We woman designers really get the female form, says Mary Katranzou
Female designers tend to know instinctively what women want and Mary Katrantzou is no exception. But unlike many of her peers who appeal to a woman's more practical side with their modern classics (Phoebe Philo at Céline, for example), Katrantzou has amassed a big following thanks to her bold, artistic creations that strike a balance between fantasy and wearability.
"It's important as a designer to create a narrative that allows [women] to dream or project an image of themselves that isn't just about wearing a functional piece of clothing. At the same time the core of my brand is still real clothing.
"Both men and women design to make a woman feel beautiful, but sometimes female designers are a little more pragmatic in their approach. There is a certain element that makes it more real because we understand the body. That's why more female designers are coming to the forefront of the industry," she says.
Since Katrantzou appeared on the fashion scene in 2008, she has consistently pioneered fresh, new looks for women.
It began at her MA graduation show at Central Saint Martins, where the former architecture student showcased a small collection of dresses covered in vibrant three-dimensional prints of oversized jewellery motifs. It marked the beginnings of the digital print revolution, led by herself and a small group of London-based designers.
"When I started it was a moment. A couple of designers were in synch and together we shifted women's perception on print. I wasn't just doing a floral or a geometric print - it was very much about a theme while making it wearable.
"Minimalism and maximalism have always coexisted in fashion since the 1990s and that was very much my point of view. Women are always looking for newness in fashion and they found it with print," she says.
Over the next few years Katrantzou carved a niche for herself with prints that tested the boundaries of the imagination, ranging from Fabergé eggs to nostalgic stamps and banknotes. To bring them to life she created gravity-defying silhouettes that took her work to a new level, be it Victorian-inspired lampshade skirts or Ming vase dresses. Due to their intricate details, they appealed to collectors, and were also showcased at various museums.
As with all things in fashion, nothing lasts forever. Two years ago the print boom started to falter as the market became more saturated with inferior knock-offs; Katrantzou had to rethink her style proposition.
"It was a twofold reason why I wanted to step away from prints: I felt I wanted to use a different medium because I am not just about prints, and because it was everywhere it didn't feel unique.
"I needed to find a space where I could be innovative and that space for me is texture and form. Print is so bold and visual it took away from form. Now the artwork takes a step back and it is more about the mood. That allows me the space to experiment with different tools, which is exciting," she says.
Her new approach is evident in her latest spring-summer 2015 collection, which focuses on innovative textures. Themed around Pangaea and the birth of the earth, simple silhouettes such as slipdresses and shifts are brought to couture heights thanks to a multitude of different textiles and surface textures. Lace becomes foliage on a dress while caviar beading on a sheer top brings to mind molten lava. Printed and embroidered tulle resembles a serpent's skin.
The collection received immediate praise from buyers and editors around the world including Asia, which Katrantzou says is her fastest-growing market (she is available in Hong Kong at Joyce).
"Here they have a hunger for newness and are looking for new brands, which is so important in what I do. The Mary Katrantzou woman is surprisingly diverse. Yes, you have women who collect the pieces but we also have bankers and artists. Even though the product started as something niche it is actually quite democratic," she says.
This is prompting the designer to grow the line even further. She recently expanded into e-commerce and launched a collection of bags.
"Designers have become curators and having the ability to work beyond ready-to-wear is exciting. It's something I have always wanted to do, but it's taking the right steps at the right time. I don't think lifestyle is a bad term because it's the ability to influence the way people live and what they surround themselves with. I am open to everything," she says.
"Luxury to me is attention to detail, ability to go beyond what you see every day around you. It's being distinctive but also very genuine in its appreciation of craftsmanship. I think Mk is luxury within that definition."
As told to Divia Harilela