Mary Katrantzou celebrates color and creativity at the Dallas Contemporary
From the moment designer Mary Katrantzou sold her first collection to the chic-cult shop, Colette, it was clear that her work elevated the idea of prints to a genius level.
Originally planning a career in architecture, the Athens-born designer left the Rhode Island School of Design to attend the fashion program at London’s Central Saint Martins. There, she honed her signature style of trompe l’oeil patterns created in Photoshop.
Her work is no less intricate today than the first moment it went down a catwalk ten years ago. Her most recent “Interior Lives” collection for Fall 2018 was clearly inspired by the dazzling archives currently on view in the Dallas Contemporary’s show “Mary, Queen of Prints” (on view through March 18).
Curated by Justine Ludwig, the exhibition is an ideal introduction to both Katrantzou’s creativity and the exemplary craftsmanship she has developed over the last decade. Organized by groups of color rather than chronologically, it culminates in a group of garments that literally take the viewer over the rainbow.
Katrantzou took time to chat with 1530 Main to discuss inspiration, collaboration, and what she loves most about the city of Dallas.
You’ve organized the show by the idea of color. How did that come about?
“When we started to talk about the exhibition, Justine wanted it to be a celebration highlighting my work as a print designer, my work as a colorist, my work in textile innovation, and some of our more intricate silhouettes. We started by picking key pieces from each collection, and we both came to an agreement it’d be very interesting to have color be the unifying anchor. Everything was edited with that in mind. Some looks that are particularly special to me had to go in the end because they weren’t as definite as color.”
But you do love themes in your work.
“I do love a theme, but when color is the unifying factor you focus on that. You don’t go around thinking: ‘This is from the interiors collection or the symbolist collection, or nostalgia.’ You think about the craftsmanship. The collection focuses on the innovation of pieces as singular entities, and looking at each away from its thematic nature is very interesting as an exercise for us going forward.”
Did you start working on patterns when you began studying interiors?
“Initially not so much; I wanted to study interior architecture. My work had a very disciplined way of mapping itself that was less about pattern and more about volume and proportion. When I went to London and took a course in textile design, I felt a lot more liberated to play with color. I don’t think I realized I had skill as a colorist until I started working with print for fashion and now it’s become the defining point of this exhibition!”
It’s funny that you’re known for color, and yet you wear a lot of black.
“I get asked about this a lot. It’s a uniform. I think when you make a lot of decisions on color and pattern, you want to not think about that for a long time. Black is a wonderful color; it’s just not reflective of my work (laughs). It’s a palate cleanser. It’s almost about stripping away any day-to-day decisions, which doesn’t only happen with what I wear. If I go out to a restaurant in a week I’ve made a million decisions, I’ll tell my partner or my friend, ‘Just order! I don’t even know if I want coffee or wine, just make that decision!’”
At the time you started, prints weren’t having much of a moment.
“Back in the day, it was about scanning a photograph and printing it out. It was quite literal and sterile as a medium. When I started my brand, I wanted to use digital printing to creating something in 3-D that, until recently, could’ve only been done through silk-screening. Advances in technology allowed me to create prints that felt like nothing you’d ever worn before. You could create a photo-real, 3-D object mapped around the female figure—as definitive as a cut or a drape would be.
My prints have been through many different levels, but when I started they were very specific, and I think that helped me stand out. You had to scream as loud as you can and convey a message at a time that color, pattern, and print weren’t at the forefront of fashion.”
Throughout the years you’ve also created some unique silhouettes. How do you balance the texture and silhouette? What comes first, the chicken or the egg?
“It’s different in every collection. I first started with print, and the silhouette was secondary. I’d have a shift dress, a fitted dress, a straight dress, and a cocktail dress. I think I had a breakout moment when the silhouette was inspired by the print. It allowed you to cut certain shapes that were very sculptural because the inspiration itself was an object you were mapping in 3-D with boning or wiring, creating a lamp shade, fish bowl or Faberge egg. That was the breakout moment when shape and artwork came together. Now we start collections looking at imagery and following that to influence shape, but they both have to come together harmoniously.”
You’ve done a lot of collaborations with brands like Topshop and Adidas. Do brands approach you, or vice versa?
“They approach me. I’ve done Topshop, Moncler, Current/Elliott, and some that are less commercial, like the New York City Ballet and Paris Opera. I see my brand as democratic. I like the fact you can present your most creative vision and allow people to buy into it at a much younger age.
It’s also an opportunity to learn how to do product you don’t have under your own umbrella. It’s been a privilege to work with brands that are universally appealing, but we came to a point we were drained internally with the amount of work it took. Now, when we do collaborations, we try to space them apart.”
Looking at this retrospective of ten years of your work, what would you like to explore next?
“There are many gaps. If I felt after ten years that I’d done my job and could retire, I’d be a very sad designer! Fashion is such a fast-paced environment; it’s great to have some stillness. An exhibition of this magnitude allows you to see the breadth of your work and cherry pick the things you want to focus on and things beyond ready-to-wear you’d love to explore.”
Who is the Mary Katrantzou woman?
“She’s not shy! She’s a confident woman with a strong personality, character, and style. It’s been very flattering to meet the women (wearing my work) who span different generations. You can see a grandmother with her mother and daughter, and that’s a wonderful thing. In terms of, cultural background or occupation, I could dress a banker, an art dealer, a doctor, an architect… It’s very democratic, but the common thread is she’s very feminine, and she’s not a wallflower. She wants her clothes to talk about who she is.”
You spend quite a bit of time in Dallas. What do you love most about the city?
“The people! I met Nasiba (Adilova, founder of The Tot) about six years ago when she had just moved to Dallas and she threw a cocktail with me at Neiman Marcus. Since then, I’ve come for Two X Two for AIDS and Art, and that brought me to the Dallas Contemporary to meet a lot more people.
I love how welcoming and generous everyone is and the drive they have to make Dallas a center for the arts and fashion. A lot of my friends now live here, so I feel privileged to share this an exhibition with people I know.”
It seems that in the last ten years curators around the world are acknowledging fashion as art. Is that something you feel strongly about?
“I don’t think all fashion is art, but if a curator feels a designer is in sync with the times and creating a conversation, then absolutely their work should be in a museum. That’s what I think all art pieces do—they’re thought-provoking. There are some designers who’ve had exhibitions where the technology is so incredible, it should be there for future generations from an educational point of view.
It’s important (for clothes) to be shown outside the confines of a fashion show, which is limited and terribly brief to appreciate details. I don’t know where else I could do it, and that’s why I feel so honored. It’s the dream of a designer to have their archive open to the public.”
The Details: Dallas Contemporary, 161 Glass Street. On view through March 18. Free admission. To take a deeper dive into the designer’s mind, a free lecture by Director of the Texas Fashion Collection Annette Becker exploring Katrantzou will take place at the D.C. March 8.