Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece new M&S range: 'I've created this fashion line... not the princess'
She's the heiress who married a prince - and promptly built her own childrenswear empire. As she launches her first collaboration with M&S, Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece tells Katrina Israel about how she was inspired by her father and why she's just another working mother
Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece is holding court dressed in J Brand jeans, a tailored Saint Laurent jacket, Chloe blouse and Jimmy Choo flats. A star-studded ear cuff, a gift from designer Rosa de la Cruz, climbs one lobe. "It looks like I have five piercings," she laughs.
It's not exactly what you'd expect from a member of one of Europe's most glamorous - and wealthiest - families (she ranked no. 10 on The Sunday Times' 2016 Rich List of Britain's wealthiest women with an estimated £1.58billion fortune). But then 'MC', as her friends call her, is hardly your average princess. She forgoes a stylist in favour of online shopping before bed, dabbles in the high street, does her own grocery run (M&S or Waitrose), and has an addiction to Netflix. And then there's her demeanour. Upper-class airs and graces are conspicuous by their absence; in fact, the 48-year-old mother-of-five is as warm as her sunny shade of blonde.
The middle daughter of self-made billionaire businessman Robert Miller and Ecuadorian beauty Marie Chantal Pesantes, she married Crown Prince Pavlos, heir to the Greek throne, in 1995, joining the European royal family but remaining void of official duties thanks to a military coup that deposed Pavlos' father King Constantine II in 1973 - a move later given democratic approval in a referendum.
Instead, the 'Princess' preface is, for now, largely symbolic, and it quickly becomes evident that the title resonating the strongest - alongside mother - is businesswoman. We are here to discuss the launch of her new childrenswear collaboration with M&S. The 33-piece, five-part collection offers a similar elegance to her phenomenally successful luxury kids brand Marie-Chantal - as worn by Harper Beckham, North West and silver-spoon tots the world over - at commoner prices (ranging from £6 for a two-pack sock set, to £60 for a cashmere shawl). "Retail is so difficult, but I've loved every minute of it, so when Marks & Spencer came to me, I felt like I was finally validated as a designer," she says, modestly. "One's always, you know, questioning… So it's great." The line is the result of 18 months' worth of talks and planning. "It's a great opportunity for me because I get to have a broader reach."
A 'third-culture child', she was born in Hampstead, but raised in Hong Kong, where her father co-founded DFS (Duty Free Shops) in 1960, and educated in Europe and the States at a coterie of prestigious institutions (among them the Institut Le Rosey in Switzerland, a favourite among European royalty). Like all good fairy tales, the union with Crown Prince Pavlos was love at first sight, initiated by a mutual friend who set them up at the 40th birthday of Philip Niarchos, the eldest son of the Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos. Their lavish London wedding at St Sophia's Cathedral in Bayswater drew the largest congregation of royals to the city since the marriage of Queen Elizabeth to Prince Philip in 1947.
The rather ridiculously good-looking pair initially settled in the States. Along with sisters, Pia, 50, who married Christopher Getty, and Alexandra, 44, former wife of Prince Alexander von Fürstenberg (both have since divorced), Marie-Chantal became one third of the original sibling socialite triptych.
After a 2002 European Court ruling decreed that the Greek government had wrongly seized the Crown Prince's family's property, his parents returned to Porto Heli, and Pavlos and Marie-Chantal took up residence in London to be nearby. Now they visit Greece twice a year. "It's so important for the kids to understand that there's a whole part to their story," she says of their brood that ranges in age from 8 to 20. Her eldest daughter, 20-year-old Princess Maria-Olympia of Greece and Denmark, has already been falsely linked to Prince Harry, and has a jealousy-inducing Insta account with a 94k following (@olympiagreece). Does she ever worry about the pressures such exposure brings? "They have their own sense of 'I know how to do this, you don't know, this is our generation'," she smiles. "It's tricky. I just say: 'Look, once it's out there it's forever… everybody can see it. Just to try to be objective. Think, how would you perceive yourself if you were looking at somebody like you? And just try and keep it under control.'"
Just as Marie-Chantal interned at Andy Warhol's Factory in New York, Maria-Olympia, who studies photography at Parsons School of Design in New York, has assisted in the couture department of Dior in Paris. She has also already graced the pages of Vanity Fair, Teen Vogue, W, Tatler and Town & Country, stepping into the eye of the society storm. "I think Olympia has learnt by posting certain things and then magazines or newspapers have taken her shots. It's a lesson. As long as it hasn't been…" she pauses. "Nothing negative."
While Marie-Chantal was once a FROW (front row at fashion shows) regular herself, the media circus that now surrounds the shows has curbed her attendance. "Going to a fashion show with my mother years ago, it was simple, you had maybe one or two photographers that would come around and take pictures. Now, it's like: 'Waaah, rush in, rush out, onto the next'." How does Maria-Olympia feel about the whirl? "She loves it. At that age how could you not? It's a different pace for her."
She says she doesn't identify with the style-icon tag, in spite of the fact that she was setting the royal sartorial agenda with her faultless ability to fuse fashion and propriety long before Kate or Mary came onto the scene. On the subject of the royal style stage, she says: "I think Mary (Crown Princess of Denmark) looks amazing. All of them: Mette-Marit (Crown Princess of Norway), Kate (Duchess of Cambridge), everyone is looking so polished, it's beautiful."
The idea for creating her own line came about when she was pregnant with her third child: "I remember sitting with a friend who is older and a designer, and she said: 'What are you going to call it?' I said: 'Marie-Chantal', and she said: 'No, no, you need something else, like Felix and Marie-Chantal, or put the Princess before.' And I was like: 'No. It's just me, nothing before and nothing after.' I really want to be able to validate myself through something that I have achieved and done. And I really mean that."
Around two years ago, she launched a Goop-style blog to accompany her online store. It was a savvy move. The platform's stories are often shot in her home and chronicle everything from how to meticulously organise your pantry to the perils of toothpaste toxins. She personally responds to comments, whether positive or negative. "I wanted to curate something that's approachable and fun, but tongue-in-cheek, not take myself too seriously, and really share." She has embraced social media in a similar way, wracking up 94.6k followers on Instagram: "It's a whole different world, it's so transparent… I'm learning as we bump along, seeing what is smart and what isn't."
When she's not at her offices in Notting Hill, she and the family split their time between their palatial home in Chelsea, and their country retreat in Yorkshire. "I really try not to schedule too much. I'll be out at most twice a week. The weekends are sacred and it's really important that I keep a really focused routine. I'm on my fourth Harry Potter book, and I read to the little ones every night. It's so important to keep home-based, because you can get carried away…"
For a quiet meal with her financier husband, it's Chinese restaurant Yauatcha in Soho, or Mayfair's Kiku for shabu-shabu with the kids, and she says she zips around London in taxis. Having trained at the Escoffier cooking school at the Paris Ritz, she also does a mean roast at home. Her real guilty pleasure? "I'm a series addict. We've just finished Stranger Things, and I'm onto Bloodline, which I'm obsessed with."
But for someone who could quite easily sit out her days on the back of a superyacht, she is clearly driven by an entrepreneurial spirit. "I think it was growing up with a great role model in my father," she says of the 83-year-old, who set up shop in every airport around the globe. "He built a great career. He was a great family man. It was being able to see that. He is always happy." She is the only other Miller, aside from her father, to sit on the DFS board. "It's board meetings and just being aware of what's going on," she says of her involvement. You get the sense that she will increasingly switch from tiara to business hat in the coming years. What does the title Princess mean in 2016 anyway? "It's so hard to answer that," she smiles. "I work, I do other things. Yes I married Pavlos but… I just see myself as a working mother. That's what I set out to do."
- The Marie-Chantal collection is exclusively available in selected M&S stores and online at marksandspencer.com now