DALLAS — “I don’t like too much security,” said Mary Katrantzou, as she urged a technician to ignore the risk of blowing a fuse and add another spotlight to her exhibit at the Dallas Contemporary. “Be brave and fierce.”
It was a particularly apt statement for the designer, who was surrounded by 182 mannequins that embodied her creativity. “Mary, Queen of Prints” celebrates Katrantzou’s 10th anniversary with a retrospective that’s on display through March 18.
Everything is packed into one large room, and the troops of mannequins are clustered by color — pink, yellow, red, green, blue, fuchsia, black and white, metallics and a rainbow assortment. The effect is like being immersed in a kaleidoscope.
“Mary is a master of color in a way that very few designers are,” observed Justine Ludwig, the gallery’s deputy director and chief curator. “This is a way of looking at her entire oeuvre simultaneously.”
Katrantzou doesn’t show couture, but many of the pieces on display are so elaborate they were offered only as custom orders. Some, like the sculptural tornado dress adorned with tin cans, whistles and Lesage-beaded three-dimensional flowers, are showpieces that were only worn once on the runway.
Seeing her touchstone designs in one space was a revelation for the designer.
“To me, it’s almost closing a chapter and allowing you to take it all in. What have I achieved so far, and what are those very special pieces that have taken the brand to where it is today? Some ideas, like the draping of the butcher’s apron [dress], we’ve never revisited. It reminds you of what an interesting process that was, and just looking at it, you want to do more of it,” she said.
Katrantzou holds a master’s degree in textile design from Central Saint Martin’s, and her first collections featured simple shifts and sheaths in striking trompe l’oeil prints. But she credits her 2011 collection of quirky lampshade-shaped dresses and skirts as her breakthrough.
“It was so precise and strong that it made it clear that the brand is not only about the decorative nature of the fabrics, but it’s also about silhouette and architectural form and how those harmoniously bleed together,” she said. “We thought we would never sell lampshade dresses, and we sold 25 of them.”
Among her favorites are the handwoven and bejeweled dresses inspired by friendship bracelets that she showed in her nostalgia-themed spring 2018 collection. Three of the labor-intensive pieces, which were made by a group of women in Kosovo and are only sold by custom order, are in the show.
“I love this idea that what we did as kids with our girlfriends was then brought into adulthood and created a bond with these women doing them,” Katrantzou said. “We could have just embroidered them and made a fake fringe, but it wasn’t about that. It was about staying true to the original.”
Born in Athens and based in London, the designer has strong connections in Dallas. Her friend, fashion maven Nasiba Adilova, introduced her to a stylish set six years ago at a cocktail party and Katrantzou has twice attended the Two x Two for AIDS and Art fund-raiser and art auction.
“It feels like family,” she said.
Locally, Neiman Marcus and Carla Martinengo carry the brand, and Dallas is one of her top markets for private clients ordering custom pieces. The others are London, Toronto, Hong Kong and Dubai.
“Dallas is an incredible market,” Katrantzou said. “The women have such an appreciation for art and fashion and collecting really special pieces. You don’t find that in every city.”