Following an incredible season, Mary Katrantzou picked up a well deserved Emerging Talent Award (ready-to-wear) at the British Fashion Awards last night. Here, i-D ask fashion icon and fan Anna Dello Russo to ask her friend Mary a few questions about design.
When Mary Katrantzou was growing up in Greece, she either wanted to be a lawyer or an archaeologist. “I was opinionated,” she remembers, “but also inquisitive.” While these two potential jobs sum up her Greek heritage so very neatly, ambitions morphed as she grew older – and she studied architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and thought I could get a job if I became an architect,” she says. “It wasn’t about making buildings, really, it was more exploring my interest.” A move to London – following her neurologist boyfriend, Marios – eventually brought her to fashion and Central Saint Martins. “I still wasn’t sure I wanted to do fashion. I did the MA because I knew Louise Wilson was the best and I wanted to train with her. At that point, it was about stretching my print skills by putting them on a dress.” But since graduating in 2008, three short years have shown that Mary Katrantzou is cut from a different cloth. She has now stretched her print skills to the limit, and everyone else’s minds in the process, and put all of her interests – combining unearthed treasure from the past, architectural symmetry, and bold, almost opinionated prints – together into one unified aesthetic.
Mary played with the concept of trompe l’oeil from her first runway collection – which was an ode to jewellery shapes, each dress a literal copy of another object – and this idea of reworking has since become her calling card. Her spring/summer 11 collection, based on old copies of World Of Interiors, transformed dresses into rooms, lampshades and rooftop gardens. And if summer was about the spaces of high society, this season looked at the women who inhabit them: Babe Paley, Diana Vreeland, the Duchess of Devonshire, and their objets d’art, their Fabergé eggs, Meissen porcelains and Ming vases. These were translated into opulent, luxurious prints using jewel colours and layered motifs of koi goldfish, Chinese screens and jewels. “I always say I’m guest-designing something each season,” Mary explains. “Autumn/winter is about different levels of abstraction.”
Using retro interiors, rather than what we see around us today, doubles the impact – it means these images are transported to not only the wrong space, a dress rather than a room, but the wrong time too. “As I work with these images, I create something new,” says Mary. “If it’s already modern, it’s already new. I’m using decadence but it’s another perspective.” Her collection looks like it belongs in a gallery but, she stresses, “It’s not art. It’s applied design. People were scared to wear it at first because when you see it on the hanger, it looks like something to put on your wall, but it needs the energy of the person to make it complete. And, in the end, it has to be a flattering garment.” That said, the popularity of Mary Katrantzou’s show pieces suggests she’s being bought by a lot of collectors. “The bestseller of autumn/winter is the Faberge egg dress [look eighteen from the show, a concoction of 3D flowers, pearls and velvet flowers] which retails at more than £8,000,” she continues, wide-eyed. “I would never consider that!” So while this is a designer who would never call her work art, perhaps she has reached a compromise – by dressing the walking, talking works of art that populate fashion. i-D asked everyone’s favourite front-rower, Anna Della Russo, to ask Mary some questions… here’s what the designer and the muse talked about.
Do you believe that fashion is a projection of lifestyle more than just designing clothes? I think fashion is a protective layer that a woman puts over her – there’s always a tension between what she is wearing and what’s printed on it. All those layers tell people what you are about.
How important is communication in a catwalk show? The show is so evocative. It’s your chance to bring a feeling to your audience. If visual merchandising is important in stores, it’s equally important in the way you present models. The way you do a line-up is crucial, the space between the models… my boyfriend says the eye can only take in 36 colours at a time. I have to give people time to digest the prints.
Is it better for a fashion designer to stay on-trend or to work to their own inspiration? I think it’s important to follow your own work and create your own way to be unique. There’s so many things that have already been done in fashion so you have to do something different as a young designer. I started my excessive collections when Phoebe Philo took over at Céline with a minimalist look. It pushed me to work harder.
How important is your heritage and background in your job? I formed an idea of proportion so I guess my heritage influences my aesthetic, what I’m drawn to. I have an interest in beautiful objects, no matter what they are.
Text: Lauren Cochrane
Images: Mary Katrantzou with Sarah Mower; Mary Katrantzou SS12; Anna Dello Russo in Mary Katrantzou