NJAL SUCCESS STORIES
NJAL SUCCESS STORIES : There's Something About Mary Katrantzou
When Greek designer Mary Katrantzou opened the Central St. Martins MA show, at London Fashion Week in 2008 she stood out. She immediately established a signature that made her a name to watch, and six months later she was on the London Fashion Week schedule as a designer name in her own right.
Mary launched her brand and was one of the first labels that made their debut online with Not Just a Label, she was precisely number 19 to join the platform. Since then, her brand has grown to global acclaim, so NJAL’s Camilla Morton wanted to ask a real success story from NJAL Alumni not how to survive, but how to thrive.
SPRING / SUMMER 2016 collection, courtesy of MARY KATRANTZOU
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO NEW BRANDS AND GRADUATES STARTING TODAY?
Know your brand and your identity. Figure out what you can offer that's different and stick with it. When I started, the world of Digital print was new and invigorating for the industry yet had very few people experimenting with it. Over my career, the times and fashion have changed, and I’ve explored all avenues including custom fabrication and embellishment, but I have always stayed true to my signature, being an image led brand that has always been about creating a strong narrative.
Fashion speaks without words, it says a lot about who you are, your style, your situation, your soul. It’s self-expression for the wearer and the designer, it also has to sell.
MARY KATRANTZOU 2016 collection, courtesy of MARY KATRANTZOU
WHAT DID YOU LEARN IN THE FIRST FEW YEARS OF HAVING YOUR OWN BUSINESS - OR WHAT CRUCIAL LESSONS HAVE YOU LEARNT THAT YOU WISH YOU HAVE KNOWN?
Your gut instinct is so important, especially because you don’t have the wisdom that comes with experience when you are first starting out. You have to have the strength of your own conviction and not be afraid of the mistakes that you will make along the way. Keep a great support network of people around you who can guide and advise you. Some opportunities come while others go, but having a close team and friends who you trust is important to be able to weigh opportunities that come your way, as you are still discovering your bandwidth and building your brand. I wish I understood then that self-doubt is part of the creative process and that we should use it as an indication of breaking new ground.
HOW DO YOU PUSH PAST THE CHALLENGES TO CREATE - WHAT IS YOUR CREATIVE ROUTINE?
Creation is a group sport. A single idea from a passing comment can inspire an entire collection… or you can hold onto ideas for years before they come to the surface at the right time. Some ideas germinate and grow by working as a group, and each idea becomes perfected when you all have the joint goal of creating something inspired. I can sit for hours playing with print ideas on the body, but I always love to see how the teams interpret what I have seen so vividly, it can sometimes completely turn it on its head and make it even more exciting
BEYONCE RENAISSANCE, courtesy of MARY KATRANTZOU
WHEN PEOPLE THINK OF YOU, THEY THINK OF PRINT, INTRICATE, TECHNICOLOR, POSITIVE PRINT. WAS THIS ALWYAS THE CASE? WHEN YOU STARTED DESIGNING DID YOU HAVE A SIGNATURE AESTHETIC OR DID YOU DEVELOP INTO ONE?
Digital print always waxes and wanes in trends, but my aesthetic has always been about the fun and joy of clothes and prints. One of my collections, SS2013, was inspired by stamps and the world currency; since then, the stamp perforation has popped up several times, a little nod to my archive, and it’s now a prominent feature in our Beach and High Summer collections. These elements work as little nods to our customers who have supported me since the beginning and they allow us to reference our own archive for inspiration and reappropriate it to create something new.
HOW IMPORTANT IS MADE TO MEASURE? WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON QUALITY OR QUANTITY?
Bespoke and custom pieces are some of the best examples that showcase the full extent of our creativity and result in something timeless. It’s arguably the most sustainable way of designing, with very low wastage and the thought that goes into each detail means we are creating a piece that is intrinsically linked to its wearer. We have clients who just want something unique, or we have other clients who come with inspiration from our archive, or they may even have their own vision and want to creatively collaborate on the design.
Our bespoke pieces are all made to measure and the quality isn’t just in the make, it’s throughout the entire creative process, the innovation that happens and our craftsmanship. Quantity is more democratic and allows you to grow your audience. Quality though, is the unwavering advocate for creativity and timeless design.
HOW DID YOU ENSURE YOU STOOD OUR AND WERE "NOT JUST ANOTHER LABEL"?
My work, being an image creator, has always been very personal by default. I started out when wearing print on the red carpet was taboo and my work stood out at a time when minimalism was at its peak. Proposing artistic prints that were daring and were mapped around the female figure, made them instantly recognisable against a sea of repeat florals and geometric motifs.
My aim was to make print as definitive as a cut or a drape. I think if you know my work you can easily recognise it and that is something we built through the years. It was also never just about the image. It’s the narrative, the harmony between image and form, the way we utilised the advances in digital craftsmanship and the drive to constantly evolve.
We are so entwined with our customers’ needs that we will always create to dress her and address the diverse roles she occupies. We never work with a muse in mind and have never been trend driven. I think if you define who you are and know who your customer is, you will always be able to march to the tune of your own drum.
WHAT IS THE SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR SOUL? WHAT MUSIC DO YOU LISTEN TO WHEN CREATING? DO YOU HAVE A PLAYLIST FOR DESIGNING, AND WHAT TRACK IS ON REPEAT WHEN YOU NEED INSPIRATION?
Recently I have been listening to A LOT of Beyoncé, after we were asked to be a part of her Renaissance World Tour. Throughout the creation of her costumes, her new album was on repeat! The one time where I feel that music had an integral role to the creation of a collection was at the show we did at the Temple of Poseidon in Greece.
I was lucky enough to work with composer and dear friend Vangelis for the soundtrack to that show, and I felt that music was so primordial and futuristic together that it defined not only the collection but also gave a voice to the temple itself. His musical genius is unparalleled but more than that, decoding Vangelis‘s music is like deciphering Pythagoras. He always advised me to never play down my vision and I think that’s how he created a language that was entirely his own, made up of sound.
BEYONCE RENAISSANCE, courtesy of MARY KATRANTZOU
WHICH IS THE COLLECTION YOU REMEMBER MOST - AND WHY?
Each of my collections holds memories which are unlocked with a sound or a touch. My shows under the wing of NewGen, and the support of Sarah Mower, are some of my fondest memories. Showing at the Temple of Poseidon, standing high on the cape, the temple on one side, the lapping waves of the Aegean the other side with the sun setting as the show started, will always be one of the most amazing memories.
WHICH IS THE IMAGE OR PERSON WEARING YOUR DESIGNERS THAT YOU TREASURE MOST?
I have been lucky enough to have some of the world’s greatest performers, actresses, First Ladies and friends wear Mary Katrantzou. Seeing Michelle Obama, Cate Blanchett and Beyoncé is always a highlight, but also creating bespoke pieces for the three godmothers to my son (Princess Marie Chantal of Greece, Eugenie Niarchos, Sabine Getty) for his christening in Spetses in 2022 was such a joy, each was inspired by a primary colour and elements from Mother Nature.
SPRING / SUMMER 2020 COLLECTION, COURTESY OF MARY KATRANTZOU
HOW HAVE YOU CHANGED SINCE YOU FIRST PUT YOUR COLLECTIONS ON 'NOT JUST A LABEL' - AND HOW CAN OTHER DESIGNERS BENEFIT FROM IT?
We are all constantly evolving, in life, business, creativity and outlook. Since the pandemic, and since becoming a mother, my life and outlook has entered a new chapter. I urge other designers to still research, look in unexpected places and find new perspectives; if we all stay looking and referencing the same things, creativity is stifled, but if we look for joy, for originality and innovation the possibilities are endless.
See Mary Katrantzou's collections in the Not Just A Label virtual showroom.