A resident of Sloane Square for many years, Mary Kantrantzou is heralded as one of the UK’s most exciting designers. Her use of prints and focus on form has had an enormous influence on the industry, changing the face of 21st century fashion. Lorna Davies finds out more
You grew up in Greece – do you think your birthplace/childhood has influenced your design?
The richness of colour in Greece influenced me from an early age. The house I grew up in, in Athens, had a different colour in every room. I remember being fascinated by the different rooms. There was a green room, a blue room, the peach room – and I loved the peach room! My mother was an interior designer and always had magazines like Architectural Digest and World of Interiors around the house. I would tear out the pages and create worlds in small collages. These experiences all helped shape the basis of my aesthetic identity.
You were interested in art and painting, and later trained in architecture before textile design – do you think these varied creative aspects have fed into the way you work/design?
I started to draw from a young age and painted in my late teens. It was when I started doing two-dimensional designs that I found an affinity with developing patterns and an innate sense of balance and symmetry. Growing up in Greece, I never considered a career in fashion, and architecture was a natural progression that allowed me to channel my creativity into a structured career. Art inspires the viewer to challenge the boundaries of perception and interpret the world around us with cross-disciplinary intelligence. Understanding this process has always helped me to forge new ideas.
You launched your own label during a recession – were you afraid of the consequences?
I decided very naively to start my own business after completing my MA. I had minimal business skills, I didn’t know what profit and loss or cash flow was. My naivety gave me a fearlessness to make my own way. Sometimes it worked well and other times I made mistakes, but ultimately it taught me to have confidence in my own instincts.
Your graduate show was something totally different to the minimalism of the time – were you aware you were making waves in the industry then?
When I first started, Phoebe Philo was leading the force of minimalism at Céline. It was a huge trend at the time, and proposing such vibrant, intricate prints was a challenge that I had to overcome and convince the fashion press and my customers with. The fashion buyers took a risk when they invested in my clothes and it was my job to prove that what I proposed was also commercially viable. Thankfully it was.
How would you describe your latest collection?
Autumn/Winter 2017 was one of my favourite collections to work on. We dived it into the fantasy kingdoms of Disney’s Fantasia and the moody cinematic overtones of 1940s film noir to create our own technicolour femme fatales.
Where do you find your inspirations?
I love being able to take inspiration from everywhere, from symbolism to applied design to art and architecture. Objects of beauty and archetypal codes inspire me. The starting point is always personal, sometimes ambiguous, sometimes of a contrasting nature.
Are you influenced by streetwear in London?
London is a fantastic fusion of styles and it is impossible not to be influenced by your surroundings. In the past streetwear elements, such as the trainer for Spring/Summer 2014, have formed the basis of entire collections. In recent collections, sportswear influences have shaped the silhouettes in technical lightweight fabrications, zipper details and billowing shapes pulled together with elasticated drawstrings.
Where’s your favourite place in Chelsea? What do you like about the area?
Sloane Square has been home to me for many years and I love that the area offers such a rich source of inspiration, from world-class museums and galleries to beautiful green spaces such as Holland Park. I can often be found taking meetings in Colbert or catching up with friends over dinner at the Gallery Mess at the Saatchi Gallery.
Do you have a particular ‘woman’ in mind when designing?
Diverse women wear my clothes, and I think the Mary Katrantzou woman is appreciative of design and art, as well as fashion. She likes to make a statement with her clothes and channels her personality through them. I hope that my work has allowed women to dress in a way that they couldn’t dress before, indulging in fashion to define their taste and aesthetic. My garments allow a woman to feel confident while being daring with print, shape and colour. While comfort and elegance is key, wearing the prints and luxurious fabrics that I use in my collections can liberate a woman to dress in a way that reveals more about her personality and style than a dress that just serves a pragmatic function.
What’s the one item of clothing you couldn’t live without?
My go-to dress is a black viscose Alaïa – they’re timeless. Black is a great palate cleanser when you make so many decisions with colour daily. If Azzedine Alaïa could dress me every day, that would be fantastic. His technical artistry is incredible.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Trust your instinct to forge your own path. Taking those courageous leaps and believing in the work will create the unique DNA of your brand.