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July 17, 2018

Maria Cornejo On Her Ethos Of Fashion For Real Women

Text by Rymn Massand

The Chilean-born fashion designer talks about her efforts to use ecological and sustainable fabrics and methods and how she designs clothes that have the ability to make you feel like the most confident, best version of yourself

Maria Cornejo | New York City

A Chilean-born fashion designer, Maria Cornejo has made NYC her home for the past many decades, and is someone whose clothes I think of as quintessentially New York. They are cool, easy to wear and have the ability to make you feel like the most confident, best version of yourself. The woman she designs for — “talented, self-realised, confident”— is precisely the woman she is and who we all want to be. It is her dedication to support the local economy (around 80 per cent of her clothes are made in NYC) and her efforts to use ecological and sustainable fabrics and methods that have kept her clients loyal since the day she set up her tiny shop in the upscale area of Nolita. And though the stores have grown (there is the Zero + Maria Cornejo flagship store on Bleecker Street — not far from the original store and another on Melrose Place in LA), her ethos of fashion for real women has not changed a bit. I popped into the store to meet Cornejo and somehow ended up being late to meet her, having become completely waylaid by the gorgeous clothes and lovely shoes on display….

What was your background before you began your company?
I had tremendous success straight out of design school with a brand called Richmond-Cornejo that I started with my then-boyfriend. We were in all these stores worldwide and it was really a wild experience, but I didn’t feel quite true to myself. I went on to work as a design consultant at companies like Joseph, Tehen and Jigsaw back in the early ’90s before starting my own Maria Cornejo label in Paris. Eventually, I felt burnt out and disconnected. I needed a break. I started my company, Zero + Maria Cornejo in 1998, to reconnect with my ideas about cutting and construction, to connect directly with my consumers and to keep every process local. I wanted to know who was making my clothing, have an actual relationship with them and know that they were being looked after properly.

What has been your biggest challenge?
Fashion is a very expensive business so we constantly have to create. Financing has been the biggest hurdle. And I love it when I think I’ve exhausted an idea, “inspiration depression” as I like to call it, and inspiration comes back. I really believe that you are only as good as your team. While not a hurdle, it’s paramount to success as a business.

What do you wish you had done differently?
I have no regrets. You don’t learn unless you take certain risks and make mistakes.

What would you consider to be the bedrock of your brand?
Integrity and consistency is the key. If it doesn’t have a heart or a real connection to me, I won’t do it. People can tell when something is inauthentic, and I think in the long run, this really goes far in terms of creating a devoted clientele.

What is the part of your day that you most look forward to?
I really look forward to our fittings. That’s when the magic happens. We see a gorgeous piece of clothing take shape when it’s draped on a body. This is why I do what I do.

Who is your role model?
My clients. There are so many of them, from all walks of life. We are so lucky to call this diverse group of women our clients and our friends.

Favourite walk in New York
Through Brooklyn Bridge Park. Being by the water is really important to me, and walking along the new boardwalk or across the Brooklyn Bridge is really calming. The views of the city are incredible! Eat at Celestine and Cecconi. Both make for a real ‘New York moment’.

Next: Kally Ellis

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