Mary Katrantzou: London’s Colorful Designer Leaves Prints for the Runway

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Published February 22, 2011

 

PHOTO BY ALEX SAINSBURY

Mary Katrantzou almost exclusively wears black. Her London home, she admits, is as minimal as it gets, with plain white walls adorned only by an old horse painting that came with the house. “It’s not because I don’t like prints or bold color,” she assures. Obviously—because, contrary to her simplistic uniform and soft, quiet demeanor, Katrantzou is London’s leading designer of explosive prints.

Katrantzou first wowed two years ago when she debuted her line of easy silk shifts printed with vivid trompe-l’oeil images of perfume bottles. Her silhouettes were plain, but the lines and details of the graphic, multi-colored crystal vessels that covered the fabric were impeccably placed, curving to highlight the best parts of a woman’s body. “In the beginning, I wanted simplicity. I wanted the print to do all the work,” says the designer. “But that’s changing because, when I started, my knowledge of fashion was very minimal.”   Minimal may be an understatement. The Greek-born Katrantzou has no vivid memories of fashion as a child, other than meeting Pierre Cardin, who she thought was an interior designer. “I asked him if he could come and do our house!” she laughs. Katrantzou’s mother was heavily involved in the design world, and the young print maven was fascinated by architecture and interiors. Her interest only grew with age, and, before moving to London to study textiles for interiors at Central Saint Martins, Katrantzou was an architecture student at the Rhode Island School of Design. While Katrantzou developed her sumptuous prints in the classroom, she became fascinated by the fashion students at the college. “It seemed very exotic to me that a model could wear my [textile] designs,” she recalls. And soon enough, she decided that her prints were better suited for a body than upholstery and drapes. “I realized my prints were wearable… and I think they really change when they’re worn. They’re brought to life.”   After continuing on at CSM to receive a Master’s degree in fashion, Katrantzou was awarded New Gen sponsorship and, just last November, her vivid prints earned her the coveted Swiss Textiles award. But it has only been in the past two seasons that Katrantzou has grown from a brilliant print-maker into a truly innovative designer. Last season, her basic cuts evolved into structured dresses with flirty chiffon trains, boned lampshade skirts garnished with flippant tassels, and textural, strong-shouldered jackets. What’s more is these new, sophisticated silhouettes worked with her intricate, candy prints, which were inspired by the interiors of Helmut Newton’s photographs, to create a surreal visual symphony of form, graphics and color.

“As the collection grows every season, the print becomes less definitive, and the silhouette becomes more complicated,” says Katrantzou. “I like taking elements from art and design that you wouldn’t be able to wear in reality and then making a dress that’s flattering. That part of my work has become really important, working around the female figure.”

Katrantzou’s fall collection, which debuted at London Fashion Week early on Tuesday morning, only expanded on her quest to flatter the feminine form. Inspired by Oriental objets d’art (think Fabergé eggs, Ming vases, and Coromandel screens), the designer presented strong, sculptural pagoda-shaped skirts and dresses, tailored jackets with layered lapels, and floral tights. The collection marked a forceful step forward in fabric experimentation, as the designer worked with velvet and suede for first time in her career.

On the sweeter side, there was a leafy-green lattice-print skirt embellished with crystals and pink rosebuds, as well as a fluid violet chiffon baby-doll gown, which provoked audible gasps from the audience. When Katrantzou stepped out to take her bow she was, of course, wearing head-to-toe black. But as she smiled amidst the applause, she was just as, if not more, radiant as the rainbow of lavish garments she sent down the runway. And provided she continues down this path, Katrantzou’s future is sure to be as bright as her prints.