Mary Katrantzou was raised in Athens, Greece, where fashion was not an industry. “Some things filtered to Greece, but for example, Nirvana came after Kurt Cobain died,” she explained, while in conversation with Sally Singer, Vogue’s creative director, at a SCADStyle event in Atlanta, Georgia, honoring Katrantzou’s career retrospective, Kaleidoscope Katrantzou, which opened on April 9 at the university’s fashion museum, SCAD Fash.
Missing out on or learning about fashion trends and cultural movements too late made her want to travel and see the world more. “I remember tearing up magazines and doing different collages… taking pop culture, interiors and design, and just creating these very imaginative worlds,” Katrantzou told the audience, comprised mostly of SCAD students.
Now, 10 years in on running her namesake womenswear brand, the designer, often called the “queen of prints,” still uses a similar methodology of collaging and juxtaposing elements that are not always meant to be together. Through her brand she imagines her own universe, where clothing is a colorful vehicle that uplifts women, and helps them radiate positivity and self-expression. “Apart from its pragmatic, functional element, [fashion] should be something that makes you feel great about yourself,” Katrantzou said.
After studying fashion prints at Central Saint Martins, Katrantzou realized that a womenswear brand would allow her to tell stories and connect more deeply with women through clothes. It was also during her time in London, where she still resides and runs her company, that she learned “to take an idea and make that a vision and take that vision and make that innovation.”
Launching her eponymous label in 2008, during the Saint Martins MA Fashion Show with a collection of jersey-knit dresses that featured trompe l’oeil prints of oversize jewelry, the designer realized that with her alternative background she had an opportunity to “test new things and make new discoveries.” Reflecting on that first collection, Singer commented, “From the outset, [the clothes] are so joyous and free, but you also made, early on, collections that we call ‘showpieces.’ They’re the sort of clothes that students often like to make.”
Katrantzou strongly believed that there was an audience for her designs: “There’s an appreciation of independent designers and wearing something… [that] will stand the test of time… and that’s something you’ll have in your wardrobe for years to come.” Accordingly, she has always considered her designs to be collectible pieces that women can keep in their wardrobes forever. Beyond this, the designer specifically creates collections with a specific customer in mind who, she says, “will appreciate if there’s innovation [in its] technique… [and] silhouette.” Beyoncé and Cate Blanchett, two well-known customers, have worn Katrantzou’s unique designs to the Global Citizens festival and Cannes festival, respectively.
From the start, Katrantzou also made body diversity a part of her brand’s mission. “I felt it’s kind of my duty as a designer who’s a fuller woman,” she said, “to look at our range and look at how we run our sizing.” The brand currently sells up to a size U.K. 20, and is going through the process of adjusting core silhouettes to run up to a size U.K. 26. “I think women of all sizes [should] be able to wear something colorful,” she added.
Collaboration has been another hallmark of Katrantzou’s company since its founding, as she has already done a number of successful partnerships with brands such as adidas, Disney, and Victoria’s Secret. She views brand partnerships as a strategy for expanding her audience, especially for customers who appreciate her designs but aren’t able to afford her usual price point, and she is now also working on expanding into home goods, with lamp shades and other products.