The Conversation: Mary Katrantzou, designer

'Black is the natural fall-back to cleanse your palate, and to have a uniform. But look at any designer, and you'll see the way they dress isn't extravagant.'

How stressful has London Fashion Week been?

On a scale of one to 10, it's high up there. You start speeding up the decisions made, and things click into place all in the last week, and then it's about getting the right finish in a very short time.

Does it make you smoke more cigarettes?

Fashion week makes me smoke more, and everyone on the team understands that I need to smoke more, so I feel freer. I mean, I'm a smoker so what can I say?

When was your last day off?

I went to Greece for two days and lost my luggage. It was a stressful holiday – no Prada earrings; no Jil Sander shoes. I lost everything I owned and all my black tops. That was my last time off. And that taught me to never ever take a day off!

Your new collection is inspired by shoes – and it's very different from the previous season.

I'm still in the position where every season you want to do things you haven't done before. Even the embroidery, how we've worked it this season, is different.

Do you always wear black?

I rarely don't. There's so much colour around, and even here at work there's so much of it. And that does make you strip away the colour from your wardrobe. It's the natural fall-back to cleanse your palate, and to have a uniform. But look at any designer, and you'll see the way they dress isn't extravagant.

I read that you sell dresses for upwards of £30,000?

I do.

How often do customers with those kinds of pockets come along?

A lot of our customers buy into it every season, and they buy an extravagant piece or a simple version they can see themselves wearing. Last season we sold the Swarovski crystal and needle-punched felt jumper to a woman in Kazakhstan. There was one woman who came from Belgium who was a collector.

It's nice to have collectors of fashion who buy five to 10 pieces every season just as collectors' items, and there are stores in Canada or Russia or in China that have that market and it validates having those crazy show pieces that you know you'll only produce five of. But do these special pieces make you a living? No. Not if you only do that.

Greece's economic situation is dire – has anyone you know been affected?

I know a lot of my friends are struggling. It's sad because they're my age, in their thirties, and that's the time that you want to have a settled career and get married and have children. Whenever I go back to Greece, I see them without any prospect of a better job, and they're paid a ridiculously small amount. People who are well-educated, with Masters and PhDs, are doing basic jobs, like working at a till in a bank, when their knowledge and their skills are much more advanced.

A lot of companies are merging together and letting go of a lot of people, while some people feel trapped in their position and are trying to figure out when and how they can make a move. Some are leaving and going abroad, but not everyone has the opportunity. Even my parents have seen their pension cut by a third. The amount that you have to pay in taxes is absolutely ridiculous. I think it's a situation that's made people a little more desperate: everyone is out for themselves and people you can trust have no money – I shouldn't be saying this, it's terrible.

Biography

Mary Katrantzou is a fashion designer who has been dubbed the 'queen of prints'. Born in 1983 in Athens, she studied at Central Saint Martins, going on to work for Sophia Kokosalaki and Bill Blass before striking out on her own

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