Mary Katrantzou: One print to rule them all

Portrait of fashion designer Mary Katrantzou

Interview: Stavroula Kleidaria // Photos: Iakovos Kalaitzakis

How did you enter the fashion business?

Fashion was not a factor in my life. It appeared on its own when I started designing after I moved to London. I followed my boyfriend who was working here and it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. Fabrics had been part of my family’s business and had always inspired me, but what drew me in was the way printed fabrics can change a body’s shape — and also the fact that fashion allows the meshing of influences which can then be interpreted into a piece of clothing. I launched my business as I was graduating from Central Saint Martins. I was fortunate enough to have some influential buyers interested in my designs, so running with that was the thing to do. The Designer of the Year Award at the British Fashion Awards was a milestone for me. It is such a great honour to have your work recognised; I am really proud of what we have achieved.

Mary Katrantzou boots

When did you realise that you are part of the fashion world? And how easy was it to get there?

I never anticipated that my brand would grow so fast. We worked really hard with my team and we always remain on focus. We launched at a time when minimalism was flourishing, so fashion buyers took a risk by investing in my clothes. But it was my job to prove that my proposals could also be commercially viable. My professor at Central Saint Martins, Louise Wilson, helped me believe that I could be where I am today and I owe her a great deal!

What is fashion to you?

Fashion allows me to experiment in a way that art doesn't. It opens up a wide range of possibilities; I can create things from the unexpected, do something surreal that’s been inspired by realism. To me, fashion means to create something new, groundbreaking, something that others will appreciate for its sophisticated design, as well as its functionality.

Have there been times that you felt like giving up?

When I left my family to live in London and had to sacrifice my social life, of course I had my moments of sadness. Every designer will tell you that the time requirements for the job are so enormous, that your personal life takes a back seat. Achieving success, though, can make up for that. I have experienced pure joy when people enjoy wearing my clothes, so eventually what takes over is a sense of pride for the hours you dedicated.

Mary Katrantzou atelier

What is your advice for a young person who wants to work in fashion?

I have been given advice by a lot of amazing people throughout my career, but the most important thing is to stay focused on the goal and to be consistent in my creative aim. I think that it's important to innovate, to be creative, and to believe in your ideas because if you don't, nobody else will. It’s important to also communicate with a lot of people and ask questions — no matter who you’re talking to, there’s always something new to be learned.

How did the idea of doing prints come about?

Prints are visual, you can do a lot with them, you can create your own world. My job is about perception and perspective, and my focus is to design desirable garments that flatter a figure. We spend hours and hours working on each print so that we get it right. Every print is created for each garment specifically and every garment is defined by the print so that there is a direct synergy between them — there is no room for mistakes. It's important for me that my clothes flatter the body, so a feminine form is what defines my prints. Accentuating the back with a strategically placed print or broadening the shoulders is an integral part of my thought process of how a print can empower the image of a woman. It's important to be in synch with the times and to create something that is unique, or to try to give shape to the way people might dress in the future. Thinking ahead of fashion is vital. What you wear is your way to communicate with the world and prints can do that in a very direct manner.

Mary Katrantzou print dress

Where do you find inspiration?

Inspiration arrives when I least expect it. I can spend hours browsing through art books, cook books, photography, or surfing the web. More often than not, it's just one image that becomes an idea, a theme that gets bigger and bigger. I feel that I am inspired the most when I'm around creative people.

Who are the people in the fashion world you most admire?

Creativity is contagious, so when I see someone who pushes the limits, or is working on a concept with ingenuity, I want to learn more. Coco Chanel empowered women through fashion. In my work, I try to create clothes that flatter and empower the image of women. Pierre Cardin changed the way designers introduced fashion. He was quoted saying, “Whether I design sleeves for dresses or legs for tables, for me it's the exact same thing.” I'd like to build a brand that has a diverse product offering with lifestyle elements.

What do you feel when you think of Greece?

My home will always be 100 percent Greek. I love going back to my friends and family, and they have been greatly supportive. My mother, a very creative mind, gives me very honest feedback, which sheds light to the things I might not have noticed otherwise. I have been truly encouraged by my Greek followers. It's really touching that I can represent my country in the fashion industry. Greek people have some unique qualities and it's a shame that they’re being overshadowed by the financial crisis. It's our responsibility to start from scratch. On a cultural level, we could get re-organised and put new ideas into action, proving that we have still a lot to offer.

Mary Katrantzou in her studio

You seem to be temperate, patient, and you keep a low profile. Have these qualities helped you in your career?

I consider myself lucky as I have trained myself to only need five hours of sleep. This means that I’ll have done most of my work by the time I arrive home. I usually go to bed around five, depending on the weather and whether I'm on a creative roll or not. When you are busy, it's hard to balance work and life, but I love what I do so my work is my life. I believe that trial and error are fundamental in success and if you don't have the guts to try, you will never know what could have happened.

How do you see yourself in ten years from now?

My brand grew really fast, yet there are still so many things I would like to achieve; my priority, however, is to have a bigger and stronger team so that we can all weather the challenges together. Aesthetics in the fashion industry is something that I find intriguing, which tempts me into new design territories - this, of course, doesn't mean that I would stray from prints, but I do want to try and differentiate my work somehow. Ten years is quite a long time and you can't really predict what might happen, but I hope to have a solid international brand and establish it as a global fashion house.

Are there any goals that you have yet to accomplish?

I'd like to have my own concept store that would include fashion, art, and lifestyle products. I'd also like to see Anna Wintour wearing one of my designs. She has impeccable taste and that would be an important moment for me.


This interview has been published in Glow Magazine.

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