Being Mama: Marie-Chantal
Being a mother to five kids never really slows down, whatever is thrown at you.” The Crown Princess of Greece, children’s wear designer and author shares her journey into motherhood, a complicated birth scare and how she’s keeping her cool in the coronavirus crisis.
Crown Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece is a stickler for etiquette – all the more so in the grips of a global crisis. She, her husband Pavlos and their five children, kept cool and composed in the confines of their Upper East Side townhouse, from where Marie-Chantal runs her eponymous children’s wear brand and launched her first book, Manners Begin at Breakfast: Modern etiquette for families.
Every morning, while Pavlos walks their two dogs, Marie-Chantal would set a pretty breakfast table for her family – paying homage to her own education in family etiquette. “I remember meals were always at the table – and breakfast always with my parents,” says the London-born designer. The middle of three sisters, Marie-Chantal spent her early years in Hong Kong while her father, dubbed the ‘duty-free shopping king’, started his business.
“With my father building his career and working very hard, he insisted we all have breakfast together. It’s so important to have healthy role models. I have very much leant on my own parents’ parenting style. My children have been raised pretty much the same way as my sisters and I were, and with my husband’s influence as well.”
Marie-Chantal was ‘set up’ with Pavlos, Crown Prince of Greece (as he is known, although Greece hasn’t been a monarchy for almost 50 years) at a party in 1992.“Our mutual friend actually had us sit next to each other at dinner and we clicked instantly. We had met before but this time it was different. I knew and he knew that we’d be together. The right timing means everything.”
Pavlos proposed to Marie-Chantal on a ski lift in Switzerland in 1994, and they married in London six months later. “I was 26 when I got married and thought we would wait a year before trying to get pregnant but three months after our wedding, was pregnant,” says Marie-Chantal. “It was just wonderful and I loved every second of being pregnant.”
Her daughter, Maria-Olympia, was born in 1996, followed by two sons – Constantine Alexios and Achileas-Andreas. While pregnant with Achileas, Marie-Chantal founded her designer children’s wear brand, Marie-Chantal.
“I was desperate to start something on my own merit,” she says, but was steered away from the highly competitive cosmetics industry by a friend and then top executive at Sephora. “She told me to tap into a business that is closer to my heart.” Marie-Chantal had studied various artistic disciplines in Europe and New York. In her teens, she famously interned for Andy Warhol.
“I grew up with a love of fashion and my mother was and is so stylish. When we were little and living in Paris you can imagine the feasts of fashion that one is exposed to. The French taught me so much but so did my mother. I always knew that I wanted to have a career in fashion but a gentler one and children’s wear is so perfect and sweet.”
She describes her children’s wear as “classic with a twist”, often drawing inspiration from the ginghams and liberty prints of her own childhood wardrobe.
In the midst of launching her business, Marie-Chantal became pregnant with her fourth child, Odysseas. “I was lucky to have easy pregnancies but with number four, he came three weeks early with a difficult delivery. It was an emergency caesarean with complications due to the doctor. It was frightening for me.”
Marie-Chantal lost a lot of blood during the delivery and, as she was at a private clinic rather than a hospital, it took several hours to arrange a transfusion. “Birth is meant to be an amazing and beautiful experience but it can go wrong so quickly. Thank goodness it all turned out fine and Odysseas was born on my birthday. He’s my birthday gift.”
Another boy, Aristide, joined the family four years later. “I always wanted to have five children and always knew I would. Even after my birth scare I knew one more was in the cards. Going from four to five wasn’t hard at all – it was going from one to two that was a big change!”
“I had read all the books on pregnancy but no one really prepares or tells you how to be a good parent. How would I raise my children? How much would be shaped by their personalities and how much would we as parents influence them? I knew I wanted to make the best choices for all of our children and I always knew it was all about making sure my husband and I would set the right examples from the start.”
Marie-Chantal says she always struck a healthy balance between her family and professional life. Now that her children are older, she’s able to dedicate more time to herself and her business. “That said, I believe it’s important to make time for the family to be together and also spend time with my children one-on-one. It’s important to let each one know you have time for them individually.”
When Olympia started university in New York, the family relocated from London to the US. Prior to the pandemic, Marie-Chantal would frequently travel back to the UK for her business. “In a way I love that we have all taken a pause in our frenetic lives – that we are with family and are spending so much time together,” she says. “It gives us time to really focus on what is important.”
When coronavirus saw store shelves stripped of hand sanitizer, Marie-Chantal started making her own from isopropyl alcohol, water and some lavender or tea tree oil drops. “I ordered little bottles online and within a few days had my bottles all made up. I spray everything with alcohol now. The groceries, the doors, even the air!”
“I’m busy with so many new things, from cooking dinner, working with my London team, but most importantly it is helping the kids get through this as well. Being a mother to five kids never really slows down, whatever is thrown at you.”
She and her brood – Olympia, 24, Constantine, 21, Achileas, 20, Odysseas, 16, and Aristides, 12 – weathered isolation by playing games, assembling enormous puzzles (“we finished one that took five days”) and as much as possible, maintaining their routines. “I believe in setting structures around our days spent at home as it gives children a sense of calm,” says Marie-Chantal. “Even more so during these challenging times.”
Her two youngest are doing well with their online schooling, while the elder three are studying their university courses online. “It’s good that they are focused and busy. They also have their own workout routine schedules to keep their mind and bodies healthy and so do my husband and myself.”
“We all need to keep on going in a positive way. Keep in touch with loved ones more than ever and remember the ones who live alone. This is more important than ever to reach out and be caring.
We need to be thankful and show gratitude to all of those who make our lives possible, like the caregivers, the hospitals, nurses and their staff, but also the people who help with our food – our deliveries,” she says. “We can never take anything for granted and we should emphasize this to our children.
As we take a pause and sit still, maybe we will come out of this kinder to one another, to the environment. I’m hoping we can all learn from this, the young and the old. Like I always say to my children, let’s turn a negative into a positive.”