by Omi | Sylvia Stoss
Athens Xclusive Designer Week (AXDW) is the last stop in the european circuit for many fashion editors and buyers. Coming at the backend of the big four, it holds a niche' and unexpectedly charming value that you generally don't associate with fashion weeks this size. Each year the fashion in Athens moves incrementally closer to the main streets of Paris and New York and sheds a bit of Moscow in the process. The industry itself is going through a makeover of sorts due to the introduction of Vogue Hellas and an insurgence in island fashion, due to the exceptionally high number of tourists (connected to the collapse of the Turkish tourism market) but foundationally Greek fashion remains firmly within the elements it is so famous for...light, breezy and at times trying hard to escape the derivatives that are bound to creep up in a globalized world where everyone is influenced by everyone else.
Keeping that in mind, originality is not in short supply here. While the focus may be shifted a bit more towards finishing (specially in design schools), the overall push to modernize and standardize greek fashion industry is going to be a long and fruitful process with many wrong turns in the right direction.
The AXDW is definitely the right avenue to push fashion forward in Greece. The shows that stood out this cycle were shows that felt comfortable in their own skin.
From the most fashionable dog funeral, this side of Shanghai to the sustainable themed new designers to the intricacy of celebrity-driven design cultures, AXDW had bright spots on rather gloomy and at times uncharacteristically cold Athens days.
Anyone who is anyone in Athens has an opinion about Vassilis Zoulias. And usually, that opinion borders on unfettered Gollum-like admiration to a more nuanced understanding of aesthetics and silhouettes. And coming to his show in Athens is always a privilege for a diverse group of people who have lived through the heydays of the 80s, survived the collapse of the 2000s and now enjoying the rebuilding of the last few years. So social context along with economic reality remains important within that group of VZ buyers, admirers and everyone in between. But when it comes to design and design alone, there is no other game in town. Soaked in flattering silhouettes and broody palettes that evoked a sense of loss and longing, attachment and celebration, Zoulias's show was not only an homage to his now-departed feline companion, Verouska but also an homage to what true craftsmanship looks like. Models wearing significantly tone down colors with floral prints walked the catwalk with their respective dogs while at the same time reminding everyone the sustained genius of Zoulias's work. It would be unfair to heap praise on Zoulias alone as his ever-present companion, Pericles Kondylatos with his distinctly greek take on funeral headpieces and jewelry made sitting outside in 60-degree weather worthwhile. Despite the chill of the wind, the thrill of seeing a master at work was surely the highlight of the AXDW. And upon closer inspection, it would be safe to say that Zoulias’s work is on a higher plateau when it comes to ideas, execution, aesthetics, presentation and above all, sincerity. Each cycle Zoulias and Kondylatos do what Atlas did in Greek mythology, they carry the brunt of the weight of the industry and hold Greek fashion up to a standard of international excellence. And sometimes it is easy to forget as journalists, editors, and visual curators that this sort of ease to hold an industry together requires a certain type of talent that can only be complemented through uncompromising hard work.
Coming down from the heady heights of Zoulias is never easy and it is harder to compare his work to his contemporaries within the industry as most of them are starting out or have not remained relevant as global machines of market forces impacted consumer behavior through fast fashion (and the thievery that propagates). So newer designers who grew up and evolved in the age of the beast that is Instagram, are more in line with where niche' fashion is heading. That is where Berequette makes its mark. Antonia Dimopoulou's Berequette is foundationally a brand that adheres to a more scandi notion of aesthetics. Beige to dark are all part and parcel of Berequette's aesthetics with silhouettes loose and deconstructed to provide a sense of brooding freedom. The Best New Designer award winner won due to the consistency and originality of her work that focused on the up-cycling and recycling of materials. It was sort of a unique thing to find fashion outright driven by environmental concerns in Athens. Apart from Daphne Valente who is the master of sculptural environmental design, there isn't much to talk about in that regard in the greek industry. So Berequette's introduction is a welcome sight and a vindication of environmentally friendly design aesthetics.
Speaking of environmentally friendly materials turning into excellent fashion, New York-based Chinese designer Jenny Qu's Jasmine provided the most visually consistent show of AXDW. Her work is more on the cusp of Americana fused with East Asia. So the formative quality is firmly entrenched in cultural fusion and the solidity of the color red imposes that fusion with a sense of clarity and vision. While relatively new to the European circuit, Jane's work stood out as something different, something consistent and something that is cohesive both in form and function. Her work had a formidable and brass New York quality to it, which is neatly and subtly hidden under the layers of Asian charm. In many ways, Jasmin is far ahead of the curve in terms of aesthetic exploration through a singularity. While it is easy to brush that aside as not as significant as Valentino red or Tom Ford black, it is worth noting that the starting point for such singularity is often not understood fully or appreciated with a sense of whimsy, yet the substantive quality of such singular vision is admirable and lasts a lot longer than anyone can anticipate. Jasmine may have found a strong niche' to dig its heels in and with the right kind of attention and care will bloom into a crowd favorite.
If Jasmine had a bit of New York swagger about her, then surely MK by Marios is a child of the theatre. Infusing a plethora of solid palettes into avant-garde worthy theatrical costumes Marios Karavasilis pushes his aesthetic agenda like a Broadway production. It is a handy trait to have as a designer if you understand the nuances of styling and Marios seem to know exactly how to style his clothes. While the foundation of his work might not be based on the primary goal of functionality, his work is most definitely worth a double take. His ability to articulate aesthetic experimentation is admirable and suggests a thinking designer behind the theatrics of his work. Unlike other shows, his work incorporates a variety of experimental fabric combinations which stands out to the non-casual observer who might appreciate it even more due to the exploration of color. MK is what you wear at a party or what you wear if you are one.
Marios may have provided the first glimpse of avant-garde aesthetics but for this cycle, Celebrity Skin decided to firmly push that boundary to a point of a mural of experimentation. Dimitris Strepkos's Celebrity Skin has been in the Greek scene for a decade now and has provided an off-the-cuff experience that is never short on theatrics and cultural commentary. And Dimitris's homage to his decade long exploration is filled with moments of inclusivity, absurdity, and frivolity...all things that make fashion a unifying force for good. Celebrity Skin is not a faint-hearted off the rack brand to be talked about over water coolers or snapchat (whichever one is older). It is a brand that takes its absurdity seriously, it takes its avant-garde position gauntlet with a casual smirk. Celebrity Skin's body of work is a beautifully constructed ugliness or the exact opposite, depending on who is looking. In every possible way, Celebrity Skin is a front runner within the Greek avant-garde movement. Whether or not, that is fully appreciated when the market is saturated with safe fashion for safe people, can be a topic of discussion but what is settled is that Celebrity Skin does not pull any punches and that sort of doing things one's own way, is both admirable and worth buying into.
Last and definitely the last outstanding show from the AXDW were from the design duo Mi-Ro. Dimitris Mastrokalos and Giannis Raptis are the biggest beneficiaries of a culture of fashion that is driven by the idea of ‘celebrity’. But to pigeonhole Mi-Ro into some sort of Instagram fad turned into a meme of Philip Plein-like artistic abdication would be unfair and incorrect. Mi-Ro holds a rather unique position within the Greek fashion landscape. It is popular, it is glitzy, it is light and breezy, it is colorful and casual, but if you look closely, it is also a substantive and trendsetting brand that has somehow infused the erratic energy of influencers and celebrities while establishing itself as a standard bearer of the internal greek market. Mi-Ro is able to produce finely crafted fashion with outstanding quality while appealing to a crowd that largely feeds off fast fashion. And there lies the uniqueness of Mi-Ro. And this collection is firmly within that conception of fashion aesthetics. Introduced through a set of 80s chart-toppers the Mi-Ro collection looked like a romantic homage to the much-loved era of sex and glitter. From endless necklines to large bow covered strapless shoulders, the aesthetic value of such exploration with such vivid construction of color was not only startling but also wonderfully intricate. Mi-Ro could easily take on Alexandre Vauthier's 80s homage and survive the scrutiny of time. Unlike many celebrity-driven brands, Mi-Ro's charm goes much deeper than just a hashtag and Mi-Ro continues to remain as one of the most important brands within the greek market both visually and commercially.
Overall, AXDW did what it is supposed to do… that is to celebrate greek fashion while giving platform to newer designers. As the industry become more and more globalized, it is inevitable that Athens would gain a lot of traction and traffic due to its charm, weather and of course history. That is why it is the responsibility of both international press and local press to push substantive design forward without being dragged down by the weight of history or “who did what” in the 80s. Culturally that may be hard to do as collectively Greeks tend to prescribe to nostalgia as a form of pastime (excuse the stereotype here) like no other. It is charming but at times it can be detrimental to moving forward. So as the industry evolves, that responsibility of balancing old with the new must take precedence, otherwise the progress that is being made by designers like Kondylatos, Yiorgos Eleftheriades, Artians, Lefkon might be stalled. Cultural commentary aside, AXDW remains one of the most charming places to visit and there is no denying that a garden is in bloom underneath the rubble of the economic crash.