As tourism to Athens finally appears to be picking up after several years, it is becoming all the more apparent how backward the Greek capital is in selling itself. And, no, I don’t mean in terms of promoting Athens as a destination and advertising campaigns, areas where there has been some progress in recent years. I’m talking mainly about souvenirs, a huge market for all countries that rely on tourism and one which Athens seems to have overlooked almost entirely, or even looked down on, as it remains stuck back in the day when a Greek souvenir meant a plastic doll dressed as a presidential guard in a foustanella skirt.
An effort launched a few years ago by the City of Athens to introduce a new philosophy with innovate products signed by one of the country’s most prestigious design firms, K2, headed by Yiannis Kouroudis, did manage to shake things up quite a bit, but a stroll in the old quarter of Plaka proves that there is still a very long way to go.
In this sense, the Only in Athens project, a joint initiative between architectural firm Point Supreme and the Blanco team headed by poet Stathis Kefalouros, is making some headway by presenting alternative souvenirs for Athens.
The idea started in 2009 when Constantinos Pantazis and Marianna Rentzou of Point Supreme started experimenting with ideas based on the concept of Athens, creating a line of stamps, posters and other items. Meanwhile, Blanco was doing its own thing to promote Athens life with the photography exhibition “Athens Will Surprise You.”
“We met around that time and decided to do something together; that’s how Only in Athens came about,” Pantazis told Kathimerini recently.
The Only in Athens campaign is different to anything we’ve seen before in the Greek capital and is inspired by the characteristics that make the city unique, both in a good and a bad way.
“Foreign visitors to Athens are instantly aware that the sights of the modern city stand apart and are almost exotic. They comment on them, laugh about them, ask questions and ultimately remember them well. Even if some of its traits make their lives difficult, they don’t get exasperated because they don’t have to live here and everything that happens is part of the adventure of travel. The new souvenirs are inspired by these paradoxes and will remind them of Greece and Athens in particular once they get back home,” explains Pantazis.
Pantazis is right when he says that Europeans are especially curious about what is going on in Athens right now.
“All the things that seem to happen only in Athens today, combined with the Classical tradition, have created a new identity for the city. And that is exactly what we want to represent with our Only in Athens products, which, for example, include an Athenian apartment building,” says the designer.
The Only in Athens products – mostly T-shirts and other cloth items stamped with emblematic images – went on display at a store in Athens in March and will be on sale at the next Meet Market bazaar this weekend (April 12-13) at the Technopolis complex in Gazi. The creators hope that their products will soon become more broadly available at major tourists hubs such as Plaka, the islands and Athens Airport.
“The tablecloth that depicts Athens as an island and which is the first we created for the series will hopefully finds its way onto tables at tavernas in Athens and along the city’s southern coast,” says Pantazis.