My Big Fat Greek Fever

Man, I wish I were Greek! Really, because right now it seems, to be Greek is synonymous to being great. From Brad Pitt rampaging across screens as Achilles in Troy, to Colin Farrell playing Alexander the Great in the much sought after forthcoming epic, the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Tod’s Olympic shoe line, Celine’s new “Olympic” mini-collection, and Giorgio Armani’s Faces of Sport book, it seems everybody is ready to allow to run free their inner Greek. Even those who’ve had nothing to do with Greece in the past are ready to associate themselves with the land of beauty as well as brains.

After “two decades of stagnation”, as fashion features editor of Greek Vogue, Sandy Tsantaki, points out, Greek designers are back in the groove. “Greek designers now feel that there’s a possibility to go further and be more ambitious,” says Tsantaki. “The timing is right.”

Most prominent among them, of course, is the Athens-born, London-based fashion goddess, Sophia Kokosalaki, who is designing the costumes for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics. For Kokosalaki, Greek style is all about trying to avoid the much obvious with that certain amount of subtlety to make it work just right. “They will be modern and minimal, without placing the folklore element centre stage,” she says talking of the Olympics outfits.

Her drapes and folds point a palpable finger to her roots; but still she’s on a quest for novelty. “Usually, I try to keep in mind the plasticity of the ancient sculptures, with their focus on structure. But I try to combine all those elements into something that is contemporary, strong and unexpected,” she says. “I have studied costumes and use whatever inspires me and is aesthetically challenging, but in a modern and understated way.”

“Every season I try a new shape, a new color, a new style, but I always try to keep a balance between the commercial and the creative. I like experimenting, but ultimately I want to make clothes that are not only experimental, but also wearable.” And wearable they are indeed, considering some of the stuff you get to see on highly acclaimed runways these days.

It’s not the first time a Greek name has made fashion headlines, though. Jean Desses helped shape the more styled, refined 1950s, Yiannis Tseklenis made 1970s look hip, the body-conscious Nikos got a lot of attention in the 1980s, and at the turn of the century, Greek-Americans like John Varvatos, infamous king of American men’s wear and Peter Speliopoulos, design director at Donna Karan, caused a stir. Now, following all these footsteps, an entire generation of talented young designers is waiting to claim their well deserved place.

As Vasso Konsola says: “Greek style has long been a fountain of inspiration. It worked for the Paris couturiers – why should we reject it?”

In espousal, however, this cohort of designers is also pushing it a step further, which, of course is a good thing! Konsola, for example, creates her garments directly on a mannequin, without a pattern, making them one-of-a-kind works. Her intense knits and dresses in natural colors can be worn in different ways, leaving that final touch to individualism. Not many designers today can claim to have worked like that. “They follow the philosophy of the ancient Greek garment, where the body is free and not trapped,” she says.

The same might be said of the work of Milan-based Angelos Frentzos, a ground-breaking Greek designer who’s gotten his share of exposure in the past few years. He graduated from a local design school at the same time as Sophia Kokosalaki, and they are close friends. Frentzos, whose idiosyncratic style is geared towards creating the perfect female figure, is amazingly enough, better known among his contemporaries for his menswear!

“Greeks are competitive not only on a level of ideas but also on a level of creativity,” Dimitris Alexakis, from the Greek design duo Deux Hommes,points out. Inspired by the Mediterranean silhouette found in ancient-Greek garments, Deux Hommes make “body-conscious clothes, based on clarity and an understated notion of sexiness, where the structured silhouette is given a last-minute abstraction”.

“We should not underestimate Greek potential,” says Guia. “Greeks can work miracles!”

It is a miracle indeed that, although some of them have taken chance by moving on to greener pastures, most have stayed in Athens. The city doesn’t have a fashion week or fashion school, but there is buoyancy. And lots of it at that. Pavlos Kyriakides, who has been around since the 70s, says: “Ten years ago, the concept of the fashion designer didn’t even exist.”

“Today, there are 45 Greek designers in the Hellenic Designers Council, and hopefully, we will all show during the first ever Athens Fashion Week for October we’re currently working on.” Tells me Lena, a good friend and an up and coming name in the world of Greek and hopefully international fashion, who requires no praise what so ever because she knows, and the ones who’ve seen her designs know, that she is indeed talented.

“Being a Greek label, based in Greece, is hard.” Lena says. But Konsola consoles fellow designers by saying: “It’s worth doing our own revolution. The mentality that fashion can only be created in Paris or Milan has to be abolished. We can also produce new ideas.”

My favorite Athens-based designers at the moment are Lena, of course, along with Vaso Consola, Mi-Ro and Apostolos Mitropoulos. The freshest of all, Mi-Ro, partnership between two guys, NY educated Vaso Konsola who has been around for eight years and Apostolos since five.

Besides the tennis, I am definitely tuning in to Lena, for being a Greek at a time like this. This must make you very proud; all these talents coming about in abundance. I definitely smell another refreshing brigade!

I’m also booked for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics just to see the costumes; for it’s become a fashion must due to Sophia and the much talked artistic direction of yet another Greek choreographer Dimitris Papadimitriou.