She had the playful gaze of the introvert who looks at the world with absolute extroversion. Dignified and truly talented, with an incredible sense of humor and sharp creative wits, Greek fashion and jewelry designer Sophia Kokosalaki died on Sunday after a brief battle with cancer. She was 47 years old.
Kokosalaki was born in Athens in 1972 and studied literature at Athens University. Between London, where she lived, her native Athens and her beloved Crete – her parents’ ancestral home – she built an international career with creative contrasts that helped her stand out on the globalized playing field of the fashion industry. Inspired by her cultural heritage – the Minoan, ancient Greek and Byzantine cultures, among others – and with a profound desire to forge her own, unconventional path, Kokosalaki became an expert in draping, enjoyed using handcrafted details and explored the connections between fashion and architecture.
Above all, she was, in her own words, driven by “memory and emotion.” Feelings and concepts that she drew from figures like the Minoan snake goddess found their way discreetly into Kokosalaki’s collections.
She created ready-to-wear collections that were embraced by women who didn’t loyally follow prevalent trends and preferred individual looks that set them apart. Like the iconic “Sex and the City” character of Carrie Bradshaw – the stylistic standard-bearer of her time – who wore a Sophia Kokosalaki dress in one episode.
The designer was encouraged to explore her fascination with her roots by one of her professors at Central Saint Martins in London. The academic encouraged the budding designer to delve into her visual roots and Kokosalaki did this without falling for folklore, by interpreting the past on postmodern terms. Her talents were soon spotted by the experts, like Suzy Menkes and Sarah Mower, when Kokosalaki presented her graduate collection in 1998.
She launched into her own, self-named brand but also worked with fashion houses Joseph, Ruffo Research and Diesel Black Gold. The revival of the legendary French house Vionnet, founded by pioneer Madeleine Vionnet, was another career highlight.
Kokosalaki started becoming a household name in her native Greece during the 2004 Olympic Games after she designed the costumes for the more than 6,000 people (including singer Bjork) who appeared in the opening and closing ceremonies, on the invitation of the events’ artistic director, choreographer Dimitris Papaioannou. Later, in 2015, she designed the uniforms for Aegean Airlines cabin crews, while another collection she created for the newly revamped Astir resort in Vouliagmeni, southern Athens, was also recently unveiled.
After several years in ready-to-wear, Kokosalaki decided to take a break from this highly competitive environment. She had a daughter and turned her creative attentions to demi-fine jewelry collections that were also inspired by her cultural heritage. She also showed an interest in contemporary art, as a hobby rather than as a collector, she said, and made sure to spend at least one month a year on Crete.
But how did it all start?
“The first time I realized how people were dressed, I was 10 or 11 years old. I noticed that all the little girls were better dressed than me – and, therefore, were treated better by ladies, gentlemen and little boys!” she told Kathimerini English Edition in an interview in 2004. “I didn’t care about the way I looked. I was the good student type. Then one day I realized that appearance was important. You might be the top student, the nicest human being ever, but it’s the other girls who get the attention. So I became interested in how you put yourself together. It was superficial, but it was important. It was not an intellectual need, but an emotional one.”