The first time I saw Kelly Withey, owner of Maison Mara atelier in Cape Town, I had no idea who she was. But she walked into a show at Cape Town Fashion Week and I was instantly mesmerized by her style. There was something, well, perfect about it. Effortless, smart, casual, simplistic and luxurious. Naturally when I put her name to her face it all made sense, and I still consider her a personal style icon.
Maison Mara is a concept store in Cape Town that is owned and managed by Withey, who grew up in Africa before studying fashion design in Paris. The store offers all her favourite brands like Kenzo, Jil Sander, Proenza Schouler and more, alongside magazines, art books, fragrances and luxury candles.
I caught up with Kelly to chat about trends, wardrobe staples and shopping for investment pieces.
The fashion industry talks a lot about trends, but when you look at street style and international runways during fashion weeks, many don’t exactly follow popular trends. Do you believe in building a wardrobe on trends or curating a unique look? Or is it a bit of both?
Trends give designers and buyers a direction to follow for the season. I think it is important to follow them without being a slave to them. I always make sure there is a strong core selection of classic pieces that one could keep forever.
You run an atelier but your pieces are also an investment, not “instant fashion”. How do you select pieces that people will find appealing (i.e. what they can identify as “in fashion” but that will have a long-term appeal)?
I don’t believe in buying something that you can only wear for a season, so the selection at Maison Mara is always driven by building a wardrobe with your DNA; a collection of pieces that all fit together like a puzzle.
Do you consider trends at all when you select pieces for Maison Mara? Does the taste locally differ from internationally?
Different markets vary in taste, but fashion has become such a huge industry worldwide that designers now cater for many different climates, cultures and styles. I definitely consider trends when doing my buying, but more importantly I try to buy what I believe is in line with a South African market.
If you build a wardrobe out of investment pieces, I imagine you need to be smart when selecting your core staples. What are the pieces you think every wardrobe should have?
In my opinion, it’s important to own a pair of jeans that suit you perfectly, as well as leather loafers and white shirts.
What are your favourite pieces in your personal wardrobe?
My shoes. Each and every pair holds a special place in my heart.
Where do you look for fashion inspiration? Are there any designers / stylists / bloggers whom you follow? Why do you like them?
I love following my friends’ work – whether they are writers, photographers, designers, artists or entrepreneurs…they speak for our generation, so I like hearing what they have to say.
Where do you think the female silhouette is heading this winter? I am seeing a lot of looser styles, particularly loose pants and tucked button-ups. Are there any looks you are loving? How can people adapt these styles to maintain a flattering shape?
I love oversized knitwear and below-the-knee-length skirts accessorised with small bags. I think the mix of burgundy and brighter reds, pinks and oranges is in order colour wise. If you want to try out a runway look, I would start off with loose pants and a white shirt so as not to be overwhelmed by the outfit.
While Maison Mara focuses on international designers, are there any local creatives whom you love?
Absolutely! I love AAKS woven bags and House of Gozdawa perfumes.