I grew up fashion-obsessed. Not in a wearing-the-latest-designers or a shopping-till-I-dropped way (I wasn't rich and preferred to spend my little allowance on records). But in the deconstructing-my-mom's-magazines, keeping-dossiers-of-my-favorite-designers-and-models, collecting-editorials-and-ad-campaigns sorta way. As I grew up and the Internet became a thing, this obsession easily translated into the cyberworld, especially when Style.com (RIP), a website that posted fashion shows a day or so after they were on the runways, launched in the early 2000s.
I remember the first time I saw Mary Katrantzou's work. I was doing my online rounds sometime in 2009, looking at all the fashion shows from London, when I clicked on her name. She had just graduated from Central Saint Martins, the famed design school in London whose alums include Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney, and was showing her first official collection. To say that it was love at first sight is an understatement. I can clearly see myself, my eyes widening as I clicked through the slideshow, my mouth maybe slightly open. Her dresses were bold and fantastic without crossing over to that realm of clothes that are beautiful but impossible to wear in real life. I particularly recall the simple shift dresses with close-up prints of perfume bottles that turned the models into futuristic vixens. These women looked dynamic and powerful, always in motion.
From that first show I became an absolute Katrantzou obsessive. The next season, she took her prints and pushed them beyond two dimensions with pleats and ruffles that emerged from shirts and skirts that made it seem like your mind was maybe playing tricks on you. There was her "interiors" collection, which seamlessly blended images of, well, the interiors of homes with the garments themselves, the drapes around a window suddenly coming to life in a cascade of fringe that danced as the models walked down the runway. Every season, she managed to remind us that she wasn't simply "good with prints." Katrantzou's collections showed her stunningly creative mind: floral baroque dresses that shipped in huge boxes and stood on their own like sculptures, sweeping gowns inspired by stamps. She could take any idea and make it into a singular creation.
You can imagine how thrilled I was to be able to finally sit down and talk with Mary, after years of adoration. She was everything I expected — kind, bright, and funny — and I was surprised to learn that fashion was not always her path. We talked about being nerds, why sometimes ignorance truly is bliss, and why right now is the best time for women in fashion.
Laia Garcia: You grew up in Greece. Was there a fashion scene there?
Mary Katrantzou: Not really, but I never thought [about] fashion. I painted, and I was strong sculpturally, and I loved art. I actually did an IB [International Baccalaureate] course, and when I did that is when I realized that I wanted to do something creative, but fashion was never big in Greece. There was no Fashion Week back then. Now they do have it, but back then they didn't, and I never really thought of it as a career path, especially because I thought I would just move back to Greece and live my life there.
I kind of knew [I would study] design, and I applied for architecture initially. I went to the Rhode Island School of Design to do architecture, thinking that it was a good mix between something that is a creative discipline and at the same time is practical enough to have a career when I came back to Greece. RISD was such a great school, and when I was accepted I thought, It's so far away from home! I was in that moment where I wanted to be far away from Greece, living on my own. After a year and a half there, I met my boyfriend, and he was doing a special course in London, and I thought, Oh, they have this exchange program between RISD and Central Saint Martins. [I should do that.] So I initially came to London for three months, and I did a course in textile design, because I was strong with color and my mom is an interior architect, so I thought interior design could be interesting.