Mary Katrantzou in Dubai on interns and palette cleansing
The biggest problem when founding and driving a fledgling fashion house is managing people, and the smartest solution is listening to everyone’s opinion, including the intern, insisted the queen of digital printing Mary Katrantzou in a packed Q&A on the opening day of Fashion Forward Dubai (FFWD).
“I was so naïve when I began and told my parents that I would not be able to sell anything from my first collection as it was all about making an artistic statement and not being commercial. And, they responded, ‘what’s the point of making the clothes if you don’t expect anyone to wear them?’” laughed Katrantzou, recalling her debut before an audience of 200 inside the Dubai Design District.
Eventually, and to her surprise, she received multiple orders from London to Hong Kong, and realised she would actually have to produce the collection. “Which is when I grew up quite fast, dealing with production and logistics. Working out how to make an actual delivery or control a 30-day purchase order was tough,” winced the 33-year-old Greek-born designer. She debated with Ghlizlan Guenez, founder of e-commerce business The Modist, in a conversation moderated by Dubai-based fashion editor Ritu Upadhyay.
Katrantzou debuted her own label in 2008, immediately creating a highly recognisable signature style based on trompe l’oeil prints – from giant gems and jewellery to perfume bottles and architectural prints. By 2011 she had won the British Fashion Award for Emerging Talent; by 2015 the Vogue/BFC Fashion Fund award with a £200,000 grant.
However, Katrantzou admitted that she used to think that because her prints were so central to her style she was addressing a narrow elite. “But because my silhouettes are relatively covered up and easy to wear I was really being very democratic. I have actually dressed three generations of women in the same family. From a terribly elegant grandmother, to a self-assured professional mum, to a granddaughter who wanted to be more girly, which made me very happy,” said Katrantzou.
Asked about her creative process, she replied: “I am a Google-based designer. I mean I get ideas and surf on there and then finally work out what I want to do.”
Much of her progress she admitted had been driven forward by partnerships with other brands. Katrantzou has created kaleidoscope colour apparel and footwear with adidas; grand dowager, hyper peplum jackets for Moncler and exclusive print totes of orchids for Longchamp.
“To be honest when I don’t know about a new product or category that interests me, I work with a big brand and I end up understanding it pretty well,” she explained.
“Whatever you do, don’t be market driven. You will never succeed if you just follow trends. They last, what two years? We all want our careers to last for decades, no?” said the creator, She stressed that she launched her hyper-coluor, print-driven house in the midst of a minimalist era. “If I had followed the market I couldn’t even have created a collection!” she laughed. Today she retails in some 280 doors worldwide.
“It’s vital to discuss what you do with your whole team. To share ideas and dreams, even with your latest intern, who arrives fresh and full of hope. But in the end I always follow my own lead,” conceded the designer. Ironically, for such a print-crazy mixologist, Katrantzou always wears all black. “It’s a palette cleanser. Like my apartment in London which is all black and white. The only time I wear colour is on holidays and then I go neon!”
Turning to social media, she noted that her own Instagram account remains highly personal: “I love just taking images of independent women, especially women who I feel are empowered by my clothes.”
Katrantzou told the rapt audience that one of her greatest satisfactions was meeting such a lady, who had been invited to the White House Correspondents Dinner. After a personal shopper directed her to Katrantzou, she wore a bold print dress to the soirée and three months later was married to her date. “That brought tears to my eyes,” welled up the designer. “Mary, Can you please help us locate that dress!” joked moderator Upadhyay, bringing a huge burst of laughter.
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