Constructing the Surreal
Total Management caught up with one of Europe’s most significant young design talents to discover what keeps her focused and what provides her with the inspiration to keep things interesting.
Born in Athens in 1983, Mary Katrantzou’s journey into the world of fashion started early. The daughter of an interior designer and a textile worker, her background developed an understanding of fabrics and technique. Talent coupled with an inherent interest in fashion and well-fitting garments developed a characteristic signature style which brought her to the fore of the fashion world following her graduation from Central Saint Martin’s in 2008. Her profession to date has seen her move to America to study architecture; a skill, which is clear in her design work, before switching to study textile design in London where she now resides.
Your graduating show from Central Saint Martin’s in 2008 propelled you into the limelight and launched your eponymous label. You now stock to over 56 countries and have an e-commerce platform available to clients in Europe, US, Canada and Australia. How does it feel to be in touch with so many people through your design work? Fashion is more accessible now than it’s ever been. We have stockists all over the world, both physical and e-commerce based, including our own e-commerce site. With every season we try to communicate something new, to stay relevant and interesting. It’s really interesting to see how your customer differs across the regions and how stockists tailor their buys to accommodate. We value feedback and tweak the collection from season to season to make sure we’re encompassing all their needs. My design aesthetic has developed so much since I started in AW09 and we rely on the support of our stockists to help drive the brand and move it forward.
You are originally from Greece; do you feel that your Greek heritage and upbringing has influenced your signature ‘trompe l’oeil’ [the art of illusion] style? My roots are often brought into question when it comes to my designs. Greece has an incredibly rich history, but I wouldn’t say its heritage directly influences my designs. My aesthetic has been shaped more so by my culture, my sense of colour and symmetry.
What is it about the combination of surreal designs with architectural precision that inspires you? They’re opposite ends of the spectrum but I like the dialogue they create when married together. My collections are very thematic; they tend to start off with visual imagery that later helps to define our mood and intention. We create mood boards, reworking and refining them until we’ve created our own interpretation. My designs are always structurally sound; ill-fitting clothes are my pet peeve! So silhouettes are always precise, each seam and drape has been considered. I like the collections to be open to interpretation so that’s where the element of surrealism always comes in!
You are continually innovating and have collaborated with a number of renowned brands including Swarovski, M for Moncler and Topshop. How do you decide on partnerships and where do you notice synergies? Timing is key when it comes to collaboration. They’re not to be entered into lightly as they take a lot of time and commitment; we’re now designing four collections a year now so have to make sure we have the resources to commit to it wholeheartedly. I treat collaborations as an opportunity to learn something new, explore an area I haven’t worked in before. The collections we’ve created with Adidas Originals have been an incredible learning curve, their innovation in sportswear is inspiring and their archive in Nuremberg is like nothing I’ve seen before!
Your brand has expanded from women’s ready-to-wear to leather, jewellery and shoes, do you have a preferred area to work in? I love a challenge, if something seems easy then I’m the first to question why it’s easy and what we can do to develop it further! I like the fact that we now have different elements that make up the brand; it keeps things exciting and allows you to innovate in new areas.
“There are so many women whose strength and power I find inspiring in different ways – my mentor Caroline Rush, the late Louise Wilson, Zaha Hadid, Tilda Swinton – the list is endless but ultimately it’s diversity and confidence that inspires me to do what I do.”
When you see people wearing your designs how does it make you feel? Is there anyone in particular who has worn one of your pieces that has made you stop in your tracks? I feel incredibly proud and humbled too! I never design with a specific muse in mind, I find it too limiting and I don’t think that’s how fashion should be. I like how diverse our customer is, it makes me smile when we visit trunk shows and I see mum and daughter arrive both wearing the brand. There are so many women whose strength and power I find inspiring in different ways – my mentor Caroline Rush, the late Louise Wilson, Zaha Hadid, Tilda Swinton – the list is endless but ultimately it’s diversity and confidence that inspires me to do what I do.
You have lived in London for a number of years both as a student and professional designer. Can you tell us more about your life in London? Busy, no day is ever the same! I try to fit in external meetings in the morning, so I’ll either go to Colbert on Sloane Square or Little House and then head straight to studio for a full day of design meetings. My evenings are often spent either at an event, a catch up dinner with friends or on the sofa with my boyfriend and the latest series! If I have any free time at the weekend then I love to go for a manicure, have a wander around a gallery – the Saatchi is super close by, catch up with friends, go for dinner; The Palomar is one of my favourites.
Are there any other London based designers whom you look up to? London is a really exciting place to be a designer, the BFC [British Fashion Council] play such a fantastic role in supporting new talent here and I love seeing new designers emerge through the ranks!
You travel regularly between the fashion capitals for work. If you could pick one place in the world to escape from it all, where would you go and with who? If I had the time, I’d love to go and explore parts of Africa with my boyfriend.
Greece is somewhere close to your heart; you can let us in on a Greek travel secret? Go to the island of Spetses. It’s beautiful, calm and has an authentic charm – there are no cars!
November 12th 2015