The House of the Red and White Lions
“We are having the best time ever!” proclaims the haute couture artist. “I’ve just won a Global Ovation Lifetime Achievement for Fashion!” Bravo! Mary is the Valkyrie of fashion residing over her very own Valhalla. This ring cycle ain’t gonna end anytime soon. Late to the game, the BBC is falling over itself to interview her and beef up its breaking news. Queue. Join. Next. The accolades keep pouring in: Costume Designer of the Year at the Global Community and Business Star Awards and Style Icon Honoree Excellence in Fashion Couture courtesy of the Global Style Icon Awards, to name yet another two.
Mary exclaims, “I would like to say thank you to the Global Style Icon Awards for awarding me the best designer – costumer designer! – for 2020 and 2021. I’d also like to say thank you to the Foreign Office for letting me do my virtual show in the building which was an amazing shoot in a beautiful place. And, yeah, thank you thank you that’s all I can say – I’m happy!” Mary explains more about that epic Foreign and Commonwealth Office shoot, “History had inspired me. I realised that Ignatius Sancho was an inhouse slave but was later set free and he was the first black millionaire in Britain. And he and his wife used to sell tobacco and everything from their shop which stood on the site of the Foreign Office on King Charles Street.”
She rolls, “I was the first black woman to do a shoot in there. What I did was reverse fashion and I put the black models on the stairs like they were the kings and queens. I wanted to show good images of black people in regal clothes – like black excellence – I’m a fantasiser! You should always be proud of yourself and who you are really.” Never resting on her many many laurels, the designer shares, “I love digital art! I started doing the art and people started to love my art just like they love my clothes so I thought why not? I’m doing some beautiful images and I’m also putting them on clothes as well as screen prints to hang on your walls.” That’s when she’s not conjuring up fluffy puffball dresses, a style Mary invented. It’s overture overload! A pressed foil wrap dress – another Mary Martin London trademark design – clings to a tailor’s dummy in the studio at the top of her townhouse, her very own Isolde’s Tower. And next season’s must have accessory is in the making: the outsized unisex bag. But her suitcases are packed: “I love Ghana! I’m going over there as soon as I can to do some fashion!”
Right now she’s busy sewing up a storm: a private commission to design and make individual scarves for an Irish mother and her two daughters. The scarves feature Mary’s signature Slaves in the Woods pattern in each client’s favourite colourway. Welcome to the undisputed territory of Maryland. Earlier, the designer was partying with R+B singer Mark Morrison. Next, Kofi arrives and before long Mary is duetting down the corridor with the legendary rock singer: “Black is the colour of my skin | Black is the life that I live | And I’m so proud to be the colour that God made me | And I just gotta sing black is my colour | Yeah couldn’t be no other oh no | Black is my colour / Yeah yeah | Couldn’t be no other | No no no.” Kofi laughs, “Everybody loves Mary!” American dance and house singer Kathy Brown of “Happy People” and “Give It Up” fame rings: “It’s going to be a good year!”
Mary has been jazzing up her atelier of late. She scrawled “And behind the smile, beneath the makeup, I’m just a girl who wishes for the future” across a Katherine Hepburn mirror in her salon. And “Life is better when you’re laughing” over a Marilyn Monroe mirror in her studio. A humongous two metre tall carnation precariously balances over her materials cupboards. Like everything about Mary Martin London, it’s larger than life, carried on huge waves of Wagnerian music crashing on the ocean floor. Not everyone has “Talking to God” as their WhatsApp tagline. Not everyone is Mary Martin London. An afternoon in her company: well, it’s like living life in inverted commas.