Fashion: What Mary did next
Exhaustion and stress led to Leeds designer Mary Benson taking a step back. But now she’s back in creative mode (and in more ways than one). She talks to Stephanie Smith. Three years ago, Mary Benson made her debut at London Fashion Week. She was a bright young thing whose eponymous label had attracted attention while she was still a student at the University of Westminster, her designs featuring holographic prints worn by Rita Ora, Paloma Faith and Ellie Goulding. Mary Benson with her award for Achievement in Management and Enterprise at the Yorkshire Young Achievers Awards 2015. The following year she won a business accolade at the Yorkshire Women of Achievment awards. Picture Bruce Rollinson Mary Benson’s graduate fashion collection was a surprise and a revelation, showcasing opulent floor-sweeping ball gowns decorated with narrative fantasy landscapes in foil on satin duchesse pure silk. A collaboration with celebrated footwear designer Terry de Havilland followed and a millinery collection with Stephen Jones. She had a studio in Hackney, assistants, stockists, mentions in Vogue … and then she stopped. Now 27, Mary, from Seacroft in Leeds, was exhausted and stressed. “It was all the struggles behind the scenes,” she says. “It ended up getting to the point where I was overworked, completely, and I was drinking a lot, and I got really depressed, to be honest. It was really hard. “I’ve been quite open about it, because nobody really knew at the time. People just thought I was hyper and a bit frantic and wild, but actually, I was going through a lot of anxiety and stress and depression.” It was the result, she says now, of the pressure put on young designers by the fashion industry. “I didn’t know how to cope with it,” she says. “I was going downhill with my health and stress and I thought, I just can’t any more. It was sad, and my mum and dad were really worried.” Back view of the silk jacket. Mary’s parents, Christine and Fred, have been her great support since, aged 15, she began started selling bags and bows to her friends at Corpus Christi High School in Leeds. At 16 she had a pop-up shop at Granary Wharf and Leeds boutiques began stocking her designs. At 17 she featured on TV’s Mary Queen of Shops, leading to a huge demand for a striped metallic dress she had designed. Her collections featured in The Yorkshire Post Magazine and on the catwalks of Yorkshire Fashion Week and the Great Yorkshire Show. Mary studied at Leeds College of Art before moving to London in 2009 for a Fashion Design BA at the University of Westminster. At 19, she worked with Alexander McQueen and Richard Nicoll and went to Paris Fashion Week with Vivienne Westwood. And yet, despite so much hard work and recognition she took the decision to step back from fashion. “I didn’t expect to take so long out, but it was just what I needed,” she says now. She continued at the pub she had been working at to fund her collections and shows, and began drawing every day, mostly portraits of friends which she put on Instagram, only to find that people began asking if she would draw them, too.