More than a Princess... by Michaela Cordes | 1st March, 2012 | Personalities
From her father she inherited the discipline; from her mother those strong family values – then she married a prince. Today Marie-Chantal of Greece is not only a devoted mother of five and a dynamic businesswoman with a vision. She is the best example of a modern 21st century princess.
„Sorry,” she says, gets up quickly, comforts one of her children and returns. There are five (!) children scurrying around her. And then there are the nannies and assistants who all want some of her time. Probably the most aristocratic thing about Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece becomes apparent within the first few minutes of meeting her: it is the composure and inner calm with which she navigates through the daily chaos. The princess not only manages her children, her marriage and her public role, ten years ago, she also founded the children’s fashion label “Marie-Chantal.”
How did you come up with the idea of starting a children’s clothing label? My father (editor’s note: self-made millionaire Robert Miller) was one of the inventors of the concepts of duty free shopping and travel retail. So I grew up in a retail environment – in Hong Kong, where his office was. I was surrounded by brands and business was in my DNA. I had always wanted to do something artistic, so when I was pregnant with my third child this became an unbelievable urge, and I had to figure out what I wanted to do. Initially that had been a career in the arts, then I planned to go into cosmetics. Finally, I was advised that children’s clothing was going to be the next big trend. The rest happened as if by chance – synchronicity, I call it. I met a manufacturer of children’s sweaters literally a week later; and a week after that a designer for a big children’s clothing brand. The three of us immediately started with a very small capsule, created a little company and quickly designed a logo. The first collection was a big success and was picked up by every single department store in New York. Within the first six weeks of launching the brand, we had about 70 accounts.
“I inherited my sense of family from my mother. She taught us the importance of sticking together from an early age.” Marie-Chantal of Greece
Wow, that’s amazing! Yeah … (she laughs), but it took me ten years to really understand the details and the production side of things. And to figure out what direction I wanted the company to go in. Ten years on, I am very proud to say that I have four shops and several franchises in department stores. We have a really good growth plan, and a dynamic web and catalogue business.
Do you think the vintage feel of your designs is partly what makes you so successful? I hate when people refer to my brand as “classic,” because it really isn’t. My designs are just very beautiful. I love fashion and very much keep on top of the latest trends. But I also have quite a conservative streak in me: you’ll never see me overly dressed, or in anything too extravagant. My designs for little girls’ coats, for example, are very much based on what I would want to wear myself. They are timeless, yet sophisticated. It’s what I call contemporary chic: up to date, but not too “fashion forward.” That’s not really what my customers would want.
Recently, Victoria Beckham’s little daughter has been spotted wearing your designs. It’s been incredible. Victoria is such a wonderful woman with a great sense of style, and little Harper has been seen in one of my outfits almost every day. My typical customer loves fashion and loves to dress well, but doesn’t want her child to look like an accessory. Marie-Chantal offers a complete range: it is a collection, rather than just bits and pieces. It is like a “one-stop-shop” for everything from beautiful little pajamas, to party dresses, to casual daywear, gloves, stockings, mittens and skiwear. When we were little, my mother used to shop for us in Paris, where she bought our whole wardrobe for the season in one place. That’s what I aspire to – to make it easier for mothers.
“I was quite cool as a 16 year old. I just walked up to Andy Warhol and asked him: ‘Can I work for you?’” Marie-Chantal of Greece
How did your in-laws react when you founded “Marie-Chantal” and started working? Well, I must say it wasn’t well received, but it was something that I needed to do. I really wanted to be independent, to have a voice. I believe that as a woman, it is important to have something that is your own, be that work, a hobby or something else. I believe in women having a voice and being equal to men.
Being a “working princess,” have you become a role model for others in the royal families of Europe? Well, it is different for the other princesses: It is their job to represent their country and to be glamorous ambassadors. The history of my husband’s family is very different. They have not lived in Greece since 1967, the year my husband was born, and in 1974 there was a referendum in favor of Greece becoming a republic. So, my husband and I both work. We are not sitting around waiting to go back to Greece as a royal couple. We get on with life!
How has the current crisis in Greece affected you personally? It is heartbreaking to see how this beautiful country has been brought to its knees by being badly mismanaged by the different governments over the past 40 years. It’s very hard for my husband, because his family used to have a voice. Greece was very different then from what it is today, but you can’t dwell on this or point fingers at anyone. My husband is very involved with the country: he writes articles, is starting a blog, and recently also did an interview for CNN. He has something to say, and now there are a lot of people willing to listen…
“When I founded my company ten years ago, my husband’s family were not thrilled. Today, things are very different…” Marie-Chantal of Greece
What values do you try to pass on to your children? Well, I am a big traditionalist. I am a modern princess, who works and has a career, but I believe in good old-fashioned values. My father had a very strong work ethic, but at the same time he was very much a family man. It was wonderful to grow up with a father who was building an incredible career, but who was always home to spend time with us when we were little, before we (she and her sisters) were sent to boarding school. I remember we would always have lunch together, maybe not every day of the week, but at least three days out of five. We always started our day together as a family around the breakfast table. This is a tradition which I also stick to with my children. I am also particular about good manners, using a knife and fork, and about saying “please” and “thank you.” I think it is important to instil a certain discipline in your children – especially in a world full of uncertainties like ours.
How do you manage to “have it all”: a stable family with five children, and a career as a successful businesswoman? I think I had a very strong role model in my father who started with nothing, but had incredible discipline. He has been keeping a diary for the past 50 years, filling a page every day. I don’t have that kind of discipline myself (she laughs), but I’d like to say it is what I strive for. When children are raised by a strong parent, or with a good role model, they will work hard to achieve. They will have hopes, aspirations and direction. I think this is very important. That’s why I believe so strongly in the family unit. Society really needs to work harder to stop families from breaking apart. If a family breaks down, the children will start believing there is nothing in life worth fighting for.
Before you got married, you and your two sisters (editor’s note: the older being Pia Getty, the younger designer Alexandra von Fürstenberg) used to be known as the gorgeous Miller Sisters. Are you still close today? Yes, we are very close. We are all very family focused, because my mother is from South America, so we were raised in quite a matriarchal way. All the women in our family are close. At the end of the day, it’s family that matters the most, and sisters have to stick together. That was definitely drilled into me.
You were raised literally all over the world: London, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Paris and New York… Where do you feel most at home these days? I was born in London, but my parents took us all to Hong Kong, which became our home and still feels like home today. I go back four times a year and take my children, so they get to know this incredible metropolis. Today, it feels like the Wall Street of Asia, but it still an incredible place. Paris is still very much part of my life, too. I spent five years there during my adolescence and it really shaped me, and my strong fashion sense. The girls in Paris really knew how to wear their Levi’s 501 with a certain flair and style, better than anyone else. Later on, I lived in New York studying art. And when I was 16, I worked for Andy Warhol (she laughs).
Tell me more! I was quite cool as a 16 year old and just asked him if I could work for him. He said: “Yeah, love it, great. Why don’t you come and see me and we talk about it next week?” And that was it, really. I did everything: from serving lunch to making coffee, from answering the phone to mixing paints. Or I would just wander around with him and carry the interview magazines he would hand out at his appearances. I treasure the memories of those days!