Mary Katrantzou on launching Mary Mare, skipping London and looking to Paris
Few designers have created such a distinctive aesthetic in the past decade as Mary Katrantzou, the Greek-born, London-based creator who revolutionized print-making in fashion.
Every designer in Europe went into lockdown just weeks after staging his or her show in February and March. However, Katrantzou has been in lockdown for the past eight weeks. Showing a prescience for which she is noted, Mary actually sent her staff home well before the UK government had issued its orders for lockdown.
Katrantzou had actually taken a break from the London catwalk season in February, inspired by the huge success of her last runway appearance. It was a remarkable sunset show, and an homage to her homeland inspired by Socrates, as well as ancient iconography astrological maps and mathematical equations – staged inside the Temple of Poseidon on an outcrop above the Aegean Sea. As for the soundtrack, it was by Greek musician Vangelis. The show was also staged to aid the children’s charity Elpida, of which she is a patron. Like many designers, Mary has been thinking deeply about the world post-Covid-19, and planning a different approach for her fashion house’s next step.
In the immediate future, Katrantzou will launch Mary Mare on Monday, May 4, initially set to be online due to the pandemic. It’s a holiday capsule collection that was sold to buyers in last year’s Paris market; and presents a chance to expand her size range – extending it up to a 24 UK, and a 20 US.
So, we caught up with Katrantzou in a call her to her new home in London this week, having just moved homes to be close to the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). As to discuss the launch, during which she revealed that she also plans to skip the next season in London again in September. And, is mulling, maybe, to take her brand to foreign parts again in the not-too-distant future.
FashionNetwork.com: How are you and your loved ones?
Mary Katrantzou: I think we are all monitoring all countries, and not just where we live. It’s so shocking to me that the UK didn’t go into strict lookdown immediately. In Greece, you have approval texted on your phone and you have to give a strict reason for going out. There, they are monitory everyone. Here, in the UK, we had to rent a car at the weekend and I was in shock as the roads were not empty at all. Outside of London, we saw so many cars on full roads, we thought people were attending a "Covid-convention" or something! That freaked us out a little, the fact that all this was allowed.
FNW: How are you finding lockdown and living in isolation? Are you with family?
MK: I stayed in London, as we were fortunate to have just moved houses.
FNW: With your boyfriend?
MK: Well, he has escalated into becoming a fiancé after 20 years. Before, we had rented a tiny flat, but we have been renovating a house over the past two years and it just so happens that we really moved in in February. It’s great to have more space for everything. Before, we lived like a traveler’s bride, with just a minibar for a kitchen. So, psychologically, it was much easier for us. Plus, it gave us the chance to begin to complete fixing up the house – which was important. And, I’m very thankful that there is a small garden. It just happened that the change of homes coincided with this very difficult time in history. I imagine that for someone in a small flat in New York, the impact of confinement would be a lot tougher psychologically.
FNW: As someone who works so closely with your team and atelier, what methods or mediums are you using to stay connected and to work?
MK: Like many others, we started using advances in technology. And made the decision to work from home early on. It’s a strange new routine with all these joint teams; but it's also beautiful in a way. It made us bond together, making it through this; to survive as a business and to stay creative. It was quite emotional that first day, when I saw my entire team log into Zoom. We had never shared our home environment. And I have got to so much admiration and respect for the team; how they supported and respected each other. Some people even did their best work. Fashion always reacts to its times.
FNW: How is all of your team? What way have you and your team continued working?
MK: Well, my digital printmaking designer has been great. I have been guiding him through ideas remotely. Plus, we have been lucky enough to be working on a big a collab’ for 2021, a project that does not need any fitting. Comes out in mid-2021. Not fashion. I cannot say more. To my mind, the best wellness tool is to be inspired, to be creative and to keep a work schedule when your feel productive.
FNW: Tell us about the new collection, Mary Mare?
MK: Mary Mare with emphasis on the E. Well, it had not really seen the light of day. We had wanted an all-year round collection using recognizable prints from our collection. With an easy silhouette that would drop through the year. Basically a small vacation capsule where we did not change silhouette so much, and were able to extend the size range up to a 24 UK and a US 20. We planned to open in June, and were going to ship in April, but most warehouses closed at that time. So, we will just launch it on e-commerce now, but with a a sense of community and connection.
FNW: Outside of fashion, Katrantzou has already launched a 61-piece dinner set with Brigitta Spinocchia Freud; and a brilliant series of hyper-color carpets with The Rug Company. Tell us about the stamp motifs you have developed for Mary Mare?
MK: As we could not shoot a lookbook, we decided to illustrate from lookbooks with stamps, and hope they will put a smile of people’s faces. We hope that in June – or whenever things return to normal – it will find its customer.
FNW: Britain has been hit very very hard by this cruel pandemic. Has it affected you creatively?
MK: You try to analyze where you think fashion is going. My perspective about that shifted last year and we did our show in Greece in the Temple of Poseidon. It was not a strategic decision, but more of an opportunity to help a charity and go back to my roots in my home country. However, that changed my perspective. Especially as we received a huge amount of made-to-measure orders, even if the collection was not meant to be sold in that way. But there was so much demand that we ended up skipping the February shows in London. We felt it wasn’t necessary. And completing these orders really made us think that maybe as an independent brand, we should show when we have something to say, and that’s it is not just about next season's offering. Having creativity and philanthropy going together was important. I don’t think I ever saw my team work as hard and be so direct as then, and we needed a certain moment to trigger that.
FNW: Have you kept connected to your social media community, or is this more of a time for reflection and respecting peoples space – both physically and virtually – in the lockdown?
MK: My brand is now almost 12 years old. Maybe now we should take this opportunity to shift and be our most creative. Focus our energy maybe not just on ready-to-wear, and not be limited by last decade’s work. We are not going to show in London in September. It’s part of operational point of view about the way we are producing, as we are unable to go into market this June. So, we are renaming pre-fall as resort and shipping it later. Beyond that, with what we are doing for our partners, it doesn’t feel the time is right. That doesn’t mean not producing a collection, but it doesn’t feel necessary to stage a show in September. But, maybe things will return back to normal in 2021.
FNW: Was there a moment when you first realized the severity of the pandemic?
MK: Probably during Fashion Week in London, I was in an awkward position as I was working on Don Quixote, which was to have been staged in April in Greece at the National Greek Opera. But, obviously, it was postponed. And then my phone started ringing unstoppably, and a friend in Paris asked me was I okay as there was report from a French newspaper that I was the first patient patient in Greece with coronavirus. That I had seemed to have gone missing! Then I read about a Greek woman who had a boutique who got ill and maybe that was were the confusion came from. After that, I realized how scared people became, and how everyone was scared going to the shows. And then, when I went to Paris, nobody wanted to touch me. You could see the fear. So, we when I came back to London, we started staying at home before lockdown.
FNW: After weeks of confinement, leading to a lot of reflection, do you believe how we operate fashion seasons and travel will change?
MK: I think there is a shift in conversation to design more seasonless clothes anyway. We need to look at that more and accelerate that conversation. Necessity is the mother of invention and innovation. And feeling less fearful about making bolder decisions in an industry that was not working is good. When I think of all the pressure then to put out so much product, without having the power to react! I used to think skipping a season was impossible, but not anymore. Maybe it’s time to design less and produce less but instead design and produce better. Fashion reflects its time and this is a modern war version, so I hope when we look back in 20 years’ time we see a ream shift. A more empathetic industry.
FNW: Will fashion consumption and how we see fashion change after we get through this Covid-19 pandemic?
MK: What I am hearing is quite bold, and that makes us all feel excited for change. In Greece, as it was on a landmark, the show was limited to 250 seats for a ticketed event. Well, we convinced the cultural authorities to let us do two shows. Plus, the reality was that the press influence was very small due to sheer logistics. And no buyers could come as they were busy in Europe. But that gave you a glimpse into a certain exclusivity and made it an intimate affair. Even though my shows in London usually held 700 people, because felt we had to invite that many. Maybe we need to show whenever we want. What do you think?
FNW: Well, the last person who really insisted on doing that was Azzedine Alaïa. And some would argue he is one of the 10 greatest designers of all. And, as a result of showing whenever he wanted and making buyers and editors come all the way to Paris just to see his small, out-of-season show, his business never grew anywhere near as important as its potential – given his talent.
MK: You don’t have to convince me about Alaïa. I have been living in a few of his dresses for years! Still, maybe the Alaïa model is the way to go. Even if it is a cost-cutting move, it doesn’t mean that we are not moving in the right direction.
FNW: So, maybe in Paris but maybe also a a different fashion week ?
MK: We have had conversations last year. It’s a bit more complicated.
FNW: Might we be talking about couture in Paris?
MK: Let’s just say that what has happened has given us more perspective.
FNW: Does all of fashion’s incessant travel share some of the blame for today’s crisis?
MK: No, not really. I don’t know if you can blame fashion for transmitting the virus. But when I started, 12 years ago, I recall how excited I was to travel. It felt inspiring and exciting. But today, if someone approached me to travel somewhere, I would really analyze if it is truly necessary. If it is sustainable. Now, when we design, we are considering: do we really need to have the embroidery done in India, the prints in Italy then make it all in the UK before sending it all over the world? Or maybe instead, we should do local design and production, all in one spot?
FNW: Some people have questioned the "All About Me" relevance of influencers in this crisis. What is your view?
MK: I think of influencers often as many are my friends. So, seeing them makes me feel that we are all connected, and helps make me look at different things from a different angle. I like the form of escapism from influencers just before I go to bed. It's a good balance than to keep lighthearted escapisms in such a devastating moment. Frankly, it’s very hard to see what’s going on around us, and it's very humbling. Very humbling. The more we get used to this, the more we are realizing that we need to stay at home and connect with people in a different way.
FNW: What will be be kept from this period and what will be discarded?
MK: We will keep the sense of trying to be better, and use this opportunity to discard things that are superficial. The value systems in fashion and in our lives has changed. So no one should want to go back to what we were before. I see that happening in a genuine way – not as a marketing ploy. Everything now is hanging by a thread. Sustaining through this very difficult period is very hard financially and operationally, but I am hoping a new perspective will come from it. That we will work together and a visionary collective will emerge. Even come together with one voice.
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