Reminiscent of the visual excesses of fashion icon Gianni Versace but with her tongue planted firmly in cheek, Greek-born and London-based designer Mary Katrantzou’s designs are outré, clever and often camp. Her outrageous, busy digital prints on fabric evoke painter David Salle’s crazed canvases with their phantasmagorical collages of ordinary objects, sex and money floating like “Blade Runner” holograms across a postindustrial landscape.
Just 36 years old, Katrantzou may be the youngest of the designers shown at Atlanta’s SCAD FASH: Museum of Fashion + Film in the solo exhibition “KALEIDOSCOPE KATRANTZOU: Mary Katrantzou, 10 Years in Fashion,” but her sense of the stakes of high fashion is preternaturally savvy. She is also far less well known than the big names like Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta and Pierre Cardin, whose work has commanded the SCAD FASH space. With less of an expansive back catalogue, the exhibition of Katrantzou’s work at SCAD FASH is more about simple presentation, a kind of Cliff Notes intro to her style with clothes lined up on a series of daises in groupings of key collections. You could make a parallel to the display at one of the high-end department stores like Neiman Marcus where Katrantzou sells her work. At SCAD FASH, her clothes are presented on simple, featureless glossy white mannequins in a pared-back display that allows her often astounding designs to speak for themselves.
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Dubbed the “daughter of the digital revolution” by Vogue, Katrantzou’s design process is as modern as her shift dresses and pant suits. Her computer-generated collages are created digitally before being translated into 2-D patterns. The digital designs are then printed onto fabric and further manipulated into their final form.
Though Katrantzou draws from her Greek heritage in patterns derived from Minoan art or in references to the Greek drachma, her canvas is global and promiscuously time-tripping, nodding to the 1940 Disney film in her 2017 collection “A Fantasia,” but also to paint-by-numbers, Legos, film noir and the Bauhaus. With their explosions of flowers and green lawns, other designs suggest formal French gardens populated with outrageously garish daisies and pansies that float like psychedelic apparitions, on a dark background. Katrantzou studied architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design and then fashion at London’s Central Saint Martins. Her garments reflect a taste for elaborate, architectural constructions paired with an art student and citizen of the world’s expansive view of the past and future.
The digital prints that define her clothes are often over-the-top spectacles of living large, printed with images of diamonds and crystal chandeliers, perfume bottles and dollar signs. In “Rooms” from Katrantzou’s Spring/Summer 2011 collection, a silk blouse printed with an image of the interior of a lavish home is paired with an embroidered velvet skirt with a bustle-like shape modeled on a lampshade. Rather than her original career path to design literal spaces, Katrantzou has created wearable ones. Statement necklaces look like luxury car hood ornaments, skirts drip curtains of beads and embellishment becomes play in Katrantzou’s whimsical designs. A series of clear, inflatable PVC bolero jackets (Katrantzou has a nostalgic, child’s eye affection for the fun of foul-weather wear) come filled with baubles and sparkles like a gumball machine of prizes.
A seemingly democratic and quotidian spirit infuses other works, as if to counterbalance all that wild style opulence. Key dresses in the “Ordinary Objects” Fall/Winter 2012 collection come embellished with pencils and prints feature trompe l’oeil typewriter necklines. Those pieces conjure up a world of work that seems absurdly, purposefully opposed to the world of galas, celebrity and big money in other garments. But even in her willingness to play the field, designing collections for fast fashion giant Topshop one year and then luxury handbags for Longchamp the next, Katrantzou delivers a distinctly modern, savvy and interesting approach.
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