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“For three months, I literally Googled every single period and designer,” says Greek designer Mary Katrantzou, who had little fashion knowledge when she started out in Central Saint Martin’s BA program in textile design. Sitting down with writer Laia Garcia in this Friday’s Lenny Interview (part of the weekly Lenny Letter newsletter from Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner), London-based Katrantzou — who is most widely recognized for her splashy prints — talks everything from her design school to starting off with no money. Here, a few need-to-know gems about Katrantzou gleaned from their Q&A.
Katrantzou started out in architecture and interior design before pursuing fashion.
“Fashion was never big in Greece. There was no Fashion Week back then. Now they do have it, but back then they didn’t, and I never really thought of it as a career path, especially because I thought I would just move back to Greece and live my life there,” says Katrantzou. Following her yearnings for a career that was equal parts creative and practical, she enrolled in Rhode Island School of Design to study architecture, and later followed a boyfriend to London, where she took a course in textile design (her mother is an interior architect). Eventually she transferred to the equally prestigious Central Saint Martins to pursue textile design. “It was a very interesting two years where I became so focused and so prolific and determined in my work that I found not only my niche and what my style would be but also where I fit in the general landscape.”
During the recession, fashion critic Sarah Mower discouraged Katrantzou from starting her own brand.
In 2008, renowned critic Sarah Mower, who sang Katrantzou’s graduate show praises on Style.com had “kind of discouraged and warned me about the situation and how difficult it would be to start a business at that given moment,” says Katrantzou. “Had I given it enough thought, maybe I would’ve gotten caught up in a different path that wouldn’t bring me to where I was, but I felt like there was no room to think about it, I just needed to do it and see how it went. So I applied for New Gen [established by the British Fashion Council, New Gen offers sponsorship and mentoring to young designers in London] and got sponsorship for a season, and that made it very real.”
Starting a ready-to-wear line with minimal real-world fashion experience worked out in Katrantzou’s favor.
“I went into starting my own business very naïvely, and I think for me that was a good thing because I wouldn’t have wanted — knowing myself now — to go into it with the fear of making mistakes. I think you’re in a much more confident position to be true to yourself if you don’t know what could go wrong,” says Katrantzou, who admits that a lot of her success is attributed to initial trial and error. (“I was cautious, but at the same time I think I was brave in certain decisions that would allow for growth.”) She launched her first collection with spring/summer 2009. Since then, her designs have been seen on the likes of Alicia Vikander, Chloe Grace Moretz, Daisy Ridley, Naomie Harris and Elizabeth Banks.
She stayed true to what she does best.
When Katrantzou started her own business, “I was doing collections that felt right to me, that went against everything that was happening. [At the time] it was so much about minimalism; no print, no color. Everything was very ‘red carpet.’ It was taboo to do digital printing because it was so sterile, and people were using it in not such a creative way back then, but you don’t understand that if you haven’t followed the industry closely. You know what you’re good in, you know you had a good review, and you’re staying true to that. As people wrote about my work — and as I discovered my work — I started mapping out a path that I didn’t know was mine.” As Garcia puts it, it was Kantrazou’s “self-realization” moment.
“It’s a great time to be a woman in fashion,” if you ask Katrantzou.
“When I started, I remember thinking, I have so many things working against me, and I thought one of them was being a woman. Now I feel completely different. I think, no, I know all the people who’ve helped me come to this point have been women; all the role models I’ve had have been women who are very generous with their time. They’re women who have achieved great things, so that generosity means even more to me. I think now is a moment where women stick together.”
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