Maria Cornejo On Michelle Obama: "She Has A Lot Of Humility"

04/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Formerly a fashion editor's best kept secret, Maria Cornejo entered the mainstream spotlight when Michelle Obama embraced Zero+Maria Cornejo as one of her go-to designer lines. Here Cornejo shares her perspective on power, Michelle Obama and her well-documented bohemian life with cult artist and poet Mark Borthwick.

Sabine Heller: With a focus on geometric shapes, your designs are known for being basic. Does that reflect in your personality?

Maria Cornejo
: Yes, I'm very practical. I'm trying to bridge the disparity between what is being photographed and what people actually wear.

SH: Who do you design for?

MC: Strong, brainy women like Michelle Obama, Tilda Swinton and Sofia Coppola who wear my clothes in real life, and not just when they are getting photographed.

SH: When did the first lady start wearing Zero?

MC: I first saw Michelle Obama wearing Zero on The Daily Show with John Stewart in 2008. Her most notable appearance, however, was during G20 Summit in Pittsburgh.

SH: What is it about Obama that you admire?

MC: Her compassion, intelligence and the fact that she's an inspiration to so many. She has a lot of humility.


SH: What's your ideological bent?

MC: I'm a socialist and a feminist.

SH: What do you find beautiful?

MC: Anything can be beautiful, depends how you look at it.

SH: What's ugly?

MC: A 19-year-old girl who looks half-shagged. Also, vulgarity is a real turn off.

SH: Where do you derive your sense of personal power?

MC: From being an outsider. When I was 11, I was exiled from Pinochet's Chile and moved to England via Cuba. Not belonging has always made me stronger.

SH: Your life has been haphazard. Do you have a nearly missed dream?

MC: Yes, I may have liked to be a ballet dancer in Havana.

: What are some words you live by?

MC: Passion above all.

SH: Your biggest personal regret?

MC: That my mother's not around to see me doing well (she died when I was 14)-- she would've been proud.

SH: Defining experience?

MC: Becoming a mother myself. I had to check my ego.

SH: Your most passionate moment?

MC: When my daughter Bibi was born. She was sick and I wanted to die like a wounded animal.

SH: What's your life like with Mark?

MC: Mark has given me the insight not to get caught up in the bullshit. Our life is chaotic but never boring. We live in a very colorful way. There are always so many people at our house and lots of music.

SH: You are known for your wild dinner parties. Who is your best dinner guest?

MC: The one that helps me clean.

SH: Biggest regret?

: No regrets.

SH: What trait most annoys you in people?

MC: When people get upset about bullshit.

SH: Definition of art?

MC: Something that moves you.