Designer Maria Cornejo on Her New Show With Artist Alice Waese and Wearing Her Own Designs (Q&A)

Maria Cornejo Designs - H 2012

The New York-based Zero designer, who opened a store in L.A. two years ago, talks to THR while in Los Angeles to launch an art show and debut her resort and pre-fall collections.

Zero Maria Cornejo is one line of clothes out of New York that is an insiders' fashion brand, and her New York fashion week runway shows always prove that, as they are attended by editors at the highest levels of the fashion business. Her clothes are always comfortable and chic, go from day to night with a quick change of shoes or jewelry and  have an avant-garde city cool-girl edge that's sophisticated without hitting that "arty" line too hard. In other words, they're rather perfect. Her pants, sweaters and leather jackets have amazing fit and and a little twis,- and her dresses achieve the impossible trifecta: They're sexy and comfortable and interesting. All this, and her prices are much better than most designer clothes, but the quality doesn't suffer. No wonder smart women love her. 

Cornejo has a longtime small West Village boutique at Greenwich and Jane, but her eponymous Melrose Place space is many times the size and has the airy feeling of an art gallery. That's why she decided to host a small art gathering for her friend, former employee and present artist Alice Waese, from New York City, who creates art out of metal, silver and paper. Cornejo doesn't get to L.A. often as she's busy creating nine collections a year (two for men, the rest for women, but then there's shoes, handbags, belts and knitwear), but when she did recently, The Hollywood Reporter sat down with her to pick her considerable brain.

The Hollywood Reporter: How often do you get to Los Angeles?

Cornejo: Twice, maybe three times a year. I really like L.A.; I like the nature, seeing cactus and palms everywhere you go. The only thing I don't love is driving -- and that's because I don't drive! But every time I come, I do at least one art visit: to the Getty Villa or down to the Chinatown galleries, something like that. L.A. has a diverse and very cool art scene. My husband is an artist, so we gravitate to these things. 

THR: Speaking of art, why did you want to do this L.A. show with Alice Waese?

Cornejo: Alice came to intern with me in New York when she was 20; now she's 28. She only interned for a year, then she became my assistant. She's very together. Afterwards, she went to art school in London. I picked this space in L.A. because we always planned on putting art in here. I like a space where I can everything around. In New York, there's no room to put anything. We thought it would be fun to do it here and get away for a weekend.

THR: You're wearing some more subtle pieces and then a graphic print cocoon jacket. Is this your typical?

Cornejo: Everyone thinks I can wear anything that I want from my own collections! I place a personal order, just like everyone else who works for me. And that's what I wear. Often, I decide I should have something later on, and it's already sold out!

THR: Your clothes have been sold at Barneys for quite a while, but since you opened on Melrose Place, I see more people in L.A. wearing them. 

Cornejo: Yes, there's a lot of Zero in the film business now, and in the L.A. art scene. I used to be very embarrassed when I actually saw people in my clothes. And if people would ask me what I was wearing, I wouldn't say I'm the designer; I'd just say, "I got this at this store downtown."

THR: What do you wear in your own collections?

Cornejo: Jackets and pants. I'm a secret boy! I prefer pants. I'm never happy when I see things on the fit model, I always want to do something else to them. I'm forever trying to design the perfect dress I would or could wear every day. I never used to like skirts; now I'll wear one from time to time.

THR: Have you noticed that the way people dress in L.A. has really morphed over the years?

Cornejo: Totally. People wear full-on fashion here now. They're amazingly well-groomed. It has a lot to do with being able to throw your whole life in a car and be prepared for anything. It's certainly not like that in New York!