Katrantzou’s riff on philately, entomology, works of art and jewelry via hyper-crafted outfits illustrated her extraordinary use of color and deft way with embellishment – particularly with crystals. As the designer has delved ever deeper into extraordinary fabrications and finishes, her collaborations with Swarovski have increased in scope, encompassing numerous innovative techniques. One gown resembled a Fabergé egg, gleaming with crystals; a bustier dress revealed an array of colored stone rings within a jewelry box, and in her perfume-bottle gowns she played with trompe l’oeil painted over Swarovski Crystal Mesh.
As well as the perfume bottles, Katrantzou has, in the past, referenced Meissen porcelain and Ming vases in her dresses, with the same signature wit. Over a decade, art and design objects became the focus of her collections, conveyed through strong architectural shapes. Indeed, Katrantzou had studied architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design in the US before changing direction to study for a BA in Textile Design at Central Saint Martins in London. After graduating in 2005, she fueled her interest in womenswear and print, completing her MA Fashion course with distinction. She soon gained a reputation for her digital-print mash-ups, earning the moniker The Queen of Prints.
Katrantzou’s tireless experimentation and ever more ingenious ways with decoration techniques continue to astound. Her Fall/Winter 2016 collection, for example, centered on the idea of cowboys and princesses and included Swarovski Hotfix crystals, which were heat transferred onto the clothes. “Nadja Swarovski [member of the Swarovski Executive Board] has changed my perception of how crystals are perceived, and I have challenged my preconceptions of it,” says Katrantzou. She is also constantly expanding her ability to work with volume, depth and perspective, with her clothes often acquiring an engaging three-dimensional quality. A long-time Swarovski collaborator, Katrantzou has designed jewelry collections for Atelier Swarovski, which she has also featured in her shows, and recentlly created a capsule collection for Victoria’s Secret that included bras embellished with crystals.
While Katrantzou has enjoyed examining the many ways of collecting in her Spring/Summer 2019 collection, her work itself has become collectible. In the past two years, two major exhibitions have celebrated her catalogue of innovative design: ‘Mary, Queen of Prints’ at Dallas Contemporary in Texas showcased her work through a 2018 retrospective of key pieces, and Katrantzou created special capsule pieces for the Waddesdon Manor 2017 show ‘Creatures & Creations’, which were inspired by the private collection of British banker and avid zoologist Walter Rothschild.
Salt fashion writer Carolyn Asome met up with Mary Katrantzou in her London studio where the designer shared her thoughts on collecting with her friend Michaela de Pury who, as an art expert, curator and collector, and co-founder and partner at de Pury & de Pury, helps clients worldwide to build collections.
Carolyn Asome: Mary, your 10th anniversary collection centered on the idea of collecting. How did that come about?
Mary Katrantzou: I have a long-term partnership with Swarovski, and working with them on our anniversary collection meant revisiting many techniques we’ve developed over the past decade. Swarovski crystals always help enhance my vision into highly crafted creations. However, I still wanted to look forwards and not backwards, because I really couldn’t imagine a season where I wasn’t doing something new. So I asked myself: what was the thing that connects all of my collections? This turned into a bit of a eureka moment as I’d never looked at my work with the idea of any overarching theme, be that in the color, the print, what we do, and so on. I noticed how many times I referenced certain objects – works of art, perfume bottles – and I wondered, what do these objects mean? Why was I referencing them? And then I realized that these are all things that people collect.
Michaela de Pury: Do you collect perfume bottles?
MK: I don’t really collect anything – at least not objects – though I guess you could say I collect images and references.
MdP: It’s the archive in Mary’s brain, isn’t it? And that interests me so much because that is totally artistic. You are an artist who manifests her art in clothes.
CA: And what about you, Michaela? Is there anything that you collect?
MdP: If I were to collect what I should, I would follow trends to see which artists’ works are guaranteed to increase in value, but I really love younger artists and their energy. I love that moment when you can see a new talent emerging.
CA: How do you go about building a collection?
MdP: It’s not about a having a gazillion pieces, but about having the right ones.
CA: Are you referring to that pull and push of having too much stuff?
MdP: It depends if it’s compulsive. I would not say one was collecting, per se, unless one had a warehouse full of objects. Ultimately, if you have these pieces – whatever they may be – just in your house, then you’re not a collector, you are decorating your home. It’s the same with fashion: if you just shop it, then you’re not a fashion collector.
CA: Have you seen a change in the way people collect?
MdP: Currently, there is a big crossover between design, contemporary art, fashion and architecture. The borders are down. It’s not just about furniture or porcelain, or any one thing.
CA: Why do you think people feel the urge to collect?
MdP: For many reasons, several of which have blown up the art market. Basically, the real collectors – I call them truffle pigs – go and see everything and just love it and don’t collect for commercial reasons. Historically, art did not gain much in value until recently. So really, family collections were partially an alternative asset and also about having some form of culture in the house.
Now art is fun and an experience and provides a platform to meet people. People shop for art in the way they might shop for clothes. They go to the Art Basel fair in Miami Beach, which is known for being ultra-glamorous, and at fairs like that you can meet the most interesting people in the world. Of course, you want to take home part of that experience, and you can do so by buying the art. Some pieces might sell for £50,000, and the minute you buy it, the value shoots up to £400,000, so you can imagine how many people are interested in that mechanism. That has triggered a whole new asset class.
MK: A lot of my friends are collectors and there is that investment element. I’m not saying that they’re not interested in art, but I’d say 20 per cent of what they are collecting is as an asset.
MdP: Art is the perfect thing. It’s like having shares on your wall and every day the price goes up. Fashion will become like this, I’m sure. It will be a collecting category. It will be what art was 50 or 60 years ago. The same thing happened to design, then watches and wine. It will be fashion, too. I promise.
CA: Mary, do you have clients who collect you as they might do art? A resurgence of it in the way that women such as New York socialite Nan Kempner collected couture a few decades ago?
MK: That is definitely the case. I know clients who have bought so many of my clothes that they could put on an exhibition of my work.
MdP: [The model and actress] Stephanie Seymour, for example, is crazy about collecting vintage and so is [creative director] Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert.
MK: I feel so privileged that women such as Michaela appreciate what I do. As a designer there is no bigger honor than for someone to want to understand what you were thinking. Take, for example, a piece like the Bauhaus coat, which Michaela owns, from my Fall/Winter 2018 collection. That aesthetic is so incredibly specific. It’s only going to be worn by someone who feels very connected to it.
MdP: It’s great to see a well-dressed woman who has an incredible style of her own.
MK: Exactly. It makes such an impression. We forget that fashion is the first form of communication. It’s easy to forget that you make that first impression in a matter of seconds.
MdP: Fashion is very personal, so it forms very strong connections. Similarly, if you have a great piece of art, it just gets stronger and stronger. It becomes almost like a family member and you cherish it. Ultimately, I think the really great fashion designers are artists. Fashion is like a painting on legs; or that Bauhaus coat, for example, is like architecture on legs. What you collect says so much about you: it’s like a self-portrait. Having said that, there is no right or wrong, there is no judging.
CA: There must be some judging [laughs].
MdP: Honestly, anything goes! Wherever I go, I’m fascinated to see what is on people’s walls because it’s the highest form of authenticity.
CA: It must be terrifying for people to invite you to their house as it would be like having a shrink over!
MdP: [laughs] Like an art shrink. But as I said, there really is no right or wrong. All you should focus on is owning pieces – whether art or fashion – that give you the ultimate joy.
This story appeared in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of SALT magazine.
Image Credits: Jason Lloyd Evans; Marcus Tondo/Indigital.tv; Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images;Yannis Vlamos/Indigital.tv; Kevin Mazur/ Getty Images; Rick Pushinsky