There is an unsettling stillness that accompanies any fashion exhibition. Mannequins, hangers, hooks cannot replace the dynamism of a body in motion, but at Mary Katrantzou’s first solo show at Dallas Contemporary, I found myself incredibly thankful for a more intimate glimpse at the details one rarely notices as her garments glide across a room.
In the exhibition curated by Deputy Director Justine Ludwig, one confronts a color-coded army—180 pieces from 10 years of work. “There were several thoughts on how to best display the exhibition but we decided to group the pieces by color and display multiple pieces from each season in dialogue with each other,” the designer says of the arrangement. “Color has always been an important anchor in my work and by removing the clothes from the initial narrative that defined each collection, you discover new elements.”
Each piece operates like an Impressionist painting from a distance; one sees an almost photographic form but up close everything fractures into the elemental. Iridescent palettes, inlays, curtains of beads amalgamate into strong silhouettes many of which recall armor, emphasizing the natural body with more rigid structures. “Clothes are the most direct means of self-expression and a second skin to present ourselves to the world,” Katrantzou says. “The women I design for are confident and bold and I want them to always feel empowered by the way they feel wearing my clothes. I guess that’s what armor does too—it protects you and allows you to walk in confidence.”
Known best perhaps for her ambitious prints that draw on different elements of design and art—from luxurious interiors to abstract expressionist paintings, Katrantzou’s gowns, jumpsuits and separates betray the designer’s catholic approach to inspiration as well as voracious curiosity. “I love cross pollinating different disciplines of design because there is a universal thread that connects them all and it’s an interesting challenge each time to find harmony through playing with form around the female figure,” the designer says. “Some of my early collections displayed an appreciation for design as a discipline and objects that you find around the world and admire for their beauty but filtered and juxtaposed throughout each collection.”
At the back of the industrial kunsthalle, one finds a darkened theater where one can see Katrantzou’s garments in action. It is here that the dream is united with reality. The narrative arc is illuminated offering a new context for the silent ranks. “The brand is about a strong narrative and imagination through heightened craftsmanship and execution,” Katrantzou says. “Sometimes there is fantasy in the clothes, sometimes you find wit and we always want for the wearer to find beauty. The fantasy distills the vision of each collection and those pieces are the ones where we don’t limit ourselves.”
Walking back into the light and the shimmering, plastic masses, one sees each detail, and each treasure anew. This is the magic of Katrantzou’s work, its ability to continually surprise.