Few could deny that London-based fashion designer Mary Katrantzou has a distinctive design style. Irresistibly bold, her trademark digital prints stand out and command attention.
Since early 2008, when she debuted her first collection featuring eye-catching trompe l’oeil prints of oversized jewellery, Katrantzou has used print to chart a very individual course in the fashion industry, building a strong brand based on her imaginative yet uncompromising vision.
“Print was my first form of expression,” says Katrantzou. “Through it I can create possibility out of impossibility.” Indeed, many of Katrantzou’s designs do appear to subvert reality — 3D butterflies seem to delicately cling to garments, while intricately embellished dresses heavy with beads glitter like stars. Playing with ready-to-wear convention, Katrantzou’s other notable pieces include lampshade skirts and perfume-bottle dresses, all of which are tied together by print.
Combining some of her top prints, patterns, shapes, techniques and silhouettes from previous years, Katrantzou celebrates her 10-year anniversary with a two-part line split into Spring/Summer and Autumn/ Winter. Known simply as the “Collection”, it includes the iconic fragrance bottles from AW09, which were reinvented in metal mesh and crystal embroidery, while a patchwork of stamps and old-fashioned banknotes on dresses were drawn from SS13. “For the SS19 anniversary collection, I wanted to explore the idea of collectibles, from perfume bottles to postage stamps to objects d’art.
It’s a recurring theme in my work. The show pieces we created will, in turn, become collectibles in women’s wardrobes and private collections,” explains Katrantzou, who has garnered an impressive collector’s club that includes Cate Blanchett, Beyoncé and Keira Knightley.
“As much as I am a child of the digital revolution, I am also deeply inspired by craftsmanship and authenticity,” she says, reflecting on the dualities in her work. “But being in sync with your times and following advances in technology is also imperative. For AW19, we are working on the second part of our 10-year anniversary collection, but I’m flipping it on its head and focusing on the concept of intangibles, allowing us to revisit past collections based on such ideas. We are doing it through Aristotle’s five elements: earth, water, fire, air and aether,” she adds, not giving too much away before the collection debuts at London Fashion Week in February. Of course, this being Katrantzou, those famous prints will feature heavily.
“A print can communicate through use of colour or heritage — it is a way to express yourself, it has narrative,” says Katrantzou. “To me, fashion is one of the most direct forms of expression — there is such a broad vocabulary in it. Every season, we learn new words and try to form a story through our collection.” She explains that her designs often derive from “filtering the beauty” that she sees around her. “I see the world through form, colour and pattern.”
Honing her designs is a process that requires a neutral workspace. “The studio is a blank canvas, which acts as the perfect backdrop when so much of my day involves design decisions,” says Katrantzou, who uniformly wears black as a “palette cleanser”. In the studio, huge moodboards are tacked with magazine pages, photographs, images of jewellery, objets d’art and iconic fashion references, along with material swatches, artistic inspirations and key motifs.
“We create 90% of the fabrics in our collections and design all the artwork that becomes the foundation of that season. We work with the most amazing mills and suppliers, which still operate machines that are sometimes over 100 years old, but we also push them to create work they didn’t think would be possible. That’s the most exciting part — coming up with something new through collaboration,” she explains.
Looking ahead, collaborations feature high on Katrantzou’s agenda. “We are currently involved in a few really exciting projects,” she says. “We are working on a ballet with choreographer Russell Maliphant and composer Vangelis called The Thread [which premieres at Sadler’s Wells in March]. Then in April, we are working towards a solo exhibition at Scad Fash in Atlanta.”
She is also expanding into interiors with two separate projects, one with The Rug Company on a collection of eye-catching floorware and another with German firm Villeroy & Boch on a line of tiles. “I always challenge myself to try new things,” she says, “or to see things with a different filter, which shapes me as a designer.”