• Anna Coroneo

Style

Q&A: Anna Coroneo

The artist and designer on scarves, colours and the cities she calls home

Interview: Clare Finney
Portrait: Orlando Gili

You’re barely in your thirties, yet you’re an international designer and artist with bases in New York and London. Tell us about the journey.
When I was 18, I set up a market stall at the Bondi Beach Sunday markets in Sydney where I lived, selling tank tops which I had printed with quirky little sayings in French and English. I made about 100, and I sold out in a few weeks. It was hard work: you had to queue up in the very early morning to get a stall, but I still remember the thrill of seeing someone wearing one of my tank tops. I still get that thrill today.

After I left school, I did my bachelor’s degree in design in Sydney at the University of New South Wales, majoring in textiles and graphics. I then completed a graduate course in fashion marketing at Parsons in New York in 2009. While I was there, I interned at Harper’s Bazaar, Henri Bendel and in the design department of Theory—another Marylebone brand!—and launched my first collection at a Bloomingdale’s open call event. By chance, I got to present my designs to the fashion director, and she particularly liked my kisses collection. Things spiralled from there very quickly: I was selling to Harrods, Net-a-Porter and Harvey Nichols within a year. It was amazing!

Your Marylebone flagship has been open for a few months now. How have you settled in?
I have felt so warmly welcomed. We have so many people who come in almost every day, just to see what’s new and what I’m doing next with the window display. There’s a lovely couple—the husband runs a medical practice in Harley Street and his wife works there too—and they say they love seeing what I’m going to do with the window each week.

People have been so excited that I now have a standalone store. I’ve met several customers I have had for many years, as well as new customers, and I have absolutely loved it. I love talking about what they’re going to do with their purchase, how they’re going to wear it or whom they’re giving it to. Every print, every collection I make, has a story behind it—and telling my customers the story behind the print that they have bought has been one of my favourite things about having a flagship. 

Tell us one of the stories.
Well the sausage dog print is a funny story—that’s from my collection called Abracadabra, which was all about magic and fairy tales. I’d just sent the collection off to print with my factory in Italy, when this random idea came into my head of a sausage dog wearing sunglasses. I rang them up and said “Wait, wait! I’ve had this idea! Please, please add it to the collection!” And it’s done so well. It’s been one of the most popular prints. I think I’m quite a dog person actually—there are always dog owners coming in and I love chatting about my cute miniature schnauzer, Madeleine.

Why scarves?
Well, initially I designed dresses. I love dresses: I learnt how to sew with my grandmother when I was younger—she was a great seamstress, and what time I didn’t spend in her garden I spent with her in her sewing room. We made dresses for peg dolls, out of little squares of silks and cottons—so from a young age I was learning about different fabrics: their textures, quality and the way they move. However, when I launched my first capsule collection in 2008, when the economy was in chaos, I found it was the scarves that sold; people might not have wanted to buy a new outfit, but they could brighten up something they already had with an accessory which they could wear a number of different ways.

Where do ideas for your new collections come from?
I’m really inspired by nature and my surroundings. I like to create designs that fuse inspirations from the three important cities in my life—Sydney, New York and London. I am making lists and sketches of new ideas all the time, and when I am relaxed and have time to, I paint them. My family is originally from the Greek island of Kythera—just to add to the melting pot!—so we try to go back there for a few weeks every summer. When we do, I pack my brushes and a little pot of paint, and I paint almost every single day.

How does an idea go from a note on a list to a piece in the shop?
The more abstract prints I paint on big canvases, in my studio here or in New York. When I paint on canvas and paper, I usually use ink—I just love the fluidity and line definition I can achieve—but I’ve made some prints with oils, acrylics and charcoal in a recent collection, which are very bold and textured. The more graphic style prints, I draw in black and white first then think about colour later: that’s the hard part.

I have so many different colour combinations which I love, it’s hard to narrow it down. For that I look to nature—it’s where the best colour combinations are—or I pair very bright colours with more neutral blacks, white and greys. Often I end up with several different ones—and of course, if a customer loves a particular design but wants it in a different colour, we can do that. We often create bespoke pieces: the other day, a lady came in saying she loved the dalmatian and bulldog mugs but would love one with spaniels instead for her daughter, who has a spaniel. A few weeks before that we did pocket square for a wedding, with the bride and groom’s names on them and their wedding date. 

Creative people often describe feeling like they don’t ‘belong’ anywhere, and how this fuels their work. Would you say that’s true of you?
It’s funny, isn’t it—because I would say I am a creative, yet I feel absolutely at home in New York, London and Sydney. I grew up in Sydney, studied in New York and launched my first collection there, and I have British citizenship because I married a Brit. I feel like each city is a part of my soul: I have friends and homes in each of them, and within minutes of landing in any of them I just switch back into that way of being.

How did you meet your husband?
I love this story so much. We met when he was 23 and I was 22—10 years ago, in fact—on a hot summer’s night in London at a bar called the Kensington Roof Gardens. I was here with my childhood friend from Australia, Tiffany—we were both in London on holidays. I saw this tall, dark and handsome man across the room, at the bar with his brothers, and I said to her, “He’s mine. That’s the man I’m going to marry.” I’m a great believer in fate.

How have your three home cities shaped your design aesthetic?
In Sydney we lived opposite a beautiful old historical estate called Vaucluse House. It has the most gorgeous manicured gardens, and we grew up visiting them. My sister was married there recently. I find the natural beauty there, and in Sydney generally, so inspiring. The light is so bright and vivid—really luminous—and because the weather is often sunny you are always outdoors and among the wildlife. I love snorkelling, and a lot of my designs are influenced by marine life.

Sydney influenced my love of colour. But I was always drawn to the bright lights of the big city, so I was determined to move to New York. I love the buzz there. Every day is full of spontaneity because so much can happen in a New York minute. My studio is in Tribeca, the old art district. It’s a great place to keep an eye on new trends and fashions. For example, last time I was there, I saw so many girls walking around wearing little neckerchiefs—very chic and Parisian.

And London?
Well I didn’t much like London at first! To be wearing tights in summer? To a Sydney girl who only wore summery dresses most of the year that was awful. Over time, though, London has definitely grown on me, and now I love a cosy rainy day with a cup of tea! I love that London is steeped in tradition and formality. We have a lovely period house in St John’s Wood, which we recently renovated entirely—it was a complete dump when we bought it: now I know and love every corner of it. And of course, I am married to a Brit!