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.
SH: 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?
MC: 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.