Bringing back allure of old Athens in new elegant accessories store

Most nighttime pedestrians walking along what is one of Kolonaki’s most commercial streets, will slow down as their attention is captured by a video playing inside an elegant, small storefront. It displays a montage of movies from the 1950s and 1960s featuring lovely, legendary actresses. The flow of the video is interspersed with images of shoes and bags, those very accessories arranged in the beautifully designed boutique that lies behind the vitrine. «Vassilis Zoulias, Old Athens,» the latest venture of longtime fashion director Vassilis Zoulias, is the newest arrival (only a month ago) and probably one of the most elegant and carefully designed boutiques in Athens. A contemporary revival of the long-lost Athenian elegance of the ’50s and ’60s is the concept here, and everything – from the video storefront images, the neoclassical building (an intentional choice), the wooden floors, the original old pictures in tasteful framing and the Shantung, jade-colored wallpaper all the way to the feminine packaging and the service – capture this elegant, «classic with a twist» mood. The shoes and bags themselves are, at least for this collection, inspired by those postwar decades, mostly pointed low-heeled pumps as well as stilettos but also – capturing the latest fashion – some round-toed flats and square-toed higher heel pumps, Kelly bags in tweeds, and chequered fabrics as well as sophisticated small handbags with metal chains. In an industry so closely tied to changing fashion trends, Zoulias is making a strong statement for old-time inspired elegance and sophistication. Will this last? «I believe that this pointed shape with the short, so-called kitten heel or the higher stiletto is a form that matches every woman and will never go out of fashion. Shoes should be classic. I support things that are classic and transcend time, but not classic in a boring sense, more like classic with a twist,» says Zoulias, himself an unusually elegant presence. This twist is captured through the use of mens’ fabrics for this collection, tweeds, prince de galle and pied de poulle, which is also used as the trademark motif for the shop’s upholstery and parts of interior decoration. For bags, crocodile, pony and ostrich leather also give classic shapes a twist. Every design is named after the first name of a woman that Zoulias has known and has been inspired by. The boutique is, in fact, suffused with female elegance and women’s presence, but the connecting theme is old Athens: photos of women that had visited Greece during the ’50s and ’60s cover the walls and compose a pleasing arrangement of beautiful framing. Two late original photos of the Acropolis from the 1860s are strategically placed; all-around images of celebrities in Greece, among them Jackie Onassis in the company of Constantine Karamanlis and Amalia Megapanou, Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly, Liz Taylor at the Grande Bretagne, Judy Garland at Kypseli, Romy Schneider, and Marina of Kent dressed in a Greek folk costume and photographed by Cecil Beaton. Some of the most legendary Greek women are also shown: Maria Callas, Melina Merkouri, Elli Labeti, Irene Papas, and Zoe Laskari. The photos (all drawn from Zoulias’s personal collection) blend with the boutique’s design and products as a reminder of individual style versus standardization. «It often happens that a woman finds that she is wearing the same bag as another 15 women. The point with this shop was to make each woman support her own distinctiveness, her singularity. To make her feel that she can wear a bag that is not of a trendy fashion brand and be unique,» says Zoulias. In a market inundated by the big fashion names, though, can a small boutique and a Greek fashion name attract enough attention to make it through the competition? For many years Greeks had to go abroad to do their shopping and now that what they had to travel for to find has been imported to Greece, it seems that they will not easily turn to a Greek brand. Zoulias says that although in the ’80s the appeal for foreign brands was very strong, gradually causing several Greek-run businesses to wane, things have now changed. Still, setting up an entire business in a highly competitive industry is a risk. For Zoulias and his collaborators Stavros and Stefi Petridis (of the well-known shoemaking Petridis family) commitment to «Old Athens» allure and elegance was enough of a motivation. «I believe that if we make a start then more will follow. I would like this to be the challenge,» says Zoulias. Interestingly, besides aesthetics and well-crafted merchandise, Zoulias would also like to contribute to reviving what was once a thriving and reputable industry. All of the products are manufactured in Greece, the idea being that money should be recycled locally. Instead of sending his designs to be manufactured in Italy (the cost would be the same as in Greece), Zoulias searched for the few remaining craftsmen in Greece up to the task. A handbag-maker from Istanbul and a woman who handstitches the gloves in Zakynthos are examples of the artisans he found after an extended search. «There is excellent standard of manufacturing, as long, of course, as one searches carefully to find the right people. Greece has a long tradition of excellent shoe manufacturing. In 1971 Manolo Blahnik had his first collection for Bergdorf Goodman manufactured in Greece, and in the ’60s Chanel had the mould for one of her classic shoe designs manufactured here. Greeks, along with the Italians, were known for making good shoes, which they also exported,» says Zoulias. For the present, production at Vassilis Zoulias, Old Athens is keeping pace with the demand. But more and more women walking into this elegant, parlor-like boutique are pleasantly surprised with what they see. Perhaps this is because they are struck by the continuity of the past into the present and reminded of the alluring stories woven around female style.