart.” While in Milan, she met her then-husband Andrea Buccellati (of the century-old luxury jewelry brand Buccellati), raised two children, and launched a swim brand. But she also found herself giving designers advice on everything from developing their collections to their business structure.
In 2011, Buccellati became an advisor to Faith Connexion, a Paris-based brand founded in 2002 that mixes high fashion with street wear. “I loved the brand, and it had a big chance to make it, but it had to be developed,” she explains.
Faith Connexion brought in investors and targeted designers from Balmain to elevate it to the next level. It took a few years, Buccellati says, but by 2016, Faith was the brand of the moment, often talked about and copied as it grew its global distribution in stores such as Barneys, Harrods, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Celebrities like Ariana Grande, Jay-Z, LeBron James, and Alicia Keys were widely photographed wearing Faith pieces, while producer/rapper/DJ/entrepreneur Swizz Beatz not only invested in the company but developed an 11-piece capsule collection for it too.
Buccellati moved to Paris in 2017 and took over as brand president before the pandemic hit. Since then, she has hired new co-creative directors and relaunched it to be a tighter, simpler operation that’s closer to its production center in Milan.
Like moving to Miami, the strategy is healthier in the long run.
“I think since the beginning of Faith Connexion, the idea was to slow down the fashion cycle,” says co-creative director Alexandre Bertrand. “It goes too fast, which means it goes too fast for the human beings working there. We used to produce too much too often, and so we would lose control of what we created and distributed. Slowing down the cycle is better for the humans working there and better for the whole environment.”
Faith Connexion is like a family, notes Bertrand and his co-creative director, Myriam Bensaid. That’s partly due to Buccellati’s trust in them and what they create, but also to the brand’s stated aim to be more inclusive. Bertrand, who is gay, grew up in the French countryside and says the road to self-acceptance was hard for him in his youth. Bensaid, for her part, comes from a Moroccan family and worked in menswear, two factors that she believes made life difficult for her. Bertrand and Bensaid are close, and because of their experiences feeling like outsiders, they want Faith Connexion to embrace rather than es- chew diversity in all its forms. Buccellati has been supportive of that, they say.
“We want to show people what else is possible, and also have a bit of fun,” adds Bensaid.
This new era, with its focus on sustainability and inclusivity, has opened up opportunities for Faith Connexion that are currently in the works. For now, Buccellati seems happy that her own path has taken her back to her hometown.
Prior to leaving for Egypt, she hosted a private party at her home for fellow designer and friend Alvin Valley, who opened a pop-up shop at The Ritz-Carlton South Beach. She says she loves being surrounded by creative people like him and being able to host them at her home. Of course, she’s also a regular on the beach and at the Saxony Bar at the Faena Hotel Miami Beach, because she “likes the world of it.” She is also a founding member of Casa Tua and a habitué of local art museums and live music venues.
“It’s not just all work for me,” she says. “I realize how much I have [to be grateful for] and how much I have around me. This time has helped me to be stronger and believe in the things I am doing.”
Eventually, Buccellati envisions developing an incubator for fashion, art, and other forms
of self-expression in the city. Right now, she’s working with her team to find the space and forge partnerships with brands that can help creative people develop their ideas. Perhaps
there will be a prize attached to this project too.
“I am really focusing on Miami as my city,” she concludes. “I’ve enjoyed it so much, and it can be such a base for a world of creativity.”