We are pleased to spotlight our latest Marfa Muse, Maria Lemos.
Maria began her career in Paris at Sonia Rykiel and John Galliano. She is the founder and director of our wholesale showroom partner Rainbowwave, which she established two decades ago, with showrooms in London, Paris and New York, working with the best stores around the world. Maria also founded her own beautifully curated lifestyle store Mouki Mou (named after her daughter) on London’s prestigious Chiltern Street.
Maria wears size XXS in the Parachute Bomber in pale sage and reverse white, with the Shearling Collar in jade long hair.
“My mother always thought education was the most important thing you could give your child but now I’m not so sure,” smiles Maria Lemos, Botticelli brown waves framing her curious face. “Now I wonder if what you really need is character.”
Lemos knows a thing or two about the resilience required to weather out a successful four-decade career in fashion juggling multiple hats. Not only is she founder of Rainbowwave, one of London’s most successful sales agencies, Lemos opened Mouki Mou, parlaying her inimitable style into an exquisitely curated lifestyle boutique on Chiltern street and destination for the capital’s most creative industry insiders. She is also responsible for launching the careers of many including Gabriela Hearst, Peter Pilotto and Lisa Marie Fernandez.
To better understand Lemos’s mettle however we need to delve a little further back, a time before the first class honours she received at Oxford reading Classics and French -she laughs as she tell me that an Oxford Don once asked her if her desire to work in fashion meant working at Marks and Spencer’s – to her childhood in Greece.
Her mother – “One of the most independent women I know” - impressed upon her the importance of education. Her mother believed, like the ancestors of Edmund de Waal in The Hare with the Amber eyes, “with languages you can move from one social situation to another, with languages you are at home anywhere.”
And so Lemos learnt German, English and French and travelled every summer: “My mother put us in a brown Jaguar and we travelled across Europe, every time a different route and new high/ low experience; a B&B at the end of the road as well as the glitzy hotel. She believed it was important to be able to mix with people from all walks of life, that you should be able to cope with wealth but also be at home in less affluent surroundings.”
Through work connections, Lemos’s mother knew the commercial director of Azzedine Alaia. “So keen was I to work there that I did so unpaid in the press department just hanging clothes for 3 months. I learned on the job.” Stints at Sonia Rykiel and John Galliano followed.
She puts a highly discerning eye down to instinct but also repetition and experience: “I love the visual world and details which others don’t see, although I’ve also learned increasingly that it’s also about the people.”
Who makes it in the fashion world she asks me. “It isn’t simply raw talent. Are they a good designer? Do they have drive and innate business sense, are they good with other people? Take J. W. Anderson- there’s design talent clearly, but he’s also a brilliant marketeer”.
Undervalued qualities she thinks are flexibility and adaptability. Fashion is in constant flux and one needs to pivot: “that is one of the qualities that has helped me enormously. Being open and curious goes together, especially in an age of social media.”
She’s discreet but clearly the mind boggles at the marketing budget of some fashion show spectacles. Paris couture week has just finished and this year, a horse made it into one catwalk show. “When I worked at Galliano, he did a show in someone’s apartment in Paris on a shoestring budget. I remember he had just lost his backer and all he had was some black crepe and maybe a roll of pink. Everyone did it for free. Could that happen again? I don’t think so.”
A career which was never 9-5 and involved months of travelling had its fair share of challenges. She laughs as she tells me her daughter was once asked how her mother had worked and raised her, to which she replied, ‘very badly.’
“I missed a lot of school things and I was always coming in late but we managed. As I worked and travelled more, my husband just had to learn how to look after the kids and that was very good for the balance of our household but he was a surgeon too and it wasn’t always easy.”
On reflection, she thinks it was a great lesson for her children to see both parents work and to see their parents support each other and isn’t convinced by the traditional model of one person working and the other doing everything at home for little praise or gratification.
“I also worry sometimes that society is becoming too ‘mother, father, children centric’ and that we need to remind children to look after their elders, that it takes a village.” She was lucky in that both grandmothers helped out, her mother -in- law coming to stay for the month long merry go round of fashion shows.
I suggest that going to the shows feels dated, and yet a celebration of beautiful pieces which thrill the senses remains as appealing as ever.
“Well hopefully Mouki Mou is more reflective of that. I don’t sell throwaway clothes or clothes that only last a season. I don’t think fashion is ever going to go away as it is an expression of one’s personality…here are beautiful clothes, accessories or jewellery to make you feel better or to reflect a mood.”
What keeps it exciting at Rainbowwave she reflects is how the many different territories she deals with react in different ways. “I find that anthropological side of fashion really interesting and after 30 years, when I wonder why I am still doing this, I realise that a lot of the reason is cultural reflection.”
Photography by Alex Cameron
Interview by Carolyn Asome