CULTURE

Designer on the ascent

Alexis Barrell will not allow the current financial turmoil to deter her.

?If I let it scare me, I wouldn?t be able to work; I see it as a challenge,? the 25-year-old designer said from her new Kolonaki showroom.

Born in South Africa, Barrell studied architecture back home and subsequently headed to Paris, where she got involved in fashion. She studied at the city?s Marangoni Institute before moving to New York and getting hands-on experience alongside American couturier Marc Bouwer.

A year and half ago she came to Athens and hasn?t left since.

?I have made some really good friends here. It?s tempting to leave but at the same time I?ve made a real effort here and I think there?s no point in throwing something away when you?ve put all your energy into it. I don?t see why it should be more difficult to have a business here than New York or Paris,? she said. ?There is less competition here, the market is more accessible and you are part of Europe with access to a number of places.?

Barrell?s debut collection, ?A Greek Affair,? was the designer?s first complete collection and was presented in Athens in October last year. Based on soft blues, bright custards and sweet salmons, the spring/summer 2011 collection included dresses, separates, bodysuits, caftans, structured pleats and geometrical prints ? day and evening wear worn by barefoot models.

Fluid and featuring a resort kind of feel, the collection captured Greek light through silks and other natural fabrics, with the designer playing one of her favorite fashion games: the contrast of geometry with flowy textures.

?It was my second summer here and it was my environment and I was inspired by what is around me. Coming from an architect?s point of view, the lines of the buildings, the contrasts of the colors and the women I know, what they wear hanging out in the summer; elegant, but in a natural way,? said Barrell. ?That is not to say that every collection will be inspired by Greece. My concept is that each collection will be a new adventure: this girl is going on an adventure, a trip, and Greece was the first destination.?

As the young designer develops her namesake brand, her signature look is forming around a concept of relaxed elegance through draping, prints, simplicity and minimum tailoring.

While the spring/summer 2011 collection is available for orders at the atelier ? with prices ranging from 150 to 800 euros ? Barrell?s international sales are handled by a showroom in Paris, a collaboration that also gives her invaluable feedback from global markets.

?What is really important is to get the necessary exposure but it is important that people come back, because Greece needs more new blood.?

Barrell?s decision to live here echoes a similar decision made by her mother, who came to Athens as a young model and ended up staying for two years. How does the designer feel about her homeland and her adopted country?

?South Africa is similar to Greece in many ways, but it is extremely isolated, so it?s difficult geographically to run a business,? she said. ?The depth of Athens as a city is really inspiring, it has so many elements to it and none of them really hit you in the face. You go to Paris and everyone says how beautiful it is. When it comes to Athens, you really have to uncover the stories, old Athens, new art things which are going on. I find it more sustainable in terms of source of inspiration ? there are always new things to discover.?

It was a family investor who gave Barrell the necessary backup to start her label, which involves a business plan and a strategy positioning the brand between the middle and high range. According to the designer, this translates into being ?more accessible than big brands.?

Production is handed locally, while the showroom is open for business daily ? no appointments are necessary. Barrell?s clientele ranges from 25 to 40 (and all ages around there), with some customers coming round for sur mesure garments, including wedding gowns and eveningwear. Recently, the designer also collaborated with the house of Faberge, designing costumes which are scheduled to appear in Faberge ads in Russia.

Meanwhile, Barrell is busy working on fall/winter 2011/2012, a collection where Art Nouveau meets grunge. Where would Barrell like to see the brand five years from now?

?I would like it to be recognized in Europe, to see the clothes in a department store, with a strong signature that people can identify with and I would like to open a store around that time.?

For more information, visit www.alexisbarrell.com.