As anyone who has ever worn a Zero + Maria Cornejo dress knows, a hanger doesn’t do it justice. Its precise folds and architectural silhouettes are designed to move, not hang. In fact, the mere act of putting one on can feel almost like a transformation—as much for you as for the piece itself.
That Cornejo’s iconic shapes manage to be artful, flattering and comfortable all at once is no secret among the best-dressed set—we predict you’d find her designs lurking in all the chicest closets from Brazil to Japan. Here, Cornejo gives us an exclusive peek at her process and the type of freethinking woman she designs for.
Where does the idea for a collection first start?
For me to feel inspired, I have to remove myself as far away from clothes as possible. I am really my own worst client and very critical so I have to reject everything to initiate a desire and think to myself, what do I want? What do I need? Once I start to desire is when I can begin to create a collection.
Tell us about the inspiration behind your pre-spring collection.
I looked to my travels in warmer climates, like Miami, for inspiration. And the prints are all based on my own personal photographs.
Color and pattern play a large part in your designs—what do you generally look for?
Colors and prints have to give a sense of joy, and feel energetic. When I go through my photographs to work on prints for the next collection, I pick ones that are really graphic. And the colors have to draw me in.
Who is the quintessential Zero + Maria Cornejo woman?
She’s independent, a free thinker. Whether she’s a politician, an actress, a writer, an architect, an artist or a director, what I love is that they are all doing their own thing. It’s all word of mouth – someone will share their love for the collection with their friends.
How has your background influenced you as a designer?
The main thing, for me, is that it has taught me how to be very insular in a way—you have to as a designer, in order to have an identity. You can see there’s a little bit of English eccentricity and always a sense of humor; Paris brought a level of chic to my designs; I worked in Japan, so my work can be quite minimal; and I love vibrant color, which I suppose could come from my Latin American roots. I don’t look for these influences in any way, but I’m sure they’re all in here somewhere, and my brain is constantly sorting them and spewing them out again.
Do you see a big difference in the way women in Europe, Asia and the Americas approach style?
Absolutely. I think the lifestyles are very different and the design reflects that. In the U.S, people really wear the clothes for everyday. The clothes become a part of you. I think with time, Americans are becoming more adventurous and explorative.
If you weren’t a fashion designer, what would you be?
I’d love to do pottery or design furniture.
What draws you to the draped, architectural forms you’re known for?
For me, it’s the most interesting way of playing with shapes and finding new and innovative ways of making interesting clothes. I also love the idea of cocooning, feeling enveloped by a shape. It’s a big challenge to use basic geometric shapes to create flattering and feminine clothes. Women feel the most sensual when they’re at ease in what they’re wearing and feel good about themselves, not overly conscious of their shape.
Oscar Niemeyer’s Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum in Brazil
Are you taking any getaways this winter? What Zero + Maria Cornejo pieces will you bring?
The Resort collection was all about color and joy. Even in the depths of winter, we need a bit of a boost. The Opposite dress in Kelly green, the Koya dress in pink or the Toia dress in chocolate print can be easily mixed into a winter wardrobe. The idea was to feel like a little piece of jewelry or an exotic bird amongst a crowd at a holiday party. For the first time in years, my family and I are having a stay-cation. We usually go to Mexico, but this year we decided to relax at home and take a vacation after the shows in February. Although, I would love any excuse to slip into the silk nomad print cover-ups or the bikinis in the tile print.
- Alexandra Andrews
[Main photograph: Martien Mulder/Courtesy of Zero + Maria Cornejo]