CULTURE

Chara Lebessi’s silk geometry

Think of a sleek silhouette based on a plethora of silk textures and featuring a fluid geometry coming to you in a deluxe pret-a-porter form. Imagine hand-made, limited editions of garments featuring couture elements built on soft, natural fibres. This is the kind of world Chara Lebessi lives in. «For me, fashion reflects sociopolitical developments and, depending on where you live, you are influenced by certain elements,» says the 32-year-old designer. «When a woman dresses a certain way, she is making a statement, telling the world where she belongs.» Lebessi’s woman is clearly the modern, active type of girl who wants to feel and look beautiful and attractive, irrespective of her age. «My clothes are wearable by all types of women. They are usually made on the mannequin and can be worn in several ways,» she says pointing to a silk top which can be fitted no less than seven different ways. Early on, the designer’s creative gifts were obvious. Born in Athens, Lebessi was a child of fashion, who at the age of 5 loved to visit shops and imagine certain people in certain clothes. Yet despite an obvious interest in fashion, Lebessi decided to study computer programming, subsequently landing a job in public relations. Knowing that something was missing, however, Lebessi decided to follow her creative instinct. She enrolled at the Greek fashion school Akto, where her professors soon spotted her talent. Within six months, she was being contracted by clothing companies. In 2001, she won the top prize in a wedding gown competition that featured 170 entries. One member of the judging panel offered to take her into her atelier but Lebessi chose to travel to London, registering for an MA in womenswear at the venerable Central Saint Martins. «Fashion has to do with talent, but it can also be taught,» says Lebessi. While the postgraduate student was working on a series of projects that linked architecture and painting, as an aspiring designer, she was already working on her own collections. In 2002, Lebessi showed her clothes around the city and found a home for them at London Designers, a shop situated on Fulham Road. (Their collaboration is still going strong.) After graduation, she returned to Athens, setting up her own showroom. Besides the business generated in the atelier in Alimos – the sole venue where the entire collection goes on display – the garments are distributed and sold at selected stores, such as at Afternoon in Kolonaki (a boutique hosting primarily the work of Greek designers), Soho Soho in Kifissia and Myconos and Katerina Pagoni in Halandri, among others. The balancing act between artistic merit and commercial success is a continuous challenge for designers around the world and though a fairly recent entry into the Greek fashion scene, Lebessi has managed to reach equilibrium. There are times, however, when the designer lets her imagination run wild. This is the case of a statuesque gown made of chunky pieces of crystal or a wedding gown embroidered with seaweed, pieces created either for the catwalk or for exhibitions, such as Athens’s «Trash Art» – never mind the weight and the smell of the sea, both designs were made into wedding gowns. With six collections under her belt so far – each one offering 20 to 25 pieces – the mood at the showroom is currently earthy with shades of metal: Clear white, dusty gray and silver, beige, gold and a touch of turquoise set the tone for a sensual summer with waves of silk caressing bare skin. «I take a look at what is going around me,» says Lebessi. «In my opinion, designers should work within a general network of trends. From there on, however, I build on my own vision, inspired by a variety of things.» As the designer is working on her Winter 2005 collection, she is also reflecting on what kind of fashion future she wants: a growing Athens business or perhaps a leap abroad? While keeping her options open, she is working on the possibility of showcasing her work during London Fashion Week in the near future. «I’m taking it one step at time,» she says. «I want to be confident about my work, my collections, even though I’ve always been sure of what I do.»