One look at the packed audience at the venue and it was evident that Mary Katrantzou was one the most highly anticipated designers at the recent China Fashion Week.
Despite this showcase being a repeat of the one that debuted in London Fashion Week back in February this year, local fashion enthusiasts were curious to find out more. Seated in the front row were fashion journalists and celebrities waiting to witness the latest work of the “Queen of Prints”.
As part of the Mercedes-Benz International Designer Exchange Program, this was the first show in China for Mary Katrantzou, a young label in the midst of seeking stronger brand presence in the China market.
Katrantzou and her team arrived in Beijing the day before the show and managed to efficiently put together the whole set up in less than two days. Katrantzou cheerfully greeted everyone in a room full of supportive guests backstage and marked the end of this eventful two-day project.
Although the show exits, music and even the runway set up were identical to the London show, Katrantzou explained that the cast of Chinese models brought a new vitality to the collection. “They walk with such confidence. The cast is always the character of the collection,” said Katrantzou.
Inspired by children’s fantasies about cartoon characters, the Autumn Winter 2016 collection marries the masculinity of the American cowboys with the femininity of fairytale princesses. Boxy jackets matching with pencil skirts, shirt dresses embellished with hearts and flames, and glamourous evening gowns brought the show to finale.
While Mary Katrantzou is known for her vivid digital prints and vibrant colours, the wearer requires absolute confidence in order to pull off the looks. The collection also featured a few more subtle and easily wearable pieces for those less inclined to try head to toe prints, including pinstripe cotton shirts, embroidered skirts and lace tulle dresses.
“Customers always have different ways of how they purchase from a collection, especially in China where they are certain about what they like and what they don’t,” Katrantzou explained. “If they find prints too much, they can try with bold colours instead. Colour is very crucial in ready-to-wear. I believe that it has the power to enhance a woman’s emotion.”
Whether it is bold colour, embroidery or a pleated skirt, Katrantzou encourages women to style the garment in their own unique way. “You can try to wear in your way. It may feel a bit odd at first, but if it makes you feel confident, so why not take it one step further?” asked Katrantzou.
Her vibrant colour palette often gives customers an unexpected lift. Katrantzou recall a customer once telling her that one of her most liked Instagram posts featured her wearing a Mary Katrantzou dress. Another customer, Katrantzou recalled with a giggle, told her that she reconnected with her former boyfriend when she wore one of her pieces dress to a dinner party. “You always remember what you wear on different occasions. I think women should try more and then decide. I believe that what gives you an intimate feeling often tends to be what you wear best. When you first try something and receive positive compliments from your friends, that is what generally spurs you on.” Katrantzou said.
Although Katrantzou first started with her cutting-edge digital print designs, her talent goes far beyond that. There are other highlights that are featured in the collection such as innovative textiles, delicate craftsmanship, architectural silhouettes as well as accessories.
“When I first started, it was more about pushing boundaries of digital printing in order to let women wear prints that they were never able to before. And this is a brand DNA that remains unchanged, but the way of expressing this now expands to colours, texture as well as how to integrate these elements together harmoniously.” Katrantzou explained.
Katrantzou was born in Athens in 1983. Her mother is an interior designer and her father works in textile design industry. She studied architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design in the United States and later transferred to Central Saint Martins in London to pursue her passion where she gained a bachelor’s degree in textile design, and a master degree in fashion design.
While a lot of people see her work as maximalist, Katrantzou describes her work as puristic in the beginning but with a deep interest in forms and shapes, balance and symmetry, which significantly influences her design silhouettes today.
In 2008, Katrantzou wowed the industry with her graduation collection that highlighted dresses featuring realistic digital prints of oversized jewelry. From then on, she has transferred everything from perfume bottles to furniture as prints on garments that can flatter a woman’s body. Amongst numerous awards, Katrantzou was named Emerging Talent in Womenswear in the 2001 British Fashion Award and with New Establishment Award in the 2015 British Fashion Awards. She was also awarded with the British Fashion Council/Vogue Fashion Fund last year, supporting the brand development in a global context.
At the same time, different brands have approached Mary Katrantzou for collaborations including Moncler, Longchamp, Swarovski, Adidas and Topshop.
Mary Katrantzou’s designs have also been worn by the likes of Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, Naomi Harris etc. Regardless of the wearers are celebrities or ordinary people, to a designer, they are always the source of inspiration.
While Katrantzou was designing eveningwear for the Spring Summer 2016 collection, the style of dress reminded her of a Swedish actress Alicia Vikander. Katrantzou then told Vikander’s stylist about this. Despite of a contract with Louis Vuitton, the actress at last picked the dress to wear to the 21st Annual Critics' Choice Awards and won the Best Supporting Actress, making another memorable moment for the brand.
“The women whom you dress will also become part of the brand DNA and at the same time, will influence how you design. This is not only a red carpet look, it could be an actress, an artist or even someone who joins the JOYCE trunk show here,” Katrantzou said.
Asked about her advise to aspiring young designers, Katrantzou explained that she always reminds herself of two things before she begins –“you will always discover who you are at different stages and aspects in life, but be remain constant to yourself, because that is the reason why others like your brand. Another is the work ethic – your focus, determination and hard work define that you will be able to persevere in times of uncertainty,” said Katrantzou.