Maria Cornejo: Designing with Conceptual Depth

The key to her success is a charming simplicity. She has the ability to transform  a simple fashion concept, such as the classic little black or white dress, into something incredibly unique. When you first look at the designs of Chilean fashion designer, Maria Cornejo, you may see a modest silhouette. Impressively, there are always details to her work that draw your eye in further, causing you to take a longer and more attentive gaze at her garments. Cornejo is a true artist.

maria2She revamped the concept of the little white dress with her piece that was featured in her pre-fall collection this year. Her combination of a high scooping necklines and longsleeves gives the dress a very graceful and inviting feel. My favorite detail is the way she sewed the dress. It has a long vertical seam that creates a beautiful drape at the bottom. Paired with her bold black shoe, which almost resembles a horse hoof, her collection has a very cool and chic attitude. These impeccable technicalities are what make her clothing works of art. It is impossible to notice every aspect of her garments with a single look. Every time you look at one of Cornejo’s garments, you will see something new.

Cornejo’s life journey is just as interesting as her work. Although she was born in Chile, at age 11 she moved to England. Her family was exiled from Chile during Pinochet’s dictatorship. However, Cornejo has used her experience of exile as a form of inspiration in her life. “Not belonging has always made me stronger,” she said in an interview with the New York Times. In 1996, she moved to New York. Currently, she lives in Brooklyn. Cornejo can certainly be described as a world traveler. Her official website informs her fans that she has even worked in Paris, Milan and Tokyo. When looking at any of Cornejo’s garments, her experience abroad definitely shines through.

maria 1World travel inspired the theme for her fall 2014 collection. She pictured a college student who decides to take a year off to travel the world for the premise of the collection. “So, a lot of the pieces reflect travel clothes, but luxury travel clothes, like tracksuits done in alpaca,” she told the Vogue. “Or they’re things that I imagine a college kid wearing—a lot of the shapes are exaggerated and quite naïve. There’s a bit of an innocence in the collection that was inspired by being that age.” The collection features neutral colors such as beige and black. Rather than using bright and flashy colors, this collection is bold in its materials and construction. “We’re craving things that have substance, rather than being just eye candy,” she informed the NYT.

This emphasis on substance is evident when you look at one ensemble that she created that featured a cream beige fleece coat with pockets right at the rib cage. The placement of these pockets provides a flattering shape for any woman’s body type. The coat was paired a long white shirt that resembled a man’s white button up with its strong collar. Barely showing are a pair of wool pants that match the jacket. The pants  are loose, but sewed tightly fit around a woman’s ankles creating a very androgynous appeal.  


This revolutionary designer believes that fashion should not be about following what others do. “I like androgyny and I like a mix of things that are organic and pure in design. It’s about not being afraid to mix things and find your own way rather than follow a trend,” she said to the Wall Street Journal. Her designs, particularly in her fall collection, add feminine and masculine touches. She is able to combine both and create beautiful fashion. Cornejo keeps in mind women who have have multiple roles throughout the day when designing. She explained to Seattle Magazine, a publication that focuses on urban culture, that the women who purchase her clothing are “moms, creatives, executives, independents.” She strives to create outfits that fit the multitude of roles that women have, which they can where no matter what part of the day it is. “They go from getting their kids to work to meetings to an event. The clothing reflects the eclectic demands on a woman’s day.”  

maria3Impressively, most of her garments are cut using only a single piece of fabric, according to her official website. Cornejo’s impeccable draping technique allows for any one of her garments to fit a variety of women’s bodies to perfection. “We’re not all 15-year-old models, so we have to think about cutting in a way that is flattering to a woman,” she told the WSJ.

In her fall collection her use of draping did standout. However, she did not focus on her signature prints. If Cornejo does add a print to her garment, the source may surprise you. The prints actually come from photos that she has taken with her iPhone. “They’re digital, but you won’t think they’re digital because they’re very pixelated and fractured. It’s all about fracturing images and capturing time,” she told Elle. She also stated in that interview that one of her prints was taken of a protest march. She does not use social media very often, but would rather prefer to spend her time doing more simple and in the moment activities. Her down-to-earth attitude is not what you would come to expect from a high fashion designer. “My favorite thing to do is to lie in bed and read, or to have breakfast in bed with my husband and then go for a bike ride,” she told the WSJ. Her laid back attitude is evident in use of pixelation with her designs. The world is often pixelated because we focus so much on technology and move at such a fast pace, we often do not take the time to notice our surroundings.

Cornejo is very aware of her surroundings and she uses her platform as a high fashion designer to make changes. She is a very active localist and environmentalist. Her clothing line Zero, works to enhance the local community. According to her official website, 70 percent of Zero’s clothing comes from New York. Whenever possible, Cornejo tries to give back to the local community by having as many fabrics and as much construction done in New York as possible. “It’s really important to me. I can’t lie; The shoes are made in Italy, the knitwear is made in Bolivia, and some of the knits are made in China. Anything that’s woven or leather is made here. The main bulk of the collection is made here,” she told Elle. This extremely talented designer, mother and local activist also makes the time to be an advocate for environmentalism. According to her official website, Zero uses “ecological and sustainable fabrics.” She is a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America Sustainability Committee. As a result of her ecological efforts, she was personally invited to the Wildlife Conservation Gala.

maria4Cornejo told Style, “The eye has to slow down a bit.” I suggest you take her advice and notice the little things in life. Her garments force you to do this. Rather than being flashy and presenting the story right away, the viewer has to take the time in order to fully appreciate her work. The premise of her collections or prints may be somewhat abstract and enriched with depth, however, if you take the time to analyze and research her work, you just mind find a very interesting story.

-Samantha Miller