Maria Cornejo on Zero and Designing Things Her Way

At first, Sept. 11 seemed like the worst thing that could happen, but it turned out to be just the beginning.

“There were lots of hard moments,” Ms. Woroniecka said. “Obviously 2008. Barneys going bankrupt — that was 25 percent of our wholesale revenue. Covid was a big one.”

It wasn’t only Covid, either: Just before the pandemic, she and Mr. Borthwick, who had photographed all the Zero collections and worked out of their brownstone, separated after more than three decades together. Then, in short order, Ms. Cornejo moved, got Covid and then got breast cancer. (It was caught early, and she is now cancer free.) “Stuff happens all the time,” she said, “but this time all the stuff happened at once.”

When the pandemic hit, she said, “I thought ‘OK, we’re going out of business.’” Then she herself got the virus. “I was on my own,” she said. “New York was really scary, and you could hear the ambulances day and night.” She decided to stay home and nurse herself. “I’d rather be in my own bed than somewhere where people are panicking,” she said. “It was quite liberating to lose that fear.”

Through it all, she had her job. “When I was going through my divorce, my work was the one thing that kept me from falling apart,” she said. “I look at myself in the mirror now, and sometimes I don’t even recognize myself, but in my work I know who I am.”

(She and Mr. Borthwick recently collaborated for the first time since splitting up, on her 25th-anniversary book, which features her fan group as models — her son, Joey; Chloë Sevigny; Brooke Williams of the Resistance Revival Chorus; the 74-year-old photographer Francesca Sorrenti.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *