There’s something about Maria Cornejo. Even if you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting the warm, thoughtful woman behind the label, you may have at some point connected to one of her quietly statement-making pieces. Since launching her first collection out of her Mott Street shop space in 1998, her artistic yet straightforward clothing has had a way of connecting with the wearer on an emotional level, creating a loyal following of devotees ranging from gallerists to working mothers to fashion icons like Michelle Obama and Tilda Swinton.
“Women don’t buy things based solely on needs—it’s a very emotional thing. Clothes have to be lived in and worn and have a life beyond just a picture,” explains Cornejo, who is known for infusing feelings into her collections. “I have a family, a husband who is super creative, and children—the creative process is where I get to have my own voice.” Her voice and unique approach are documented in “Maria Cornejo: Zero,” published by Rizzoli. The book serves as an archive of the brand’s last 20 years, and even at a glance, it’s immediately evident that ZMC is about more than just beautiful clothing. The 200-plus pages feature images lensed by Cornejo’s fashion photographer husband, Mark Borthwick, alongside sketches, Polaroids, hand-scrawled notes, and more.
“It was important to put the early years into the book. It was before the internet, so nobody really knows about them, and they are the building blocks of the brand—everything stems from that time,” explains Cornejo. “It was fun to see how this very personal project has grown into a company and a family. It was helpful to look back on that naivety and aspiration and use it to refocus the energy as a company. It’s important to remember your roots—just as important as it is to evolve.”
During the process, Cornejo found herself struck by her beloved Book Print, which became an immediate success after it first appeared in her FW 2011 collection. She decided to bring the print back in the special anniversary collection. “Barneys was the first client since the very beginning, so it meant a lot to be able to do this exclusive collection and have it coincide with the launch of the book,” says Cornejo. The collection revolves around the idea of reading as an aspirational luxury. “For me, it meant a lot to be able to celebrate the aspirational side of reading and being bookish. When I was little, I used to read two books at the same time—those days don’t happen anymore! We’re all in such a frenetic place now, people read for 3 seconds and never actually sit and read, uninterrupted.”
To bring the collection to life for The Window, Cornejo’s daughter Bibi Cornejo Borthwick captured it on film. Working together as family has been important to Cornejo from the start, and since Bibi and her brother Joey were raised among their mother’s fashion company and their father’s photography, it’s no surprise that creativity is in their genes. “I trust Bibi 150%, and when she does the shoots, and I’m not even there most of the time,” says Cornejo.
And as much as right now is about reflecting upon the past 20 years, Cornejo’s eyes are firmly set on the future. “A lot of our energy moving forward is going into being as sustainable as possible as a company. There’s a lot going on—never a dull moment here! For me, right now is about getting curious again and sticking my head out a bit—curiosity and engagement and keeping active.” And, hopefully, a bit of time to curl up with a good book. Congrats on 20 years to the entire Maria Cornejo team!