Shaper: Mary Katrantzou

Show aired on 14th January 2017

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was Dionne Warwick with Walk On By. Hello, good morning and thank you for joining me, this is Jazz Shapers. I am Elliot Moss and we are bright and breezy here in the beginnings of January and I am really looking forward to the year that I am going to spend with you as I meet people who are shaping the world of business and we call them over here Business Shapers and they sit alongside the people, equivalent people who are shaping the world of jazz. So today I am very pleased to say my Business Shaper is Mary Katrantzou and I hope I said that correctly. I think I did because she is nodding. Marry is a fantastic designer, a designer who has collaborated with Adidas, with Current Elliot, with extraordinary other people. She can be found all around the world; thirty three countries I am told reliably and it is growing too and she has got thousands of people following her brand on Twitter. You are going to be hearing a lot from the very talented Mary. In addition to hearing from her, you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and then of course the music here on Jazz Shapers and we have got Roberto Fonseca, Louis Armstrong and this from Kandace Springs.

That was Kandace Springs with Thought It Would Be Easier. This is Jazz Shapers and Mary Katrantzou is my Business Shaper today and she is the owner and designer at the eponymously named Mary Katrantzou. Fifty people, eight years, almost nine years later Mary, a graduate of Central St Martins and for those of you in the know, you will know that this is one of the hottest properties in fashion, for those of you that don’t you are going to find out in the next hour. Mary thank you so much for joining me.

Mary Katrantzou
Thank you for having me.

Elliot Moss
Now tell me about what happened when you graduated. Many, many people in your position graduate and stuff happens and they morph into something else and it doesn’t really go anywhere. How have you managed to make such a significant success? Why has someone tapped you on the shoulder and said ‘you are going to do this, this is you’?

Mary Katrantzou
I think it was the timing. It was an opportune moment for something, it was just the beginning of the recession and I think fashion was struggling as an industry and so novelty and newness and pushing the boundaries of what people were wearing at the moment was important. And I was lucky enough to come out of St Martin’s, had my show as part of Fashion Week and fashion critics noted my work and mentioned my name as part of the graduate show at Style.com which was where she was a fashion critic and reviewing shows and I think that kind of had industry being interested and looking at the work and being interested in buying the collection and we had no production capacities. I didn’t have a team so it started making me think about it a little bit more seriously and though my ambition had been then to just go out in Paris and find a job in one of the big fashion houses, I started thinking ‘oh why not me? Maybe I should apply for sponsorship’ and that is what I did.

Elliot Moss
And it strikes me a bit like the film industry and a bit like writers. There are thousands of really, really… and music in fact… thousands of talented, creative people and so few make it. At that time so you got noticed and then you sought money for, as you call it, sponsorship. When did you realise that this was a bit more than just you being a great designer and that actually you could make this a viable business because now I believe turnover is significant, you are employing lots of people, you are doing grown up collaborations even though they remain creative. I mean it is not just you as the talent, it is you as the talent within a business?

Mary Katrantzou
Absolutely and I think that shifts, you don’t really realise the shift happening. You realise you are driving your ambition shifting because you I guess see the bigger picture and what is possible and where you can take a brand. When you first start there is no brand, there is no communication with an audience. There is just you designing quite instinctively and quite naively at the beginning which I am glad it was naively because had I known what I know now I think I would think it through.

Elliot Moss
Luckily you didn’t.

Mary Katrantzou
I didn’t no.

Elliot Moss
And we are going to hold that thought because if you had thought it through we probably wouldn’t be talking about it. Stay with me for much more from Mary Katrantzou, I am going to spell it in a moment so that you can go on line and have a look at the amazing things that she has created and they truly are, they are going to smack you between the eyes and you will go ‘okay I am not going to forget that in a hurry’. Time for some more music before we come back to Mary though. This is Roberto Fronseco with Tierra Santa and it is new music from the Cuban pianist.

That was Roberto Fronseco with the uplifting Tierra Santa and he is from Cuba. Mary Katrantzou is not from Cuba, in fact she sounds like she is from…

Mary Katrantzou
Greece.

Elliot Moss
…Greece yes. Good and Mary is, was an up and coming designer, still up and coming, now she is running a business and the business is significant. I promised you I would give you the spelling because I do urge you to go online – MARY KATRANTZOU.com. That’s Marykatrantzou.com and you will see these patterns. I am always fascinated, someone not in the fashion industry but someone who obviously wears clothes most of the time. What has influenced these, tell me about the visuals that took you and the pat… not just the patterns, the materials that brought you to the design vibe that you have now, you know, you have become renown for?

Mary Katrantzou
I think you know, I said it was built in different blocks because initially I started studying architecture. That was my initial first calling or so I thought and then that moved into surface design, textile design, primarily for interiors and my upbringing was quite creative in that my mother was an interior designer and it kind of made sense to me to study textiles but then slowly when I did my MA in fashion and subsequently started my own business the point of difference is that I was working more as an image maker than just a ready-to-wear designer so the print, the image, all the filtered beauty that we see around us in design was coming in as a point of inspiration that would define silhouette, that would define the colour pallet and would define the prints and that I think is the DNA of the brand you know, the women we dress they come to us for the wit, the cultivate wit that exists within the print and the art work and the craftsmanship of the textiles we design, and then the cut and then the fit.

Elliot Moss
But they are not very high profile. I mean Taylor Swift, not high profile wears your clothes.

Mary Katrantzou
Not at all.

Elliot Moss
Michelle Obama I mean people have hardly heard of her. Who else? Lady Ga Ga? Is Lady Ga Ga in there?

Mary Katrantzou
Yes.

Elliot Moss
Yes I thought that was right. I mean these are women with significant gravitas in the world. Why have they chosen you? You talk about bold and they are incredibly colourful. Why do you think that set, is it just that when one celebrity goes they all go or is it a bit more than that?

Mary Katrantzou
No absolutely not. I think it is you know, it is always very flattering and a privilege to see your work being worn by women you respect so much and they are confident women who are leaders in their industries or in the case of Michelle Obama, so highly influential that I think it’s flattering to know that they are choosing to wear you because they own the strength of their own convictions and you know, wearing Mary Katrantzou means you are wearing something that is making you stand out and I think only confident women can take that on and want to be present in that way so…

Elliot Moss
You need to do this for men. I hear you are? Is this true?

Mary Katrantzou
Potentially.

Elliot Moss
Come on Mary, we need… confident men of the world unite. We are going to get Mary to do that before the end of the hour. Stay with me for more from my fantastic Business Shaper today. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom for your business from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss here on Saturday morning from 9.00 to 10.00; make sure you book your slot every week because every week I have someone brilliant who is shaping the world of business, their business and the business that is being shaped this week is Mary Katrantzou’s business and that is the business of fashion. Mary is the owner and designer at the eponymously named as I said earlier, Mary Katrantzou brand, I even spelt it out for you because you need to see it. Sometimes fashion is not enough to talk about it, you need to actually see what she has created. Mary we were talking about confidence and we were talking about I suppose in a way, people expressing themselves. When you talk you use your hands a lot and many people do, many people don’t. Was it obvious from a very young age that you were going to be involved in something tactile, that you were going to make something and if so, how young were you?

Mary Katrantzou
I think moving your hands you know, it’s a form of expression right. I am quite expressive and my work is expressive too and I think I did have that at a young age in that I was always re-arranging things. I remember you know, if my mum had a dinner party and she would create a flower arrangement, I would go and tweak the flowers last minute because I wanted to feel that sense of controlling your environment aesthetically and creatively and I was doing little collages, I was painting a lot but again it wasn’t applied design, it was just generally being creative I think as a young teenager. I think it was only later on that I started channelling that creativity and finding my own form of expression and it is a very enlightening moment when that happens.

Elliot Moss
Now look designers don’t always wear their own clothes, in fact often they don’t. Do you wear your own clothes or do you go for a different look and if your look is different, what are you saying about yourself?

Mary Katrantzou
No I actually fall into the camp of designers who don’t really wear their own clothes. I have worn my own clothes of course. I think it is something that is also known of certain artists when you work a lot with colour I try to understand that early on because I used to be so colourful and then slowly, slowly I paired my uniform down to pretty much a black dress and tights and black boots and I realised there is so much creative decision making that happens at the studio with my team that when it comes to picking your own wardrobe you want to rely on a uniform that makes you feel comfortable and all your creative thinking comes into your work. I can’t describe it in any other way but yeah, I do wear my own clothes when it is a special occasion.

Elliot Moss
Okay, when you are out there and about, people…

Mary Katrantzou
Yes.

Elliot Moss
…need to see ‘look at that, it’s Mary, wearing Mary’. In terms of that work environment and now you have around fifty people I think who work for you. What kind of leader are you and you probably didn’t have to think about this when you started making clothes, you were like ‘well I’m going to… I just make clothes’? Right now, are you more thoughtful and conscious about the kind of creative direction that you give because again, the fashion industry supposedly is full of diva’s. You don’t strike me as a diva? Have you…

Mary Katrantzou
I would hope not.

Elliot Moss
…have you cultivated the way you operate or is it actually that naturally you are a certain type of way and if so, what is that way?

Mary Katrantzou
It is an interesting question. I have a big enough team now to be able to have a very close relationship with the design team and with the senior management team and then I can rely on amazing people who I trust now to hire their own teams and manage them effectively so I think I delegate a lot more now. When I first started I didn’t have that skill. I felt a need to control everything, I need to be aware of everything.

Elliot Moss
Change the flowers just before the guests…

Mary Katrantzou
Exactly.

Elliot Moss
…and all that stuff.

Mary Katrantzou
It was yeah, an early sign. But now, no. I am a lot more decisive than I used to be also because the pace in which we work with is so different that you have to be on top of it so… and I am quite democratic. I want peoples’ opinion, I will always ask you know from somebody who has just come in for an internship for a month to somebody who has been with me for seven years. It is equally valuable advice.

Elliot Moss
I will take you up on that, I will come in next week and you can let me make some big decisions.

Mary Katrantzou
Absolutely.

Elliot Moss
Time for some music right now, this is the phenomenal Mr Louis Armstrong with the brilliant Mack The Knife.

Louis Armstrong there with Mack The Knife. Mary Katrantzou is my Business Shaper I am very pleased to say today and we have been talking about her style and it sounded good to me, a bit of democracy in there and letting people voice their opinions about where you want to take things. In terms of the reaching out from your business to other brands and I mentioned very early on that you have collaborated with some significant businesses and Adidas is one. I think some ballet…

Mary Katrantzou
Yes we just did the Paris Opera a couple of months ago with Benjamin Millepied, Justin Peck and John Baltazar. So that was incredible.

Elliot Moss
So you’ve got that. You’ve got Top Shop that you’ve worked with. What is it that you look for in these collaborators? Is it collaborators that confer credibility on you? Is it the partner over there that you just say they are creatively aligned? What is the thing as you pick and choose because you can pick and choose now I am guessing?

Mary Katrantzou
Yeah we are lucky enough now that we can pick and choose but I have always been really selective about who we partner with because it is important. It is an extension of your brand and you are communicating who you are so each collaboration I guess has a different aim. When we collaborated with Montclare for example, I had never done outerwear so it was for the knowhow. I wanted to work with a brand that has incredible expertise in that field that we didn’t and I felt that our client would love to see a product that we don’t do within our own collection. Similar to Adidas, I grew up wearing Adidas sneakers and talking about democracy, it is such a democratic iconic brand and product that to be able to create something in the world in collaboration and in partnership was something that excited me and motivated me and…

Elliot Moss
Do you ever look, just as an aside, do you look at this stuff that you have created and it is now global but mass is the wrong word but it kind of has fused, in the same way Stella McCartney has I guess, it has fused something very special and boutique and specific with something of very mass. Do you ever look and go ‘that’s me, that’s my stuff’?

Mary Katrantzou
I usually don’t have those moments, yeah maybe once in I don’t know, three years I am like ‘oh we did that, that was pretty special’.

Elliot Moss
So you just keep going to the next?

Mary Katrantzou
Yes I think you have to look forward and I do have moments you know, with those collaborations you know, especially when you are in an airport you know, flying back to Greece and you see somebody with your Adidas sneakers, it’s a different kind of high than when you see a woman at a cocktail party within a fashion event you know, it’s a different reach and that does excite me because you know, I don’t design just to hang it on the wall. I want people to wear it and feel confident in it and enjoy it so yeah it is exciting and it is exciting to be able to vary the projects between commercially driven projects and creative projects that push you to do something with dance and ballet which is not what we do every three months.

Elliot Moss
No I imagine not. That would take, that would take a fair amount of time. Final chat coming up with Mary a bit later plus we will be playing a track from Ella Fitzgerald, that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

Another classic from the Jazz Shapers archive, that’s Ella Fitzgerald with A Fine Romance. I am very pleased to say I have got a modern classic right here, sitting in front of me that is going into the Jazz Shapers archive, year five and it is Mary Katrantzou and Mary is a designer if you hadn’t noticed and she has her own label and she collaborates with extraordinary people. You’ve recently if I am not mistaken, about a year ago actually taken on a CEO and that is a big step for someone who is a control freak and I don’t mean that in a negative way, someone who really wants to make sure everything is right and obsesses. What has that felt like? Has it removed you from good stuff? Has it removed you from bad stuff? I mean how has is it working out?

Mary Katrantzou
It has allowed me to see the future of the brand and how it can scale in a clearer way I think. You know when you are so involved in the day-to-day and you are trying to figure out operational issues as well as looking at business opportunities and being creative you know there is a lot to juggle and sometimes you lack clarity because of it so it’s helped taking the pressure off looking at the commercial side of the business meaning our margins, where our production is done, pushing for that production to be on time, bettering you know the relationships that we have with our partners and our mills and everyone involved so it takes that pressure off and allows you to think ahead. To think, okay this is what I am thinking this collection but where do we want to be in two years’ time, what do we want to be doing and that was impossible before I had somebody as an ali pushing you know, the business side and how it grows on a global scale.

Elliot Moss
And I guess that means creatively you are feeling pretty satisfied and that actually means as you said, you can think about the scale but through really getting more involved in what the important part is which is what’s the product versus how to deliver the product. On that point and I read recently Carl Lagerfeld talking about drawing and how it is a lost art and whether it is drawing on a computer or whether it is drawing with your hand, how much are you physically involved with that because some designers aren’t?

Mary Katrantzou
No I am and I think it’s changed over the years how we build the collection I think more importantly than how much I draw and now we are at a place that with a team, because it is also related to the team you have and the skills they bring and I am really happy with the way it is structured now because I initiate a collection with my own collages and with my own drawings then that is handed over to my team and they start building it out in silhouette and fabrication, then it comes back to me and I take it one step ahead and we have a constant dialogue where I creatively draw, give it back to them, they add on it and it comes back to me so it is a satisfying way of working because you feel you are constantly working and refining and evolving it.

Elliot Moss
In terms of the future and you talked about the 2008 recession and obviously now we are in funny times…

Mary Katrantzou
Yes.

Elliot Moss
…this is definitely a year of change or…

Mary Katrantzou
Absolutely.

Elliot Moss
…a good few years of change. For you, how does that… does it influence you? Does the macro position of uncertainty influence the way that Mary designs or does Mary say ‘this is what I feel women need today’?

Mary Katrantzou
It affects you of course but our business is still based on a wholesale model so it means that before going into retail and being able to control more the relationship you have with your customer of course you are relying on the environment and it is a tough environment out there right now but I think it makes designers, it certainly has made me a little bit more definitive in terms of what they communicate, what the brand is about and what they are known or you know, I think that can get lost. You can’t be everything for everyone at all times and I think it is good to find your band width as a designer at the beginning but I think then you know, the brand has certain codes and a core that you need to cultivate so I think it forces you to look at that. Who is Mary Katrantzou as a brand? Who is our audience? Who do we talk to? What do they expect from us and how can we push their desires forward to what they are not certain yet that they want because it is about shaping desire as well.

Elliot Moss
Mary you are no diva.

Mary Katrantzou
I am no diva.

Elliot Moss
You are no diva, you are wonderful.

Mary Katrantzou
That’s good to know thank you Elliot.

Elliot Moss
You are focussed and you are super clear and it has been brilliant talking to you and I am sure that as you shape your own business it will be shaping the business of fashion too. Thank you so much for spending some time with me.

Mary Katrantzou
Thank you so much.

Elliot Moss
Just before I let you go though, before you zip away. What is your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Mary Katrantzou
Miriam McCabe, Patter Patter because it makes me happy and I hope it makes Jazz FM listeners happy too.

Elliot Moss
Thank you so much.

That was Patter Patter from Miriam McCabe, the song choice of my Business Shaper today Mary Katrantzou. A super relaxed person. Not the diva that we all expected from the fashion world, really lovely to hear. Someone who understood the importance of giving women confidence and still does that in all of the clothes that she makes and also someone that understands that if she is going to scale she needs to bring in people to run the operations of the business and that’s just what she has done with a CEO so that she can focus a hundred percent on the product itself and on creating amazing things going forward. Really, really great to hear. Do join me again, same time, same place, that’s next Saturday 9.00am for another addition of Jazz Shapers. Meanwhile stay with us because coming up next its Nigel Williams.

Mary Katrantzou

Fashion designer Mary Katrantzou was born in Athens, Greece. Her mother is an interior designer and her father worked in textile design; she was therefore exposed to design from an early age. She began her academic career at the Rhode Island School of Design to study a BA in Architecture, but then transferred to Central Saint Martins (CSM) to complete a BA degree in textile design. Graduating in 2005, she decided to shift her interest from textile design to womenswear with a focus on print. While studying, she became interested in the way that printed textiles can change the shape of a woman’s body. She subsequently went on to graduate in MA Fashion from Central Saint Martins with distinction.

Follow Mary on Twitter @MaryKatrantzou.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

When you first start there is no brand, there is no communication with an audience. There is just you designing quite instinctively and quite naively…

The women we dress come to us for the wit that exists within the print and the art work and the craftsmanship of the textiles we design.

It is always very flattering and a privilege to see your work being worn by women you respect so much.

Wearing Mary Katrantzou means you are wearing something that is making you stand out and I think only confident women can take that on.

I can rely on amazing people who I trust to hire their own teams and manage them effectively so I think I delegate a lot more now. When I first started I didn’t have that skill. I felt a need to control everything…

I am quite democratic. I want peoples’ opinion. I will always ask…somebody who has just come in for an internship for a month to somebody who has been with me for seven years. It is equally valuable advice.

I have always been really selective about who we partner with because it is important. It is an extension of your brand and you are communicating who you are, so each collaboration has a different aim.

I don’t design just to hang it on the wall. I want people to wear it and feel confident in it and enjoy it.

You can’t be everything for everyone at all times and I think it is good to find your band width as a designer at the beginning.