Known for her wildly vivid prints in her namesake line, designer Mary Katrantzou’s recent collaboration with adidas Originals is yet another successful designer collaboration for the sportswear giant. We sat down with her to find out what inspired the line and the future of the high-fashion and streetwear crossover.
Having released last week, designer Mary Katrantzou‘s collaborative collection with adidas Originals has already made quite a statement. Known for her extensive use of prints in her namesake line, the London-based designer has delivered a range of bespoke-printed sportswear and sneakers. The inspiration for the deconstructed prints comes from adidas’ extensive running shoe archive, with the designer taking inspiration from everything including the iconic Trefoil, to the spikes on the bottom of running soles.
How did your collaboration with adidas come about?
Someone at adidas came one day to London and met with my team, and my team said they met this great team and they wanted to work with us. We discussed it internally initially, because we’ve done different collaborations and if we’re going to do something, it needs to make sense, it needs to be the right product and with the right partner. I always loved all the different collaborations that adidas were doing between Y-3, Stella McCartney, Raf Simons, Rick Owens; and so we felt we were already in good company, and that is very important when you know someone as big as adidas can respect the vision of the designer. So we were already like, okay let’s see.
Then we met again in London and we were at that time doing a collection based on shoes for our own line, so just something about the fact that we were looking at sneakers anyway, having meetings with adidas in our offices, and i thought what if we did exactly that. What if we look at the actual shoe, and went beyond that in terms of all the different technical aspects of that and used them decoratively, and turned that on its head and put them on the clothes, and I got really excited with the idea.
How long did the collaboration process take?
It was a long process actually. It would have been June 2013, from the first conversation we had until the moment where we were able to release the first images was a year and half. A lot of people now see the (adidas) collection and they realize the connection with the (Mary Katrantzou) collection we were designing then. No one knew that we were working with adidas so they would ask “Why are you doing sneakers and what’s the interesting thing about sneakers?” and I was like “I wish I could tell you.”
Did you look at archival adidas pieces for inspiration?
Yes we looked at the archives, we were so happy that we were finally able to work at the archives because it’s sacred ground. We went to
Nuremberg and had a chat and a meeting with the head archivist. Then they ended up bringing the product into another room with special gloves. I had seen a book actually with the running shoes, and I was obsessed with the ’70s, ’80s running shoes with all the spikes on the soles. I was thinking you never look at a running shoe like that, you never look at whats underneath, the colours, the spikes. All the moulds that are created are beyond. When we where looking at the archives you could see all that detail, so we took really detailed imagery and adidas sent even more.
Then it was about that time that we continued between the collection we were doing, and how we were looking at the sneaker and thinking of real adidas iconography – from the adidas trefoil to the running spikes, but just turning everything on its head and blowing it up to such a scale that it becomes part of the clothes and actually becomes the formation of the sneaker.
The sneakers are so heavily embellished that they are very high fashion, but they’re also a practical sneaker. What was the intention behind the design here?
Yeah in the end you can still run with it, but you can also go to a party with them. It was actually one of the first things we talked about when we met, that it should be something every girl wants to own and making sure there is something feminine there, but it’s cool at the same time and you feel it’s easy to wear. I wanted it to be distinctive but at the same time for it to be a lot more accessible. I can’t do that within our own collection, I can’t make it as democratic as I can make it with adidas. I grew up wearing adidas Gazelles and I think it’s great to be able to put your work out there in a way that any age, any income, anything, can actually have a pair.
How did you find designing sportswear compared with your main line?
At the end, because a lot of my collections are thematic, it’s just what the starting point is. The starting point for us was actually the adidas archives, and that made it a lot more theoretical in my mind. Because you are taking such a global brand, finding the visual language that they have created and using that actual language in the capsule collection you’re doing for them, so in essence it’s a bespoke print with adidas iconography, curated by Mary Katrantzou. So it just made it a different kind of collaboration. It’s a small collaboration, in that it’s only 15 pieces and not 85 pieces like we do, but the essence is exactly that. The recognizability of certain elements – the three stripes, the trefoil, the particular laces, the soles of the running shoe, all these details collaged in a way that creates a fun, bold, colorful print. And that you would wear, because it kind of relates to sportswear, but it relates to all of those elements, not that we made it overly sporty or overly technical.
You’re well known for print in your work, how did the prints for this collaboration come about?
It was actually a phase that I was going out of print within my own work, because I felt I’d said so much with print that I actually have nothing more to say. Then I found a whole world of images and I was like “Oh this one I could use.” Sometimes people ask “Why no print anymore?” and “What made you change?” It’s not change, it’s constant evolution. You don’t want to be trapped in one medium when your vision and how you work in your aesthetic goes beyond that medium. But for adidas, it was perfect.
Like tapping into a whole new world.
Yeah because it’s not your own. Of course it’s your own in that we created those prints, but it’s creating prints but with a base there. You’re looking at somebody’s history of references, and I found that really interesting and it’s what i think makes it quite genuine.
It seems adidas’ archive was the main theme through the collection?
Yeah it is. We literally looked at running shoes between the ’70s and the ’80s. There are two specific pieces from the archives – the 1977 Marathon Trainer and the adi-Star 80. It’s amazing to see the pieces because you see exactly the references. You’ll see the black trefoil and then you’ll see the dress with the black trefoil, and you’ll see the studs on the sole, and you’ll see them on top of the sneaker. At the end if we had an unlimited budget we could have taken it beyond, but at the same time we wanted it to be a democratic product. So I think it does exactly that, it takes something people recognize or maybe don’t really recognize but should recognize as part of adidas and wear it.
What is the process for designing the clothing with the prints?
It depends, a lot of it is precision engineering – forming it around a figure but then making sure thats engineered with a pattern. So even though the shapes that we’ve done are simple, the engineering of the print is not. A lot of it was heavily engineered to make sure it follows the shapes, or falls within the curves of the coat dress or whatever. So it kind of changes. You start with an image that’s more of a collage, and you collage it around a figure, and as the womenswear part develops it morphs along the way.
What is your favorite piece from the collection and why?
I think the trefoil coat dress because it’s so visually impactful for what it is, and I think there is no confusion to what it is. It is a trefoil. But I mean I like it as a collection. I like it with the shoes, and I really wonder how people will style it. Will boys buy them, will only girls buy them, what will they wear them with. It’s kinda cool, because again it’s how people dress. We were counting when we came back from Nuremberg the first time, from the airport to the studio, and there were 70 people wearing adidas shoes. And we were like “Ok we’ll do this collaboration – no one wears anything but this!” I want to see how they’ll pair it, will it be full looks or intermixed.
Sportswear and high-fashion have been merging for some time now. Do you see this simply as a passing trend or something more long-term?
Subcultures have always influenced luxury and now that this way of dressing has become mass, it’s the first time that I think that something as mass as sportswear is influencing luxury, so it’s almost overtaking and forcing luxury to look at it and embrace it. There are some companies who would say we’ve steared clear from sportswear, it’s not in our strategy to do it. Because everyone is trying to have a hand in that market because in the end thats what people wear. So no I don’t think it’s a passing trend, it’s strengthening and these collaborations are finding a way to have it look even more unique. Because the sneaker if anything now has had an identity restructuring. You see brands like Dior and Chanel are doing their own take on the sneaker and I think when you reach that level, it makes it something you have to own. Because it’s not only what you see on the street, it’s what you aspire to have as well.
Will there be any further collaborations between yourself and adidas?
We always were really open about it, we’ve already designed a second one. And we said “We’ll see how it goes, and how it can evolve.” I think every season you learn more. It’s a completely different product for us, there was so much we had to learn in order to be able to work to the timelines that adidas work with, and the limitations that come when you need to know your product. So you get more disciplined and understand more about what you are doing. I hope its ongoing, but there is definitely one more collection.