I felt like I had to tape my mouth up every time Mary Katrantzou came to mind in the prior days and moments before her A/W 14-5 show on Sunday. The big story that emerged of course was that Katrantzou and thrown a massive curveball this season and there wasn’t a single digital print this season (save for a pattern printed onto metal chainmail of a butcher’s apron). But I already knew this as just before New York Fashion Week, I had visited Katrantzou in her studio, with the help of Swarovski to see what she was up to, with regards to all things crystals. Turns out embellishment, greatly aided by Swarovski, was highly integral to the collection this season. The critics have been calling for change and had been urging Katrantzou to step away from the computer.
So Katrantzou took that advice, and it went hand in hand with her own desire to expand her repertoire and play with fabrics like custom-made technical laces developed in Switzerland, lush patterned jacquards and elongated silhouettes that gave away just a hint of her Greek origins (although she didn’t intend for it to look Greek). Photoshop be damned. Well, for one season anyway.
Katrantzou painted pictures, not with the click of a mouse but by collaging different elements together, which were often encrusted with crystals, beads and goldwork embroidery, to depict what were her “sign of the times”. The matter-of-factly workman and toilet signs are mixed together with vaguely recognisable badges of honour, coats of arms and other forms of heraldry symbolism. She explored different workwear uniforms that you wouldn’t think could necessarily be moulded into directional evening wear but then again, this is the woman who placed yellow pencils on a cocktail dress. A chainmail butcher’s apron printed with a faded leopard print is printed and draped into a toga-esque mini dress. The cookie cutters of a baker (also playing on the phrase “cookie cutter style”) hang off metal mesh, speckled with Swarovski pearls and crystals, created by jeweller Scott Wilson. Most impressive of all though were the technical laces, chock full of symbols and signs, rendered in a uniform-inspired colour palette – navy, bottle green and burgandy. Those colours were key in calming down the totem creatures – or as Mary called them, her “robots” – that were embroidered on top in different stages. These robots don’t have names yet but they’ll take a life of its own when Katrantzou produces another digital-based campaign. Erstwhile, jacquard trouser suits, dresses with worked in pleats and a simple oversized peacoat offset all the embroidery work and sparkle jangle going on in these badge/symbol/sign formations.
Perhaps it was the 3-D and tactile components (see furry sweatshirts and nubbly laces) which unleashed a new lease of life into Katrantzou’s work. As good as her digital prints were, they were an image – perhaps an intangible one when digitally printed onto a smooth satin surface. Her past silhouettes also skewed sculptural and often, stiff. This time they moved, flowed and breathed, thanks to the use of pleats. I have the photos to prove it, as I snapped the models rushing to change into their second looks backstage.
Despite the no-print shocker, we could all see the giant step forward. Like her previous digital print collections, the message and imagery were shouted loud and clear. There wasn’t any ambiguity and that’s what Katrantzou excels at – telling a story with a literal and direct medium – be that print, embellishment or otherwise. No doubt, the prints will still exist within Katrantzou’s sales showroom. Negative reviews have never stopped Katrantzou’s runaway success train and the shops still cry for her unique print agenda. Katrantzou now has a wider set of skillsets to draw from and she now feels confident enough to do so. We, the spectators and customers are in for a treat, as we enter a different Katrantzou era.