Lena Katsanidou: ‘Listen to the fabrics’

For somebody who is invariably dressed in black, Lena Katsanidou has a terrific sense of color. At Where to Wear, her Athenian boutique in Kolonaki, the 32-year-old fashion designer offers a patchwork of ideas, based on a strong personal fashion vision for a curvy silhouette. This is where faithful clients find her signature combinations of raw materials – where feathers mix with plastic and silk satin with plexiglass. This season, for instance, Katsanidou is offering pieces such as a white leather belt covered with orange, hand-embroidered lace and a touch of plexiglass. «I begin with an idea, whether from my own experience, from nature, a movie, a work of art,» she says. «The idea begins in my mind, where I work at it before it gets translated onto paper. Then, based on the materials I use, this develops into various shapes and is twofold, featuring a summer and a winter version.» This season, the designer is luring aficionados with a strong spring/summer collection featuring bold prints, T-shirts embroidered with sequins and lace, nonchalant caftans and tunics, playful 1960s cotton and tulle skirts, corsets (and corset belts), as well as a series of painstakingly simple evening dress in luxurious fabrics. The collection is a development from the winter offerings, which also featured items such as caftans and corsets, as well as woolly capes and miniskirts combining matelasse fabrics with fake fur, silk and wool. Essentially Katsanidou designs flexible clothes: A cat suit turns into glamorous eveningwear when accompanied by an etole, and a pareo into various tops through the use of a plexiglass bracelet – manual included. These multi-utility pieces, says Katsanidou, stem from her contact with customers. «I like the fact that I don’t have a faceless atelier but a shop where I get to see the clients’ needs,» she says. «You get people who are completely blocked and then you show them different pieces and ways, ultimately facilitating the process.» The designer is also big in accessories – her creative career having been sparked by an image of a woman wearing a simple garment, but throwing on imposing accessories. She adores bulky pieces, including earrings, necklaces and belts, while the big camellias made of fabric which were on display during winter, now have their spring/summer version. (She has also added colorful zippers in the form of flowers as an alternative to brooches.) Accessories continue with a series of bags, ranging from shantung to pied de poule (in the winter) and plastic; intricate lace and peacock-feathered cuff bracelets; colorful plexiglass bracelets and earrings; silver earrings featuring semiprecious stones as well as a collection named «Box of Pandora,» featuring handmade, hand-painted handbags in jean fabrics with lace and leather. The plethora of designs derives from a vast source of inspiration. Katsanidou says she’s greatly influenced by geometric shapes, as well as the 1920s, 1940s, 1950s and 1970s – without discarding a few medieval and Renaissance touches. The role of raw materials is also key: Silk, cotton, wool, and leather are favorites and Katsanidou enjoys mixing them in her fashion blender. «I believe that fashion and dressing up is about making you feel better,» she says. «If you start your day in a playful way, instead of being dictated to in what you should wear, then the game will lead you to revealing some kind of feeling.» For the designer, a piece of clothing or an accessory, besides being worn, has to do with the senses. That is why she takes care of finishing touches, a lace corset belt, for instance, features leather on the inside. This is one of the reasons why the designer’s pieces have such a handmade feel – a very personal line of work. «This has to do with energy,» says Katsanidou. «I never make something for the sake of making it, something commercial. Every single piece involves thinking, everything has a finish. I cut the fabrics, then the seamstress takes over, but I always put on the finishing touch.» Passion for fashion Katsanidou studied fashion in Athens, making her own handmade pieces all the while. In 1992, she participated in an international fashion competition in Paris, where she was personally congratulated by fashion pillar Pierre Cardin. She then embarked on a six-year career in fashion styling, mainly working in television – a kind of market research project for her future plans. In 1997, during a trip to London, she realized how fashion was increasingly influenced by accessories and decided to establish her own space. She started off with accessory design, before moving on to clothes. «In Greece you have to create your public, you have to mold it,» says the designer. «There are only a few women in this country who have true style, the majority is heavily influenced by what other people wear. They are also influenced by fashion magazines and celebrities.» Meanwhile, Katsanidou enjoys clients from a wide range in ages – from 15-year-olds to women in their early 60s. What do they have in common? An interest in fashion and personal style. «If someone enters the shop and doesn’t like what they see, they will not come back; the store does not address her needs,» says the designer. «On the other hand, those who do find something will be back, because they realize what’s is going on here; they like wearing and showing off the pieces. And they want to follow the collections.» Besides her own boutique, Katsanidou’s pieces are also available at Kolonaki’s Afternoon, while the designer is currently talking with buyers in Paris and London. As for her creativity, that work has already been cut out for her. «You have to listen to the fabrics,» she says. «They always tell you what to do.»

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