Mary Katrantzou
Photo by Alex Sainsbury

Mary Katrantzou: “It’s impossible not to doubt”

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Short Profile

Name: Mary Katrantzou
DOB: 29 January 1983
Place of Birth: Athens, Greece
Occupation: Fashion designer

Ms. Katrantzou, starting with your debut ready-to-wear collection in 2008, you pioneered the use of digital prints in fashion. Once you’ve had success with a certain style is it difficult to continue to evolve?

You see designers not changing that much season to season, so at some point you realize that there is a formula and there’s a reason people don’t change. But when you’re a young designer you have to. There has to be a phase that allows you to establish who you really are and I don’t feel like I’m there yet. I’ve found myself feeling that I’ve said so much through print that I couldn’t find something that excited me, but there were parts of the world that were just starting to buy and were really excited to buy digital prints, so I couldn’t stop it. Until very recently I didn’t feel that I had the confidence to take it somewhere entirely different, but now I feel a bit more free.

What was that evolution like?

I remember being really uncertain on whether I should change. I did a collection that was all black-and-white, that to me felt different. I didn’t feel trapped to do color. But the reaction was very divided and you start assessing whether you have the following already that will come with you or not, so you get scared and you retract a bit. But then you know that you have to push forward, so then the next season you push forward. About a year ago we had no prints on the catwalk.

You had to make a clean cut?

Right, until you subtract print entirely, no one notices. It’s so visual, and the impact is so big that it overpowers everything else, so it had to be a clean cut that says, “It’s about texture, it’s about form, it’s about a similar aesthetic but showcased in a different way.” This is the first collection where I’ve felt quite free now to do whatever I want. So, now I do feel more confident. But you go through stages of insecurity.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing…

I think it’s necessary to have self-doubt! Any creative has doubts. In other industries you do a product and it remains for five years and you can run with it. In fashion you have to put a new product out there every six months with little time to process, little time to evolve, and all the ambition in the world. It’s impossible, I think, not to doubt.

“Confidence is a consolation prize for those less talented.”

Do you think your self-doubt will go away with experience?

I don’t think you’ll ever lose that sense of insecurity. Louise Wilson told me once that confidence is a consolation prize for those less talented and I think it’s exactly that! Any creative is putting something out there in the world that, hopefully, is new and is offering your viewpoint on something. I think it would be inhuman to have perfect confidence like that.

Many designers or creative people seem to have a very strong sense of confidence. Is that just a façade?

I think when you’re presenting it to press, you’ve gone through the stages of doubt and hopefully by that stage you really believe in what you’re putting out there. At that stage it would be silly to be insecure and say, “Oh, I’m not sure what I presented this season.” You have to have confidence in your vision or else no one will trust in it. So I’m confident in what I’ve done when I’m presenting it. But while you’re designing it? I struggle to believe that there is no doubt in a designer’s mind.

Are you more intuitive or more analytical when you are designing?

When you’re less secure in yourself, and when you’re younger, you tend to be more analytical. A lot of your education is about theory, so you tend to be a lot more analytical and you tend to philosophize more. And the more confident you become with knowledge, you make decisions more decisively. A lot of the thinking is happening while you’re doing, but you’re not just sitting there contemplating, “What will I do?” You take small steps that no one really notices, but if you hadn’t taken those steps it would never lead you to where you are.

Which way is better?

At some point I realized that without actually producing something, you can never really allow an idea to build into another. You can never grow. You can never actually see if there’s something remarkable. The thinker tends to analyze and dissect everyone else’s work, including themselves, but very little happens. And the doer just does and allows the thinking to happen after. You don’t have time to think!

Especially in the fashion industry where each collection follows the last one in smaller and smaller intervals…

With the pace of fashion now, you have to take decisions really fast. You have four collections to do a year, minimum. And then you have to put them out there and allow whatever happened in that season to influence the next, and allow the thinking to happen after instead of spending a season thinking and then having no collection to show. So it’s not that you don’t think at all, it’s that you’re not conscious of the thinking process. It’s happening while you are doing. It’s not how it was when you were at college and you had a year and a half to think out a collection.

But it seems like you do think about a theme for each collection before you start designing them don’t you?

Yes, every season needs to have a theme. I think it’s part of my upbringing – I don’t feel quite settled within the collection if there’s no theme. So I need to establish the philosophy before I can actually do something. Some people make up the backstory as they go along, some people have it from the beginning and need to have it, like I do, and some people probably have been in the game long enough to not need a backstory. Their work that precedes them is their backstory.

I recently spoke with Rick Owens and he told me that he doesn’t use mood boards or sketches at all. He just starts working directly with fabrics and mannequins.

We don’t have mood boards either. Sometimes we put up mood boards for press that never even existed! I’ve done it. Sarah Mower from Vogue comes to the studio and a red alarm: “Create a mood board!” (Laughs) And I tell Sarah that openly. She knows that the mood board was done the night before. It doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any thought process, it just means that it wasn’t documented like that. But sometimes it helps crystallize what it was because no one thinks about it like that anymore. We have a mood board for colors and we have the fabrics that we’re developing so that everyone’s aware, but that’s it. There’s no muse. There’s no era… Maybe there should be, but there is none.