Fashion’s new body

News of a Greek fashion association uniting all – well, almost all – local talent has struck a hopeful and exciting note. Officially, the new organization is currently being formed, so no names of presidents, secretaries and so forth will be mentioned in this space. Though such efforts have been made in the past – without any substantial results – this could be a fresh chance for established and rising stars to unite and speak in unison about the hardships of their chosen trade. An ailing industry ripe with lost opportunities, Greek fashion has two ways to go: the global individual path and the local group path. In the individual section, things are already looking bright, though there is a little bit of confusion. Making international headlines are designers such as Sophia Kokosalaki in London, Angelos Frentzos in Milan, John Varvatos and Peter Speliopoulos in New York City and Kostas Murkudis in Germany. Born and raised in Athens, Sophia Kokosalaki left her native Greece to attend the venerable Central St Martins in London. Based in the English capital, she runs her own company, while her collections are eagerly awaited by fashion professionals during London Fashion Week. Moreover, the designer is currently working on the costumes for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2004 Athens Olympics. Kokosalaki’s signature pleats and references to Minoan civilization, among others, point to a purely Greek aesthetic. Essentially, the designer is playing the global game by global rules. Angelos Frentzos, another local talent who has ventured outside Greek boundaries, is designing for Italian Alma, a subsidiary of luxury giant LVMH (Moet Hennessy-Louis Vuitton). And there are more: Anastassios Cartalis and Ioannis Guia in Paris, while Christoforos Kotentos is taking his first steps in Milanese showrooms. For John Varvatos and Peter Speliopoulos, however, Greece is something of an ideal. Born and raised in the United States, both designers entered the fashion game from a high vantage point: Varvatos joined Polo Ralph Lauren in 1983, while Speliopoulos graduated from New York’s Parsons School of Design and traveled to Rome, where he joined the creative team of Laura Biagiotti. In the case of Kostas Murkudis, the son of Greek immigrants living in Germany, the fashion aesthetic and experience was formed alongside German designers Wolfang Joop and Helmut Lang. Recent Greek designer success points to the simple fact that any gifted and hardworking designer can play on the global scale no matter where they originate from, provided they can count upon talent, perseverence, risk-taking and a true passion for fashion. Not everybody is looking for a career abroad, however. The majority of Greek designers, whether young or old, spend their days in their showrooms, designing, doing their accounts, and trying to promote themselves and their work. One-woman or one-man bands, they have to be employers, savvy businesspeople, mad creators and everybody’s best friend – all at once. They have no perfumes, bags and shoes to fall back upon; their sole tool for good sales is the wedding gown – perhaps coupled with dresses for the mothers-in-law and the siblings. Issues The new association has plenty of issues to look at. The possibility of a Greek Fashion Week is one them. There is no doubt that the ruling capitals of fashion, namely New York, Milan, Paris and London, leave little space for the rest. This is where the bulk of the business is conducted, with international buyers and members of the press flocking to see what’s coming up next. Yet there are other fashion weeks which make headlines. Madrid’s Pasarela Cibeles, for instance, has over the years gained both local and international recognition. It has most certainly boosted the idea of Spanish fashion as a whole, even though individual Spanish designers continue showing abroad as well. What could a similar week organized in Greece bring? No doubt, some kind of press coverage – local to begin with, but why not international? The establishment of Fashion TV, for instance, a few years ago, with round-the-clock coverage, has opened a window of opportunity for numerous countries to show what they can do. A Greek Fashion Week would be hugely beneficial to the designers’ morale. Instead of tracking down sponsors individually – often, designers give up on the idea of a catwalk show due to lack of sponsorship – they could come together under one banner. (The only drawback to a Greek Fashion Week would be designers turning their backs on a number of charity events that aid various local good causes.) State aid A united fashion association would no doubt be able to exert some kind of pressure on the State. This might not lead to any tangible results but would provide a voice. Meanwhile, the numbers speak volumes: Designers employ skilled workers and a lot of assistants – there are many Greek families out there making a living from Greek fashion. Safeguarding craftsmanship ought to be another concern for the association: Around the country, traditional arts and crafts are dying out when skills are not being passed on from one generation to the next. The association should also look into why so few believe in Greek fashion as a viable business. While no one expects to see a local Gucci Group developing any time soon, local creativity should be given a boost by the private sector. Also, there should be more substantial press coverage by newspapers and magazines. At present, most local fashion shows end up in society columns, while fashion magazines dedicate limited space to local designers – the fact that the latter don’t always advertise in their pages being part of the problem. Sadly, the association will be unable to count on the invaluable help of two distinguished members of the Greek fashion scene who passed away in the last year: fiery, passionate, opera-aficionado Michalis Polatof and Costas Faliakos, the last, solitary, Don Quixote of Greek haute couture.