Each Mary Katrantzou garment creates its own whimsical dialogue. So imagine stepping into 180 of them on mannequins atop color-coordinated hexagonal platforms, like a ‘70s game show. The desire to become immersed in Mary, Queen Of Prints at the Dallas Contemporary competes with the attention commanded by each individual piece, born of a distinct, complex process and mode of production. To Katrantzou, an absolute maximalist, each article of clothing is not complete without some embellishment of lace, tulle, beading, gems, candelabras, or holograms. Mary Katrantzou lives up to her title.
She was born in Athens and moved to the U.S. in 2003 to study architecture at Rhode Island School of Design; later, she changed her major and transferred to Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design to complete undergraduate and graduate work in textiles and fashion design. In 2008, she kicked off the Central Saint Martins graduate show with six bold, digitally-printed slip dresses incorporated with large, opulent jewelry pieces. Two of those original dresses are on display in the Contemporary show, which encompasses Katrantzou’s ten-year career.
As a designer, Katrantzou focuses primarily on creating fashion for women, often, in the process, redefining how women dress. “I love to make clothing that creates a discussion,” Katranzou says. The functionality of her pieces is not necessarily a top priority. One of her favorite designs is a brilliantly tailored dress constructed out of No. 2 pencils that unfortunately restrict the wearer from being able to sit or bend. Also on display: a movement-prohibitive wedding dress that overflows with 150 meters of cascading chiffon ruffles.
The juxtaposition in this collection is refreshingly thought-provoking. Each clustered display shares a color and hue, but at the same time allows the viewer to see the evolution of different seasons and themes. A breadth of garments showcased at the Contemporary highlights Katrantzou’s ever-evolving influences and inventive style choices over the years, moving from atypical designs to more form fitting, ready-to-wear silhouettes. Justine Ludwig, deputy director and chief curator at the Contemporary, put the Katrantzou show together with executive director Peter Doroshenko. In September, the editors of this publication and collaborators from Forty Five Ten named Ludwig one of ten most stylish people in Dallas.
“Mary makes powerful clothing, for powerful women,” Ludwig says. “When I put on one of her designs, I feel powerful.”
The garments Ludwig co-curated for the exhibition sometimes find themselves in amusing pairs. A gown showcasing the dreary iconography of the corporate world, with cheeky embroidered pay stubs and the numbers 24-7, is placed next to a double-breasted velvet suit with a pink centaurette from Disney’s Fantasia. Katrantzou designs textile patterns for the garments in different ways. Some are printed digitally, while others are made of fabrics woven together in a manner reminiscent of friendship bracelets.
Katrantzou has made her brand unique, in that she’s able to float effortlessly between the commercial and the high-fashion realms. Collaborations with larger companies such as Adidas, Longchamp, and Topshop facilitated the brand’s expansion through a new perspective and voice, while also creating more avenues for marketing — an important way-maker for an independent company.
The designer oversees her own production with a small hand-picked team focused on managing costs and creating eco-friendly textiles. To create less waste, Katrantzou drafts all her designs analog in Photoshop and prints them three-dimensionally through a third party to keep excess low. Much of the lace in her garments is biodegradable as well. Gravitating away from fast-fashion creates less disposable designs, and allows consumers to cherish individual pieces — as patrons are invited to do at the Dallas Contemporary, where these distinct pieces aren’t lost in the small constellations they form.
Mary, Queen of Prints is on view at the Dallas Contemporary until March 23.