When you learn that Marios Schwab’s father was an engineer for underwear behemoth Triumph and his mother was a topographer, you begin to realise where at least some of his inspiration comes from. He talks a lot, in heavily accented English, about topography of the body. He designs with a woman’s curves in mind.
Then you find out that, as a boy growing up in Athens, he dreamed of becoming a ballet dancer and things fall further into place. His clothes hug the contours of the body like the lines on an Ordnance Survey map. There is a grace and fluidity to his designs; an ultra-femininity. His autumn/winter 2013 collection features elements of transparency, netting and lace combined with cut-away details that serve to accentuate the female form. When this boy from Greece designs, he designs with a goddess in mind.
Amanda Seyfried wore a blue lace and chiffon number on the red carpet for the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards in January. Zoe Saldana shone in a black satin and chiffon crystal-embellished gown for the Oscars last year. We’ve seen Kristen Stewart in a nude and black mini dress when she left her hand and foot prints outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. We couldn’t miss Jessica Chastain in a dazzlingly sheer, meticulously embroidered silver piece that left little to the imagination at the Tony’s. And all eyes were on Bond girl Naomie Harris at the Skyfall premiere in his tiny turquoise sequin corset and black lace overdress. The cut-price version he designed for his diffusion line at Debenhams sold out overnight.
That autumn/winter 2012 collection for the high street store was Schwab’s first, and his second, for spring/summer, is now on the rails.
“I wanted to create some signature looks from the Marios Schwab range in a more affordable, minimised way,” he says. “It was very challenging, and learning a different customer was quite interesting too.
“It was predominantly a dress collection, as an introduction to my label, because I guess the girls who buy into the Edition range at Debenhams (which also features Scottish designer Jonathan Saunders as well as Preen and Roksanda Ilincic) do not necessarily know of my range.
“It was fun, but quite tricky at the same time.”
The showstopper is a beautifully cut black cocktail dress with lace shoulders which retails for £90 (to put this into perspective, a similar dress from Schwab’s main line costs more than £1,000), with a black day dress that features contrasting nude panels in the pleats and a black and teal lace print dress with cut-out detail at the neck.
“I was concentrating on detail,” he says. “There is still a focus on the topography of the body, enhancing certain areas by highlights of studding, certain transparencies that hide and reveal sparkle. This concept is so integral to the collection. This is so much the DNA of my design, but with a different customer in mind.”
He describes that customer as “very challenging”. Someone looking for occasion wear and who has a very critical eye, “which I like”.
“She has her own ways of how she wears stuff and how she puts fashion together.”
He admits to being a perfectionist – something that probably comes from his early training, from the age of 15, at the prestigious Annahof school in Salzburg where, if students dropped a stitch, they would be forced to unravel it all and start from scratch. So embarking on a diffusion line meant he was both meticulous in his research, but also had to learn to take a step back when necessary.
“You want to create something that is very much in line with what you do – I’m very specific and I wouldn’t want it to look bad. I respect the customer and I think it’s great to analyse every element of the production, how we can go about it, to bring the price down.
“I have done it with other retailers before but Edition has launched with Jonathan [Saunders] and Roksanda [Ilincic] and Preen – they have a certain clientele who goes for this type of product specifically. So I looked at all those past collections and analysed the way the customer goes to buy her dresses.”
He adds: “I see myself as a craftsman and I like to manipulate things but for this project I had to let go and give part of the process over to other people. That’s the reality of a mass-produced product.”
But while some designers might fear their product would get watered down as a result of a diffusion line, Schwab is circumspect. “Everyone who looks at my garments in the main line, they are educated to know how an expensive garment is put together, they understand the process.
“This collection is a very different price tag, but I think it’s still very much in line with the body and movement. Motion and the structure of the body have been everything for me since I started doing fashion, that was the main inspiration.
“Sometimes I start with a part of the body that is not necessarily so relevant to other designers. For instance, I could start a whole collection from the back, depending on which angle of the dress I want to portray the most. I like to draw attention to certain sections, not only of the anatomy, but also of the dress itself. Embroidery in a garment can reveal the inside of a dress as much as the outside, meaning there are so many layers that can be achieved.”
And it is this level of detail that makes his creations so perfect for the red carpet. “It’s a niche product,” he admits. “We have taken the chance of creating made to measure recently and that’s a growing business. And we have great success in cocktail dresses and gowns. What is great is that you can see a number of actresses coming back to the brand. Marisa Tomei has worn it three times, Kristen Stewart three to four times – they always come back even though Marios Schwab is a very small label. We don’t have boutiques.”
But as the brand begins to grow, would he ever consider moving into menswear? He hesitates, this Greek with goddess as muse. “It’s very tricky,” he says, “because I’m very classic in how I see menswear. I’m not very adventurous. I really love womenswear because they understand the fantasy of fashion. They just do it naturally.”
Marios Schwab/Edition for Debenhams, prices from £45, www.debenhams.com