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Mary Katrantzou on motherhood, her personal style and her new haute couture handbags

The fashion designer released her limited edition capsule collection with Bulgari during Paris Fashion Week

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“We’re discovering more synergy with every collection that we work together on,” Mary Katrantzou explains of her latest venture with Bulgari, “It's based on the fact that Bulgari itself has Roman Greek roots, so even in terms of cultural heritage, there's common ground that you can’t describe. It's not something tangible, it’s just part of your aesthetic that you form at a much earlier age.”

Mary is a natural born storyteller, something I immediately realise during our conversation over Zoom, which takes place amidst her gruelling Paris Fashion Week schedule. Famously dubbed “the Queen of print”, the Greek-born designer is a dab hand in the masterful world of mesmerising prints, playful textures, and exquisite craftsmanship, all of which oozes through her latest accessories collaboration with the Roman jewellers. 

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The capsule collection comprises three breathtaking bejewelled bags that incorporate Bulgari’s iconic Serpenti motif, complete with 3D embroidery which hones in on the art of haute couture, all completed by hand by artisans at the Atelier Montex in Paris. Mary’s captivating aura permeates into this exquisite collection. She uses aesthetics from archival Bulgari pieces as a source of inspiration and combines with her Greek heritage, to create pieces that encapsulate the beauty of the natural world.

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The Serpenti Tropical Garden bag

So it may come as a surprise, that for somebody whose specialty is creating elaborate canvases, Mary’s everyday uniform is a plain black dress, “Black is almost a palette cleanser for me, because so much of my work revolves around pattern and colour” she tells me. On our call she’s wearing… yep, you guessed it: a long sleeved, fitted black dress, “It was a distinction that happened naturally, but now it's my go-to uniform”. The one accessory she opted for on the day was a very on brand Serpenti bracelet. “Women who wear black lead very colourful lives” she continues and I couldn’t agree more. The perfect way to epitomise a world-class designer whose work spans from haute couture accessories to affordable collaborations with Lipsy, a collection for Marina Rinaldi and her own swimwear collection Mary Mare.

Is there anything she can’t do? Apparently not, because the last 12 months have been particularly momentous for the designer. She previously released a capsule collection with Bulgari, but this one doesn’t only differ because of its dedication to haute couture, but it’s her first one balancing her bustling work schedule, with motherhood. 

“The first few first months were quite tough” she admits, but attributes this stunning new collection to her one year old son, “but now I feel this drive for being around creative people and doing creative projects and things I love, and I do feel the most creative I've ever felt.”

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The Serpenti Midnight Garden bag

Perhaps her new found meaning of life is also why she feels so passionately about Bulgari’s iconic Serpenti motif and its reverence of human growth. “I believe the Serpenti represents metamorphosis, and it's a process that we all go through in life – whether you're a woman or a man, you kind of shed your skin like a snake does, and there's a rebirth that happens through that.”

The capsule collection was presented exclusively at Bulgari Place Vendome boutique during Paris Fashion Week, and we caught up with Mary on launch day to find out more about the collection, who she had in mind when creating these pieces, and whether she’d actually wear her own bags…

What is it about Mary Katrantzou that pairs so well with Bulgari?

“I wanted to build a capsule that is of craftsmanship, and really allows you to look at the Bulgari archives. I wanted to create this Garden of Eden in the most fantastical and whimsical way. I took the approach of looking at their collections from the past and the intricate symbols that they had created for watch dials. The collection that inspired us is called II Giardino Tropicale. We looked at lots of incredible high jewellery pieces and took on specific details like the mosaic of the watch faces, or the way the precious stones were positioned, and tried to recreate that into craftsmanship of beads and shapes that were entirely created by hand.” Mary explains, “I think that's how I connect to my own formation – the love and respect to the archive: the pre-existing designs that form a strong part of the Bulgari DNA and tried to recreate them with my knowledge of craftsmanship and the way I approach colour and texture.”

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Each piece is crafted entirely by hand

How has your Greek heritage come into play with the designs on this new collection?

“Growing up in Greece, I have huge respect for Bulgari as a brand and understanding its codes. I think the love that they have for bold jewellery, designs and a strong narrative is something that is very much in common with how I like to draw inspiration. It's always very important to me that there's an element of storytelling because pieces that make a bold statement allow the wearer to express themselves, so I think we talk to similar women and we design for a similar woman. I feel you understand the codes of the brand even more season on season.”

Who did you have in mind when creating these pieces?

“I think the wearer is the woman who wants to wear something that makes a statement and becomes a conversation starter as a form of self expression, and these bags are an extension of a woman who is confident, full of life and has an expressive personality.”

Do you wear statement accessories or is that also a blank canvas?

“I love a statement accessory. I always love highlighting what you wear with strong statement pieces in jewellery and the handbag you carry. Sometimes these pieces are even more important in the statement than what you choose to wear. But when I'm not working or when I'm on holiday, there is definitely colour and print in my wardrobe.”

How have you found the balance of working with being a mother?

“I actually feel more creative than ever. I think there's something that happens with motherhood. It's this incredible miracle of life that until you experience it, you just cannot relate to. Also living between London and Athens and travelling to Paris or Rome for collaborations, I have to travel a lot. So I think you choose who to collaborate with and how you challenge yourself creatively in a much more meaningful way. Before becoming a mother and before the pandemic, there was this relentless pace of doing 2-4 shows a year that would never allow you to have the time to create meaningful partnerships, and I think motherhood has changed me in that I have more energy and desire to create now that he's a year old. I have to attribute that to motherhood because I really felt the change.”

Favourite piece from the collection?

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The Tree of Life bag

“It's difficult to have a favourite because it's nice to see them all together. I really think they have such a strong connection and are almost a continuation of each other. But I have to say, I love the Tree of Life as a symbolism for the Bulgari brand. We used its metaphor to draw inspiration from other elements like jewellery pieces or their watch collection. These pieces are almost the ‘hanging fruit’ in this Tree of Life collection. Also I love how fresh it looks because it's on a white background.”

What else can we expect from your eponymous line this year?

“Aside from our Ready To Wear collections and the Mary Mare line, we’re working on a big project within the world of interiors. We’re also continuing this partnership with Bulgari and focusing on their high end bags. I think there's very few brands in the world that have this incredible history within high jewellery that have built an accessories range that speaks to that customer. To take on the incredible workmanship that you get in high jewellery and have that piece in a handbag that you carry is a very difficult thing to achieve and so is to have the customer who wants pieces that are so unique. So it's wonderful to be able to explore this ground with more time.”

The collection will form part of the Bulgari Resort 2023 Collection and is available from May.

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