“My path was a little bit unconventional …” Mary Katrantzou warns me, before launching into the winding story of how she bounced from wannabe lawyer to wannabe archeologist to wannabe architect to wannabe textile designer and eventually landed in ready-to-wear. “I didn’t realize I wanted to do design until I transferred to Central Saint Martins, and even then I didn’t know it would be fashion—that only happened when I applied to the MA.” After scraping together a portfolio that landed her in a class of seasoned students—all with extensive experience—the then-23-year-old felt more than fashionably late to the party. “I was at the bottom of the pack, I had no fashion knowledge. I remember calling my boyfriend and saying, ‘I’m the worst here. Everyone’s so talented and I’m not.’ I was truly insecure. The level of talent was very high and I hadn’t yet found my niche, or what I was strong at.”
Katrantzou’s slow start turned meteoric rise is proof that genius can’t be rushed. The self-proclaimed late bloomer graduated at the top of her class in 2008 and made her London Fashion Week debut the next year. Industry insiders (Anna Dello Russo, Miroslava Duma, Hanneli Mustaparta) have been clamouring for her dizzying digital prints (colourful kaleidoscopes, moody nature scenes, extreme shoe close-ups) ever since.
This year, the 31-year-old Athens-born designer is celebrating her five-year anniversary, and she’s not slowing down. In fact, she’s upping her game. For the first time—to the fashion world’s surprise—Katrantzou eschewed her signature prints for fall, focusing instead on signs and symbols rendered in opulent embroidered lace. “I made a strategic decision to not include any print in this show. As a creative who is growing from an independent designer to a global brand, I felt the timing was right.” Part and parcel with the line’s growth is a new handbag collection including hard clutches and soft leather totes, which is available on Katrantzou’s new e-commerce site. And if that weren’t enough to cement 2014 as a milestone year for the designer, a new (and likely ongoing) partnership with Adidas will hit later this fall. “I haven’t stopped since I started, so there are very few moments where I can take a step back and realize where I’m at. I always want to feel like I’m challenging myself and evolving as a designer, so it’s about putting those things into motion, from launching accessories to diversifying the brand to working on collaborations that complete how you see a woman today … and maybe one day a man, too,” she laughs. “Who knows what’s in the future!”