Banknotes, Diamonds, And Gardens: Mary Katrantzou’s Surreal Textiles

A 28-year-old Greek designer is reinventing the print, thanks to a digital printer, Photoshop, and an eye for the gaudy status symbols of her given profession.

“Before you leave the house,” Coco Chanel once famously instructed her disciples, “look in the mirror and remove one accessory.” Greek designer Mary Katrantzou would probably offer a different dictum–something along the lines of “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and put on a typewriter, a unicorn, and five more necklaces.”


Recently dubbed “the Queen of Print” by the New York Times’ Suzy Menkes, the Athens native launched her first successful collection at London Fashion Week in 2008, the same year she graduated from Central Saint Martins. A series of emerging talent awards have funded six subsequent collections, each more successful than the last.

Katrantzou’s chosen medium is the digital printer (a topic we’ve written about a lot this month, eh?), which she uses to print her lush digital collages onto garments. “I use digital tools in a very painterly way,” she tells Menkes. A sampling of her trompe l’oeil prints turns up gilded chandeliers, fake rolexes, groomed hedges, pencils, Thai banknotes, and all manner of jewels. Each print starts as a Photoshop file on Katrantzou’s computer–she works on them intuitively, adding elements and mirroring pieces until they feel right. Then, they go onto the dresses, which are deceptively simple in cut. Katrantzou, who is refreshingly funny and gracious in interviews, is adamant that she’s “not a maximalist.”

“I started wanting to work a lot with different objects, trying to engineer them around the body, and see what kind of effects that will have in flattering the woman,” she told Menkes this year. “It’s about trying to do with print, what a black dress does.” There’s also plenty of art world humor in the prints, each of which demands second and third looks. Her S/S 2011 collection, which depicted 3-D modeled spaces of hyper-luxury, was titled “C’est ci nes pas une chambre,” or “This is not a room,” a coy nod to Magritte’s pipe.

Katrantzou has her roots in houses like Versace, for whom wild, hyper-pigmented prints are a constant motif. But unlike Versace, Katrantzou’s prints simultaneously criticize and engage the fashion world’s unquestioning culture of excess. Her 2013 Ready to Wear collection went straight to the source, eschewing the actual symbols of luxury for their currency: international banknotes. The collages woven from watermarks, holographs, and detailed etchings are totally unexpected–a self-aware wink from a designer whose dresses routinely sell for $5,000.

We don’t write about fashion all that often at Co.Design, and it comes to me that sometimes it’s best to just shut up and let you look at the pictures. Enjoy!

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.