When Mary Katrantzou first emerged on the scene in 2008, as part of a new generation of young UK upstarts, her innovative digital prints and mastery of textiles quickly made her ready-to-wear shows among the most anticipated of London Fashion Week.

But in the past year and a half since her last show, a tour de force couture extravaganza held at the Temple of Poseidon, the Greek designer has been flexing her creative muscles on other projects, including a lower-priced, season-less resort line called Mary Mare. She's also been spending more time in her homeland of Greece, where she's been cooped up with her new dog Apollo.

She's also unveiling a new collaboration with Bulgari for their "Serpenti Through the Eyes of..." series, which in the past has teamed up with designers like Nicholas Kirkwood and Yoon Ahn of Ambush, all of whom as tasked with reinterpreting the Serpenti snakehead motif. Though the initially partnered up for Katrantzou's Poseidon show, this marks the designer's first full range with the historic Roman jeweler and consists of everything from scarves to minaudières to tophandle bags.

The capsule's campaign stars Natalia Vodianova wearing custom couture jumpsuits Katrantzou made just for the occasion which feature butterfly motifs as a nod to its themes of metamorphosis. She recently hopped on a Zoom with PAPER to discuss the past year living in Greece, working with Bulgari and what's in store for her next.

Photography: Hugo Comte

What have these crazy past 12 months been like for you creatively?

Things have been pretty busy for us throughout the entire pandemic. Actually, all of this work with Bulgari started way before, and it's just launching now. We also worked on another collaboration with them for their Omnia fragrance. And then we also launched last year, in the middle of the pandemic, our Mary Mare line, which is an all-year-round resort collection. So we just finished season two of that. And we have something very special in connection to our bag collaboration which has been designed. It's just about waiting to figure out the form, time and place to present it when everyone can come together hopefully in the summer.

Your ready-to-wear shows were some of the most anticipated of London Fashion Week, but a few years ago you switched gears a bit. Can you expand a bit on how your approach has changed?

Our intention initially was to follow the footsteps of what we did at the Temple of Poseidon in Greece, which was my first couture show, but also it was linked to a great charity called Elpida who supports and does research for children cancer patients. It's been a year and a half actually since that show, and my intention was to do one couture show a year that can be linked with something that I feel is meaningful and communicates more than just the design and the beauty that a collection can create. So that was the first opportunity actually to collaborate with Bulgari, because the first real collaboration was in that show in Greece with their high jewelry, and they lent us incredible pieces from their collection, but also archival pieces dating back to the '60s.

How did that Greece show influence your approach going award?

It came as a compass, even before everything happened, to kind of show me a different way where I think for me it's about designing responsibly, it's about being creatively fulfilled, it's about using my platform for the practical good. So our intention was to follow on that, but because of the pandemic and everything, it just doesn't feel relevant to have a show even of that nature or any nature. So we have a collection ready to go. We've been creative, but it's about finding the right time. It's about having a moment to really reflect and think about how you want to create. Everything I do creatively has been very, very liberating as I think it has been for many, many designers.

Courtesy of Bulgari

How did you go about making sure that your Bulgari collaboration best reflected your point of view as a designer?

Before lockdowns took effect, I went to Rome and visited their historical archive, and there was an exhibition happening at the time on their high jewelry so we could look at these pieces up close. And that was incredibly inspiring when thinking about the Serpenti, really thinking what Serpenti means to me because it's such a powerful icon and symbol for Bulgari, but it holds a lot of powerful symbolism even dating back to ancient Greek and Roman mythology. So to me, the Serpenti and what I wanted to kind of bring out in its symbolism, is the Serpenti as a symbol of transformation, as a symbol of rebirth. And this idea of metamorphosis, which I think is so relevant to how the world is transforming and this rebirth that we all hope is happening at the moment.

What sort of references and design motifs did you incorporate for this collection?

I looked at this incredible Harlequin Serpenti watch from 1968, and the first idea was to look at Serpenti and allow it to transform itself in the design itself. So the Serpenti watch became the minaudière, even down to how you open the minaudière by pressing its tongue. And then I thought, why only focus on the Serpenti head? Why not create a bag that the Serpenti becomes its handle, almost like a piece of jewelry in the bag, which actually is removable, and you can wear it as a cross-body with its chain, and it has its own transformation and its own dual nature. The artwork is the Serpenti coiling around the snake head and transforming slowly into a collection of butterflies. And then that in turn, in another print, transforms again into a flower in bloom. So it really gave us the opportunity to look at Serpenti in three completely different chapters, but all within the narrative of a metamorphosis.

The couture jumpsuits you made for Natalia Vodianova in the campaign are pretty incredible!

Thank you! I wanted it to feel like a second skin on Natalia and also, because there was this, let's say, transformation between the snake and the butterfly, it became also a theme for the campaign itself, where Natalia shows her feminine side, but also her strength and her power almost in her body movement. For us it was very important for it to be a partnership with her Naked Heart Foundation. And I think design is transformative always, but to be able, through this collaboration, to communicate more and to be able to support those less fortunate, felt perfect when you think about this idea of transformation and rebirth and healing.

Photography: Hugo Comte

You're usually in London but you've been staying in Greece a lot longer lately. What has the change of scenery been like for you?

While my base is in London, I've been very fortunate to be able to spend more time in Greece and I haven't been able to in the past 20 years. So we got stuck here and I really appreciate the time I was given. And everyone in my team is working remotely: our pattern cutters, two are in Italy, one is in Switzerland, one is in London. The team is also spread between sometimes their own countries. So it's made us all work very, very differently, in many cases, much more productively because you have to be a lot more decisive.

What do you enjoy most about collaborating and working with other brands?

Obviously every designer has their own aesthetic, but it's so exciting when there's a creative marriage between two brands. And in this case, there's such a rich history in DNA that we could be doing another 10 collaborations in the future. So without really knowing what the future will bring, I think it's opened me up in many, many ways. It's not that I have more time actually, because we're working on a lot of things, but it's that it's freed me up to take on projects that are creatively fulfilling, and that stretch my creativity and my imagination in very different ways. To decode a brand like Bulgari and to decode a symbol like the Serpenti, that alone was extremely exciting.

Mary Katrantzou x Bulgari is available for pre-order now at Bulgari.com.

Photos courtesy of Getty

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