Cornejo attends the United Nations and Parley for
the Oceans Launch event at the United Nations in
New York on June 29, 2015.
do First Lady Michelle Obama, actress Tilda Swinton and
artist Cindy Sherman have in common? New York-based
fashion designer Maria Cornejo, for one thing. Cornejoís
demographic is artsy and intellectual, and her aesthetic
minimalist but feminine and friendly. The consummate
indie designer, without a luxury conglomerate behind
her, Cornejo makes clothes to be worn, not just to fill
up magazine editorials and prop up accessory sales.
want to feel youthful and relevant, but I donít want
to dress like a 15-year-old," Cornejo, 52, said
during a recent trip to Los Angeles to celebrate five
years of her Melrose Place boutique, Zero + Maria
designerís relaxed draped dresses and jumpsuits in
geometric-inspired cuts cocoon the body, concealing what
needs concealing and highlighting the rest, while
lightweight V-neck tops with cutout details over the
shoulders, asymmetrically cut tunic tops and elastic
waist trousers have the ease of pajamas, folding down to
practically nothing for travel. Prints are often
abstract versions of photographs she takes anywhere and
donít have to have a perfect body. It really is about
the woman who puts them on and how they drape on
her," Cornejo said about her clothing, which goes
up to a size 14. "Very few things are tailored or
super-straight. The whole idea is that the clothes
become more about the person in them."
day wear ranges from about $300 for a jersey top to $900
for a jersey dress; silk jumpsuits and dresses range
from $800 to $1,800, and outerwear from $895 for a
tweedy striped poncho to $4,000 for a shearling coat.
was born in Chile, started her career in London and
launched her business in her first retail store in New
York City in 1998. She has won a number of accolades
since then, including the 2006 Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt
Design Award. She opened the LA store after early
success at wholesale here, selling to Mameg, Barneys New
York and Aímareeís, all of which still carry the
realized there was a demand," she said. "And
we were developing an amazing client base here. Marisa
Tomei has been a client since 1998." In fact, Tomei
hosted a cocktail party at the LA store on June 19 to
celebrate its five-year anniversary.
company had its best year in 2014 and is projecting $10
million in sales in 2015. Accessories are a growing part
of Cornejoís empire, including chunky-heeled sandal
booties, flat slingback Menorcan sandals, reversible
leather tote bags, wide belts and tassel necklaces.
is another strong category for the designer, who has
mastered the sexy but full-coverage one-piece, using
artful cutouts and color blocking.
non-driver living in Brooklyn, Cornejo is a New Yorker
through and through, producing 70 percent of her
collection in the city. But it was the Southern
Californian desert landscape of Joshua Tree that
inspired her pre-fall collection, which is in stores
basically the corner of a rock," she said, pointing
to the Yellowstone sleeveless dress sheís wearing,
printed with craggy-looking rocks dotted with
was here a year ago, and on my one free day I went to
Joshua Tree with my design assistant. He was just
walking, but with me, Iím always looking. This morning
on my walk from Sunset Tower, I took pictures of paving
stones on Flores (Street). Finding shapes and patterns
is the way my eyes look at things."
enjoys spending time in LA, especially now that her
daughter Bibi Cornejo Borthwick, a photographer, has
moved into a house in Echo Park.
have a lot of friends here, so it really feels like
home," Cornejo said, singling out chef Nina
Clemente, and artists Alejandro Cardenas and Mike Mills
among her L.A. circle. Hiking Runyon Canyon and eating
Thai food at Night + Market Song and sushi at Sugarfish
are among her L.A. faves.
also crazy about the plant life here," she added.
"I love the sun, the weather and the nature."
got loads of LA photos on her iPhone to prove it. But
you wonít see her posting them online. "Thereís
too much information out there already," she said.
"I donít feel the need to share my inspiration
ahead of time because I think itís quite nice to have