I will start the first edit of my designers series with Greek born Mary Katranzou, aka “Mary: Queen of Prints” as she has been dubbed for her first solo exhibition at Dallas Contemporary last January.
On a hot April morning, theB-C Club and I paid a visit to Mary Katranzou’s studio in North London. It was the second time I met Mary, and she was as bubbly and nice and ever. We were introduced to the heart of Mary’s creative grotto, where rolls of iridescent fabrics and eyed-popping prints were being transformed into dresses, toiles were pinned-in and made-to-measures show -stopper gowns were waiting for the last fitting before being jetted off to their lucky owners.
Mary has come a long way since her London Saint Martin School graduating show in 2008. Fashion was not Mary’s first love as she first attended the Rohdes Island School of Design as she has always been drawn to interior and textile design. No wonders Mary became famous by revolutionising digital print and using a wide spectrum of colours. “ I think there isn’t one colour I haven’t used. In fact, I have used them alll” she told us during our visit to her London Studio. And when I asked her then why was she always dressed in black she burst out in laughters saying that it is because we have never been on vacation together. Careful Mary, I might take you up on this one. Mary forgoes any prints or colour when she is in her studio and favours an all-black uniform which helps her concentrate. “Anyways, I end up covered in threads at the end of the day, so whatever I wear, it gets destroyed anyway…” she ads.
Mary’s graduating show in octobre 2008 mapped out her signature style. Inspired by surrealist painter René Magritte, her collection was theme around Trompe l’oeil prints of oversized jewellery featured on jersey-bonded dresses. The outfits sported giant neckpieces which would have been too heavy to wear in real life which the designer paired with jewellery made out of wood and metal echoing the prints.
Despite a tiny capsule collection of only 15 pieces, Mary Katrantzou got orders from 15 international stockists including Browns, Joyce and Colette. Both a commercial and fashion prouesse…
Dresses from the 2011S/S collection also Inspired by Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” painting and entitled “Ceci n’est pas une chambre”
Thanks to her success, Mary Katranzou is one of the lucky fews to has been able to establish her eponymous fashion house right after graduation, thanks to a grant from the Centre for Fashion Enterprise which supported her for six seasons (S/S 2009- A/W 2011). The Centre for Fashion Enterprise also allocated her a studio in which she immediately started working on her Prêt-à- Porter collections, with a very reduced team. “We called it the fashion jail, as it actually had bars on the window”, Mary recalls.
CAJ: “Mary, when you started your eponymous brand, it was only you and a few people. What was your recruiting criteria back then?”
MK: “Energy!!!!!! Since we weren’t going to sleep for a few weeks, I surrounded myself with people oozing energy”. And it is still the case today as Emanuel Carreiras, Mary Katranzou’s COO, confirmed than sleep was scarce during the few weeks preceding the show. Actually, a dress went down the catwalk holding up with safety pins as there was no time to stitch it.
CAJ: After the “fashion Jail” you have moved to a two-storey office /atelier at Canonbury business center. Do you design and produce everything here?
MK: “We have been here for two years and this is amazing because it is a business center hence we are surrounded by interesting businesses and there is a lot of space flexibility. Now we are occupying these two floors and it is nice to have a bit of separation between the atelier here and all the designs at fitting upstairs. We do most of the collections here at the atelier. Nikita and Esther have been with me for 8 years now, from almost the very, very beginning and I love those two girls. We also do all bespoke projects here and we do more and more of those which is really exciting. there is no better way of working than having somebody come in, take their measurements and do something exclusively for them here at the atelier. They can see the whole process and become very involve with it too. All the designs is done upstairs.
CAJ: “You have recently shifted from designing 4 collections a year to only Spring Summer and Fall Winter, why this decision?”
MK: “Yes, we have decided to go down to two themed collections a year. I think that my work is so thematic and there is always a narrative in the collection. So it gets relentless to have to do that every three months. I also find from a merchandise and stores’ perspective that it gets really confusing for clients when collections have no synergy between one another. We are now making every collection bigger but making two thematic collections each year to give us the time to really develop and not constantly chase production. We will now be able to pick a theme and develop a bit more extensively within its range. My brand is very visual and most of the textiles are done by us so we are not only creating the fashion we are also creating the fabrics. o being down to two collections per year will allow us too operate at our most optimum level. Septembre will be the first time we will operating at this rate. The Spring-Summer 19 collection will be presented during London fashion Week but it will be produced and presented to the buyers in June. I hope that with this new system, clients will be happy, stores will be happy, and we will be happy…”
CAJ: “So you do not buy any fabrics at all?”
MK: “That’s right. Most of the textile we use are done by us, we buy very little fabrics except for jacquard, embroideries and lace so the development time is insane. We need more time to developed a themed collection and at least a month to sample it. ” Emanuel Carreiras showed us the different design renderings wether they were printed on silk, wool or cotton. Some felt vibrant, other muted, some had more depth… Developping the right fabric for the right dress takes about two months as it is a key element to the design process. Mary and her team thoroughly sample every item to give it its most potential, that’s another month so no wonders Mary decided to slow down her pace a bit and only produce two collections a yearend do it at the most optimum level.”
CAJ: “Do you have a lot of bespoke orders?“
MK: ” The most elaborated pieces showcased at London Fashion Week will be then introduced to private clients for pre-order as they are more elaborated pieces which could also be made-to-order. We have some private clients who want to do something bespoke with the show so that would be offered. usually those are the most laborious pieces which wouldn’t be offered wholesale because of their price point anyway.” Mary showed us a toile that was an iteration from a S/S18 dress inspired by “painting by colours”in her Nostalgia theme. The lavishly hand embroidered balloon dress had had a train added to it, a special project about which Mary, and us too, is very excited about. But hush…
CAJ: “You had some amazing collaborations with brands such as Adidas, Disney x Colette, Swarovski. Is this a vital part of your business?“
MK: ” Yes, I was extremely lucky. I worked with Colette since the beginning, actually Sarah bought dresses from my graduating show. I was so excited then when I met Sarah Endelman, I told her she could have everything she wanted and everything everything was at £250. Colette and Sarah supported me from the very beginning and their work was crucial for young designers like me. Then Disney approached me to do a Snow White capsule collection for Colette. I was thrilled, of course, but Snow White is a little bit boring whereas the dwarves… So yes, we designed tees and sweaters with the seven dwarfs and they sold out in two hours. That’s the strength of Colette and Sarah.
Disney x Colette Happy Sweatshirt
Disney x Colette Sneezy Sweatshirt
We also designed a small collection of custom jewellery in collaboration with Swarovski. It is available in all Swarovski stores as well as on our website and it is doing pretty well.
CAJ: “Luxury designer shoes and bags are driving more and more sales, are you thinking about developing an accessory line?“
MK: “The two Adidas Collections were a commercial success and they allow me to experience with shoes which I loved. As a small designer, we are always struggling with time and shoes are left for the last minute. And as our collections are manufactured in very small quantities, shoes and handbags would be too expensive to produce for now. This is definitely something we keep in mind as accessories drive sales for brands but the shoes I have in mind for each collection are very elaborate and costly to develop. We do have some home interior accessories and scarves on our e-shop which, with the Swarovski Collection, are more democratic pieces and reach a wider audience.
As per shoes, we do have two designs exclusively for sale at mytheresa.com ”
CAJ: “2018 marks the 10th anniversary of Mary Katranzou, the brand, and you had your first solo exhibit at Dallas contemporary. Tell us a bit more..”
MK: “I’m starting to feel like Dallas is my third home. I have a lot of friends there and they have been buying my clothes since the beginning of my carrer. But I was still surprised when Justine Ludwig, the museum’s deputy directory and chief curator, asked me to showcase my work through an exhibit. But I didn’t want to arrange the outfits in a chronological manner so we decided to group them by colour.”
The 180-piece show is timed to the designer’s 10th anniversary. “Mary has been visually ahead of the curve, and having a survey of 10 years’ work is a way to begin to understand what design means in the 21st century,” says Dallas Contemporary executive director Peter Doroshenko.
Mary: Queen of prints” at the Dallas Contemporary.
CAJ: “The exhibit is entitled Mary: Queen of prints, where does your love of them come from?
MK: “Print can be as definitive as a cut or a drape and allows a woman to filter beauty found in design, in a subversive way. All my prints are constructed through digital technology. Digital print allows me to experiment with print in a way that fine art and other methods could not. It opens up a huge spectrum for possibility; I can create possibility out of impossibility, surrealism out of realism and both vice versa.”
CAJ:” Will the exhibit be shown at London? I am dying to see it”
MK: ” Actually we haven’t thought of it but it it true that is is ready, we have all the outfits and the props. Why not? The design museum would be a fantastic location toi host it. We will have to contact them but yes, why not.”
Thank you so much Mary and Emmanuel for your time and kindness, it is always an inspiration to meet you and see your work. Thanks to the B-C Club for organising this private tour of the atelier. I cannot wait for the exhibit to come to London