Q&A with Maria Cornejo

Chilean fashion designer Maria Cornejo is headed to Denver to showcase her spring 2012 collection at the annual Max Fashion Show (March 16, EXDO Event Center). We chatted with her about her inspirations, process, and what she wants to see on her first visit to the Mile High City.
January 2012

You began your career as a creative consultant, but did you train formally in fashion?

I went to Ravensbourne College in London where I studied fashion and textiles. I sold my college thesis collection and started on my own. Then John Richmond and I partnered up to create our line together, Richmond Cornejo.

There are so many trends and styles packed into a single season these days. How do you approach the design process?

I’m still constantly redefining and evolving my ideas and looking for new ways to provoke and challenge myself. To feel inspired, I have to remove myself as far away from clothes as possible. I have to reject everything to initiate a desire and think: What do I want? What do I need? Once I feel that desire, I can begin to create a collection. A wardrobe is alive. It is constantly evolving. People add and build off of what they already have each season. You rarely dispose of pieces and start from scratch.

Who are your design inspirations? 

I admire Vivienne Westwood for her eccentricity; Madame Grés for her incredible draping and geometric shapes; and Rei Kawakubo [the designer for Comme des Garçons] has an incredible sense of innovation and cutting.  

Women designers seem to be having a moment right now. What is it that women in particular bring to fashion?

I think we, as women designing for women, have the ability to understand what women want and what they really wear. We lead very similar lives to our clients. Women are so complex these days and need clothes that are just as versatile, which excites me. They are not doing one thing but are juggling careers, family, and personal achievements at the same time, so I think female designers are aware of how a garment has to work on many levels.

What's exciting to you in fashion now?

I love seeing all the creative women who are designing for real women. I think that is really encouraging. Also, the motivation and encouragement out there to support our local economy by producing a majority of the collection right here in New York.

What do you like most about traveling for work?

Going to museums and galleries and really observing how people dress in different places—particularly in the cities where we sell the collection. It’s fascinating to see how the women in Denver who shop at Max [where Cornejo’s line retails] wear the collection differently than those in New York.

This will be your first visit to Denver. What are you looking forward to seeing and doing?

I am happy to be able to finally visit Max, and I’d love to go to the Denver Art Museum and the galleries in the Art District on Santa Fe.