Mary Katrantzou Digital prints
INSPIRATION AND PLANS: “We all don’t like to be pigeonholed. I don’t want to feel like here’s the formula that makes money so just [use] it. It’s not my personality. I might as well go back to Greece and enjoy the sun. But as long as I’m in London, I need to feel that I’m driven to grow not only in terms of scale but also [in terms of] my creative vision.”
WORDS OF ADVICE: “You need to stay very focused and understand from early on who you are as a designer. To find out what is the best way for others to support you is really important.”
Mary Katrantzou is full of surprises. The Greek-born, London-based designer made her name with whimsical digital prints that are worn by A-listers and hang in the world's most exclusive boutiques. Last year, the rising star brought her two-dimensional prints to life via intricate embellishments, beading, crocheting and embroidery. The game-changing move not only set fans, buyers and critics abuzz, it also earned her trophies.
Katrantzou won this year's British Fashion Council/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund in March. The prestigious fund provides her with £200, 000 (HK$2.27 million) and mentorship from industry veterans. The change of design direction has served her well.
I met with the brilliant designer in her showroom in the Marais district during Paris Fashion Week. Dressed in her signature all-black ensemble, Katrantzou exuded passion and excitement as we discussed her transformation.
"The [change] started about a year ago, " she says. "[The company] was young, and I don't want to feel that I've already seen what exactly it would become in five years' time.
"Strategically, I felt it was the right time to move away from digital prints, even though it was a risk because prints still sell so well."
Born into a family of designers - her mother is an interior designer and her father a textile engineer - Katrantzou's interest in print began at an early age. She trained as an architect in the United States before transferring to London's Central Saint Martins, where she received a master's degree in fashion textiles.
Her graduation show in 2008, featuring trompe l'oeil prints of oversized necklaces on jersey dresses matched with real-life versions of the necklaces created with wood and metal, was a hit. Supported by the British Fashion Council and the New Gen scheme, Katrantzou debuted her first collection at London Fashion Week for spring/summer 2009 and became a highlight of the runway show seasons to follow.
Her later collections, featuring tasteful and sophisticated digital prints on easy-to-wear silhouettes, sold like hot cakes. Prestigious boutiques ranging from Colette in Paris to Joyce in Hong Kong and Browns in London couldn't order Katrantzou's creations fast enough to keep up with demand. Today, her designs can be found in more than 250 fashion outlets across the globe.
"There are consumers who are not tired of prints at all, but I think it's a risk worth taking, " she says. "It allows me and my team to challenge ourselves to do things that we can never do with just prints."
Her spring/summer collection that's arriving in stores is inspired by the earth 200 million years ago - supercontinent Pangaea and superocean Pathalassa. "You bet I had to look up this jargon, " Katrantzou says, laughing. "But I love the theme, and I love to have something I can do research on and then translate into fashion."
After a slew of sleek, minimalistic vest and pantsuits dipped in earthy hues that referenced the interlocking tectonic plates opened the show, slip dresses, sheath dresses and miniskirts rendered in delicate embroidery and intense beading came down the runway. Motifs of mystic creatures that evolved from sea to earth were outlined and executed in by Florentine artisans as part of the designs.
Through such creations, Katrantzou says, she and her team learn from the challenges that arise.
"The process has been completely different from previous seasons, " she says. "We worked on original artworks from scratch. It felt a lot more intrinsic to the collection."
While her strategy evolves, her team follows suit.
"Everyone wanted a change and was ready to move on from prints, " Katrantzou says. "We want to evolve into a bigger vocabulary and have a range of depth in the collection that we never had before."
Moving on doesn't mean a complete departure from prints though, Katrantzou says.
"Prints are an entity, and they're perfect, " she says. "It's crucial to keep the prints as well."
Going beyond her signature digital prints, Katrantzou has expanded into other creative aspects. In September last year, she joined an array of acclaimed designers including Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen, Carolina Herrera and Thom Browne to design costumes for dancers of the New York City Ballet gala chaired by Hollywood actress and style maven Sarah Jessica Parker, who wore a Katrantzou gown to the stellar event.
"The biggest challenge was that the dancers were mobile, " Katrantzou says. "They needed to be able to do the lifts, high kicks and other movements wearing the costumes."
She says the experience was liberating. "It's a great collaboration and one of those that you don't do for any commercial purposes. It's just pure creativity."
The thrill and excitement when the hard work paid off were almost intoxicating, she says. "I felt excited about it all. I was also scared because unlike with prints, I didn't know how the collection would look until the very end."