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Designer Mary Katrantzou Decodes the Vogue Arabia Woman

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The House of Mary Katrantzou is on a catalytic rise. With eight years of booming business to look back on, its revamped quick-to-customer strategy is firmly in place. There’s something about Mary that the fashion world cannot get enough of.

Launched in 2008, the London-based ready-to-wear label secured 15 international stockists at its de-but Fall 2009 presentation. Seven years later, Katrantzou has scooped up both the Swiss Textiles Award and the BFC x Vogue Designer Fashion Fund.

Ever the innovator, the designer recently rebranded her pre-collection and resort lines as “November” and “May”. Famed for its kaleidoscopic optics, graphic mixes of color, unabashed juxtaposition of feminine/masculine garment architecture, and va-va-voom dimensions, it’s no wonder that Katrantzou has a loyal following (including Vogue Arabia’s Editor-In-Chief). Here, Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz talks intimately with Mary Katrantzou to uncover the brand’s recipe for igniting the fashion zeitgeist time and again.

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Mary Katrantzou Spring 2017. Indigital

“We try to have a range that caters to all the different types of roles that women play these days.”

Decoding the Mary Katrantzou Client

DAA: Do you think of a certain type of woman when you design? I like to think I’m one of them!
MK: Yes, you totally are! Plenty of times you [have said to me], “This is good; you need to continue doing that.” As you start meeting women who buy [your pieces] and have supported you, you start thinking of them when you begin to design. We try to have a range that caters to all the different roles that women play these days.
DAA: Is there a Mary Katrantzou muse?
MK: We never put a muse on the board. Once [we had] Charlotte Rampling on the board for two months and you know, we were loving her, she is so chic, but by the end of the collection it was Goldie Hawn in Overboard. We went from Charlotte Rampling to Goldie Hawn. You can never claim a muse. It’s not about that anymore. I think of women who wear my designs when [I’m creating] a collection. I think at the beginning you are a bit naïve. You don’t really realize who your customer is, what she does in her life, how she wears it… and it evolves.

“You can never claim a muse.”

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Mary Katrantzou after the Fall 2016 show. Indigital

DAA: Would you ever do a menswear line? And, if so, which high profile man would be the face of your campaign?
MK: I’ve never been asked that question before! I want to do menswear. I want to […] make a range that makes sense for men; that they can buy into and can enjoy. And it’s not a particular man or a man only working in fashion that wants to wear something bold. I think it has to stand on its own.
DAA: You cut really well, so I think that that [menswear] might be a fantastic avenue to show that off.
MK: With any diversification, you want to highlight other skills and signatures of the brand, that don’t rely on color or visual imagery, although that is a huge part of what I do. Menswear is an opportunity to build on the cut and to build on the details. With menswear, you can affect the lining, you can affect the detail, and you can concentrate on the cut.

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Mary Katrantzou Fall 2016. The shiny silver set was a nod to Andy Warhol’s original New York City studio, The Factory. Indigital.tv

DAA: It’s a particular woman that likes you; they’re loyal, they keep on buying [your designs].
MK: I like to have loyalists.
DAA: When I was a retailer, you tended to have a particular client that would come back for more Mary in particular, not [for] other brands. That’s interesting; not every designer has that.
MK: It’s cyclical. I see women who bought us very heavily at the beginning and when you see them buying again now, they’re going through a phase where they buy the collection thematically. The ones who have taken the time and have met you and want to know what’s behind it, and how you design, and what inspires you – those are the ones.

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Mary Katrantzou Fall 2016. Indigital

“There’s a sense of confidence and a sense of inner strength that is very apparent [in Middle Eastern women].”

Fashion’s Future in the Middle East

DAA: How does Mary Katrantzou speak to the Middle Eastern woman?
MK: I hope she speaks loud, clear and she speaks with respect. I actually feel a deep connection. I think it’s a sense of family and a sense of warmth; in the end, fashion is a projection of that personality.
DAA: And upbringing.
MK: And the values that you have.
DAA: Also your love of color, your love of femininity…
MK: I think you’ve taught me a lot about how Middle Eastern women connect to a brand, and about how they buy and how they want to project. There’s a different level of importance on how you show your personality through [how you] dress that holds a [greater] significance than in other parts of the world.
DAA: That’s true.
MK: That immediately elevates fashion into a bigger dialogue, a bigger conversation. I have so much admiration for women who hold themselves with such high regard. There’s a sense of confidence and a sense of inner strength that is very apparent.
DAA: What does the launch of Vogue Arabia mean to you?
MK: It means a huge deal. I think having a voice like yours at its helm means a lot. I think that’s very indicative of what Vogue Arabia will mean. I think it’s a big move… I think it will inspire a lot of women in the Middle East to look at their culture and look at their roots and see what [they] mean in the modern day. What does that mean in the way they inspire the world?
DAA: To finally be able to celebrate it. I think that that’s what’s missing.
MK: And to have a vision for it that you can distill in an image that you know you can write through an article. You know words and images that can define what women in the Middle East are thinking, what women are feeling, what inspires them, and what their aspirations are. I think [it’s] very important for them to feel inspired but it’s also important for us to understand that world because there is a distance.

“The beauty of fashion [is] that there’s a curatorial side to it.”

Taking Success and Growing It

DAA: Would you ever consider doing a fragrance?
MK: I’d love to do a fragrance where I can affect the bottle. I think that would be a huge part of [it]… I wouldn’t want it to be a heavy perfume that you cannot wear forever. But I would want it to be distinctive enough for women to feel comforted by it.
DAA: And that’s what fragrance does, it gives you confidence. In ten years’ time, where do you hope your fashion brand to be?
MK: I hope there’s a design studio that becomes a creative machine behind what I do and that we have the freedom to do a lot of projects that affect design and bring that design into people’s homes, and I don’t necessarily [mean] interiors.

“You don’t want to push further than you can chew. You want to do it right.”

DAA: Would it be like a Zaha Hadid situation?
MK: That’s grand! Zaha is a total icon in how she shaped architecture, in affecting how people live and how they appreciate luxury.
DAA: I don’t want to say homeware…
MK: No, but furniture… My training is in architecture.
DAA: Yes, I can see you doing that.
MK: In essence, I think it [was] so long ago that I forget where it all started. It was architecture, then it became interiors, then it became textiles in interiors and then it became textiles for fashion. I would want to be able to do standout pieces that people would love to put into their homes; that could be a piece of furniture, it could be a hybrid of sorts and it could be a product that feels more democratic as well. I think that’s the beauty of fashion now, that there’s a curatorial side of it; where a designer can make the choice to go into different disciplines: be that film, be that a collaboration with an artist, with a florist or with a product designer.
DAA: Absolutely, even creating that beautiful face [for object for art].
MK: When we did the objects for art collection we had three different porcelain companies contact us to do a collaboration, and it didn’t feel right at that moment. You don’t want to push further than you can chew. You want to do it right.
DAA: It comes eventually, hopefully in ten years’ time.
MK: In ten years’ time? Yeah, that’s plenty of time!

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