The designer talks to Danielle Wilkins about family, her fashion friends and her latest partnership with Marks & Spencer
Against the backdrop of the Haymarket Hotel, HRH Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece is rifling through a rail filled with clothing from her new childrenswear collection. I watch on, as she pulls out an adorable dungarees set, cotton shirt and cashmere sweater. “Don’t forget the shoes!” she says, scanning the room.
The designer is in her element as she proudly lays the outfit on the table, and I look around, wondering whether it’s okay for me to climb up on the furniture to photograph it from above. It’s almost like she reads my mind: “Go ahead!” she laughs. “Stand on the chair!” There’s no airs and graces here.
Having launched her eponymous brand in 2000, the London-born mother of five is no stranger to style. Since studying at the New York Academy of Arts and New York University, she’s had the opportunity to know some of the biggest influencers in fashion, including Valentino, who she considers a close friend. These days, when she’s not working on the business, she’s looking after her children, aged between 12 and 20, all the while balancing the duties required of holding a royal title.
With two stores in London, and concessions in Harrods and Selfridges, her label is known for its luxury craftsmanship – the designs both traditional and nostalgic. It’s little wonder, then, the designer has chosen to collaborate with Britain’s biggest heritage brand, with a new 33-piece, five-part collection.
“Marks & Spencer is so in line with what we’re about, this was the perfect opportunity for us to make Marie-Chantal even more accessible,” she reveals as she sits down at the table to begin our interview. “For me, it’s about capturing the magic of childhood.”
Marie-Chantal is now stocked in more than 30 countries worldwide, how did this all begin for you?
I was pregnant with my third child – my second son – and I felt inspired to bring something different to the market. We were living in New York at the time, and there were very few childrenswear brands around that offered a wide selection for kids. I wanted a one-stop shop for everything from basics, such as socks and tights, to party dresses, and that was what I set out to do.
Did you find that your children would inspire your designs?
My daughter, Olympia, for sure. She’s always been very girly. When she was younger she would wear dresses every day, so it was great fun to involve her. For the boys, it was more about the basics and practical clothing, and in the early days those pieces were quite simple. As childrenswear became more sophisticated, I had to ensure the Marie-Chantal brand followed suit, so the pieces began to feature more detailing – more trims, more variety.
Olympia has seemed to show interest in following your footsteps as a designer…
She’s in design school right now, but with no idea what she wants to do. I have asked her if perhaps she’d like to take over the business, but I don’t think childrenswear is on her mind right now!
Do you find that the two of you have similar tastes?
She’s very fashion-savvy – like most 20-year-olds, she’s still experimenting and finding her way. She loves fashion, though. And the more she learns, the more I’d love to draw on her expertise one day.
What’s your own earliest fashion memory?
It’s of my mother – back in the ’70s – squeezing into her leather jeans. She was very fashionable back then, and still is! I remember looking at up at her lying on the bed trying to do up her trousers, and thinking, ‘Wow, I don’t understand – they’re so tight!’
Tell us more about your new collection with M&S, does it still feature your trademark detailing?
Certainly. It’s very much a selection of ‘every day’ pieces, but with a Marie-Chantal twist – so there’s an element of dress-up, but paying particular attention to those soft fabrics we’re known for. We’ve added the little bear motif in, too, because it’s fun.
Do you have any favourite pieces?
I love the coats! And the little pink-red velvet party dress. And I love the socks, too, because I love ‘finishing off’ the outfits, those details are important.
You’re a woman of many hats; how do you manage to strike that work-life balance so successfully?
I try to never take on too much at once; otherwise you end up completely burnt out. The kids are always my priority – they may be getting older now but I find that they need me more emotionally, as opposed to just being there physically. But it’s a case of balance. I try to keep a calm home – I think a stress-free environment rubs off on your children. We do spend a lot of time together as a family, and I’m with them every day at the breakfast table. Mealtimes are very important.
Who has inspired you?
I’m lucky enough to know so many people from my teenage years who have worked in the fashion industry – from Michael Kors to Valentino, who advised me to be open, to stay curious and keep adapting my style. I’ve seen both of them reinvent themselves so many times, so they inspire me. Valentino is a great friend, so I always end up going back to him for advice.
You spend a lot of your time travelling for work, but where are your favourite places to visit with your family?
My husband’s family are in Greece, so we like to go back there. We always go to an island called Spetses, which my in-laws live around 20 minutes from. It’s very Greek – not very touristy – and we go every year.
What about when you’re at home in London, what do you like to do?
We eat a lot of Chinese! Because I grew up in Hong Kong, I love Chinese. We enjoy everything from the cinema to visiting the parks with our dogs. My boys are very sporty, too, so they particularly enjoy the parks.
The Marie-Chantal range is available at selected Marks & Spencer stores and online at marksandspencer.com