Female designers tend to instinctively know what women want to wear and Mary Katrantzou is no exception. But unlike many of her peers who appeal to a woman’s more practical side with their modern wardrobe classics (hello Phoebe Philo) Katrantzou has amassed a cult following thanks to her bold, art worthy creations that strike a unique balance between fantasy and wearability.
Mary first appeared on the fashion scene in 2008, and has consistently pioneered a fresh, new look for women typified by bold digital prints and structural silhouettes. Spring/summer 2015 however marks a new direction for the designer as she evolves from prints towards more innovative textures. Themed around Pangaea and the birth of the earth, simple silhouettes like slipdresses and shifts are brought to couture heights thanks to a multitude of different textiles and surface textures. Lace becomes foliage on a dress while caviar beading brings to mind molten lava on a sheer top. Printed and embroidered tulle resembles a serpent’s skin.
We sat down with Mary during a recent visit to Hong Kong to chat about moving away from digital print, creating fantasy and why she always wears black.
How would you define luxury?
Luxury to me is attention to detail, the ability to go beyond what you see everyday around you. It’s being distinctive but also genuine it its appreciation of craftsmanship. I think Mary Katrantzou is luxury within that definition.
Do you think being a female designer gives you an advantage over male designers?
Both men and women design to make a woman feel beautiful, but sometimes I think female designers are a little more pragmatic in their approach. There is a certain element that makes it more real because we understand the body. That’s why more female designers are coming to the forefront of the industry.
You made your name with digital prints but this season you have moved away from the aesthetic that made you famous. Why?
At that stage it was a two fold reason why I wanted to step away from prints. One, I felt I wanted to use a different medium because I am not just about prints. Two, because it was everywhere, it didn’t feel unique. I needed to find a space where I could be innovative and that space for me is texture and form. Print is so bold and visual it took away from form. Now the artwork takes a step back and it is more about the mood. For me, that allows me the space to experiment with different tools which is exciting.
What is the most inspiring place you have ever been to?
Last year I went to Brasilia which was amazing. They set out to build this utopian city and everything is designed by architect Oscar neomeyer. It’s incredible.
What’s the best bit of style advice you have ever been given?
I don’t think I’ve ever been given any! For women the most important thing is to wear what makes you feel the most confident. For some it’s wearing high heels, while others like a strict look. Once you feel confident in it, your personality comes out.
How has London shaped your aesthetic?
I come from Greece but London has been my forming ground – it’s where my label was born. You are very free to have the strength of your own conviction. You have to be brave about certain decisions as long as you don’t become complacent early on. I was also lucky to be part of that generation that got the right mentorship and advice in building a business that is viable.
Who is your design mentor?
Louis Wilson. She gave me so much, and I am sad I don’t have her in my life anymore. I wouldn’t do fashion if it wasn’t for her. She told me, “Mary switch out of print and become a fashion designer.”
What is in store for the brand looking ahead?
Designers have become curators and having the ability to work beyond ready-to-wear is exciting. It’s something I have always wanted to do, but it’s taking the right steps at the right time. I don’t think lifestyle is a bad term because it’s the ability to influence the way people live and what they surround themselves by. Fashion is applied design like furniture or architecture, so why not? I am open to everything
What’s the secret to your success?
To be successful you have to hit a lot of markets. Look at a brand like Valentino – they have highly intricate pieces that could be considered couture and that cannot be mass produced, but at the same time, they have an entry level price point that still features details of their collection. Successful brands hit every single tier.
We have to ask – why do you always wear black?
Because my aesthetic is so colourful. When you work with so much pattern and make so many decisions a day, it’s made me so indecisive in other areas of my life. Choosing black is easy – I am comfortable in it and I can detach myself from my work. Women who wear black lead very colourful lives! Besides, you wouldn’t be asking me this if I was a male designer!