Mary Katrantzou: Digital Dreamer
Mary Katrantzou – one of Greece’s biggest overseas success stories – bolted out of the gates in 2008, pioneering a thrilling new look for women, typified by bold digital prints and structural silhouettes. She quickly became one of the most talked-about designers with Rihanna, Sarah Jessica Parker and Michelle Obama among her high-profile supporters. Insider’s Michail-Alexander Passos caught up with the phenomenally-talented Katrantzou on her recent visit to Mykonos to talk technology, popularity and Brand Greece.
What stimuli does your creativity feed on? Do you consider creativity to be inexhaustible?
I find inspiration comes from everywhere, from symbolism and applied design to art and architecture. I love to obsess over one idea, dissecting the inspiration to re-assemble a collage of contrasting references and create unexpected narrative arcs for each collection. The source of creativity is infinite. Exploring each idea and driving it into final finished product on the runway is always the hardest part.
In a world where technology is becoming ever more dominant, how important do human factors such as inspiration and creativity remain for you as a designer?
Using digital technology opens up a huge spectrum for opportunity; it allows me to create possibility out of impossibility, surrealism out of realism and push boundaries. These digital tools enable us to explore ideas, but ultimately still require the human touch to interpret and channel ideas to bring them into the physical world.
Recently a lot of renowned fashion houses such as Chanel and Gucci have based their collections on, or been inspired by, ancient Greece. Your own previous collection depicts direct references to your country of origin. Do you intend to incorporate more Greek influences into a future collection?
When I designed Spring Summer 2017, I had never really thought of doing a collection based on my Greek heritage because it was too close to home. But I was researching female deities and came across these Minoan women frescoes and thought, why not? I can understand why others are also drawn to the rich culture and history of Greece – the civilisation offers an incredible richness and it is wonderful to see more attention being drawn to it. For me, the source of inspiration for each collection changes every season evolving into an independent theme of its own and it is unlikely we will re-visit this particular idea in the near future. However, my Greek roots and upbringing will always subconsciously influence me and my aesthetic.
Which one of your previous high-profile collaborations – Longchamp, Adidas, Moncler, Topshop, Repetto, etc – provided the biggest learning opportunity?
Each of the brands I have collaborated with has allowed me to apply my aesthetic to a format I may not have considered before, in that sense it has been challenging but incredibly rewarding. It has allowed us to reach out to a wider audience. For Adidas, for example, it was fascinating to delve through their trainer archive and to experiment with different applications. Moncler allowed me to work on outerwear in a genuine way and Longchamp landmarked my introduction to accessories. Designing for the Opera de Paris was a highlight as it challenged me to design for movement and together with another creator.
If you had to choose between developing your brand further and taking over a fashion house, what would you choose? Which fashion house would you set your heart on?
With my own brand, I feel privileged to be in a position where I can follow my designs from an initial idea to runway and onto the shop floor. It has been an incredible journey to see the company grow and build an amazing team support to turn dreams into reality. I still have many more stories to tell and I am excited about all the possibilities that the future can bring for the brand.
How do you handle your popularity? Many designers or creative people appear to have a very strong sense of confidence or is that just window dressing?
I think one never loses one’s sense of insecurity and I have learnt to live with it and harness it creatively. There must be self-doubt, to be aware of what is happening around you, to be able to filter it, incorporate it into one’s work and be in sync with the times. It is too easy to become complacent when arrogant. At the same time, I also have to be brave when it comes to certain decisions. The balance is a delicate dichotomy.
Being a celebrated name, how would you deal with a run-out of ideas?
In fashion there is always a demand for fresh, innovative designs. As a designer there is never a time where I should stop pushing the boundaries and challenging myself; there is no room to become complacent, only room to develop.
What is the most noteworthy moment from your runway shows?
Our last Autumn Winter 2017 show was a highlight as it showcased the rich expression we have become as a brand with digital print roots that have evolved into luxe fabrications, textures and embellishments to offer a complete brand experience and visual feast. The runway came together in the raw round space of the underground tanks at the Tate Modern, enhanced with rich sounds of the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra playing live. A perfect dichotomy with the ethereal pieces showcasing 40s femme fatales contrasted with Disney centaurettes.
What has been the most serious obstacle you had to overcome to become Mary Katrantzou as you are today?
Evolving the brand beyond its digital print roots to showcase the full scope of our creativity has been a challenge over the evolution of the brand. In seasons past, there has been a deliberate decision to explore fabrications, embellishments and texture to push the creative boundaries of possibilities. I feel we have now reached a point where the collections have achieved a harmonious balance that honours the brand DNA, tantalises the consumer and allows room for further growth.
If you were to host a foreigner in Greece, which are the three most memorable experiences you would wish to share?
I would love to share the rich culture and intensity of Athens, combined with the experience of relaxing island holidays in Spetses. Both locations offer breathtaking landscapes, sunsets and open-hearted people ready to share their stories.