CULTURE

Athens Games spark a revival of Greek-inspired style and substance

A celebration of body and soul, the Athens Olympics are also turning into a celebration of Greek style. As the Games have now reached home ground, Greek-inspired fashion and jewelry, for instance, is making waves locally and abroad. This revival will be sealed at tonight’s opening ceremony of the 2004 Athens Games at the main Olympic stadium; Orchestrated by Dimitris Papaioannou, the choreographer whose vision of Greece – past, present and future – will be unveiled to the world, the evening will mark the beginning of a new era for Greece. One of Papaioannou’s closest collaborators in this journey away from folklore into a new, modern Greek aesthetic is Sophia Kokosalaki, the fashion designer in charge of the ceremonies’ costumes. Whether on the catwalk or on tonight’s global stage, Greek elements appear effortlessly in the designer’s work – even though she doesn’t like to be defined by them. «Greek chic has been a fashion story since 2000, if not before that,» says Vassilis Zidianakis, artistic director of «Ptychoseis: Folds and Pleats, Drapery from Ancient Greek Dress to 21st Century Fashion,» a fashion exhibition at the Benaki Museum’s new wing. Citing designers like Kokosalaki and Jean-Paul Gaultier, Zidianakis feels the current revival is not just about style, but also about substance. «This will continue after the Olympics. A number of designers working on this Greek revival in their ateliers, even if they do so on a superficial level, are bound to come into contact with things that they will want to go back to. This exercise is bound to leave some scars and will lead to something deeper, even some masterpieces.» Such masterpieces have appeared in the past. A flash through 20th fashion history reveals a series of Greek-inspired gems: Mariano Fortuny’s «Delphos» dresses, antiquity aficionado Madeleine Vionnet’s renowned drape, Jean Desses’s frozen pleats and Madame Gres’s sculptural confections (the story is told beautifully at the Benaki). Greek-inspired elements and details were also evident in various shows during the Spring/Summer Ready to Wear 2004 collections, ranging from delicate drapes by Alberta Ferretti to statuesque, sexy numbers by Donatella Versace and Roberto Cavalli. «When the Olympics take place in Beijing, fashion will be influenced by that part of the world, it’s logical,» says Zidianakis. «Yet what is happening right now, all this craziness, also has to do with the Greek ideal of beauty. The whole of Western civilization has to do with ancient Greece. It’s a kind of beauty ideal which is coming back, but you have to see it a million ways, you have to filter it and see things ranging from the beautiful to the kitsch.» Indeed, even in the style department, the Games no doubt offer opportunities for a quick euro, yet much of what is on offer has quality attached. A number of luxury brands are currently paying tribute to Greece, inspired by the country’s history and arts. Fountain-pen leader Montagrappa commemorates 183 years since the Greek revolution with a limited series of fountain pens produced in cooperation with Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis. Jaeger-LeCoultre suggests the Master Compressor Geographic Limited Edition for Athens; Louis Vuitton makes its latest addition to its «Carnets de Voyage» series with a tribute to Athens (the city collection includes Paris, London, Tokyo, New York, Sydney, Rio and Beijing) while leather specialist Tod’s presents a limited edition of Owens, in white, blue and silver. Cartier offers a limited Roadster watch edition, the 177 series symbolizing the first declaration of the Greek democratic goverment headed by Ioannis Kapodistrias, while the Louis Cartier limited pen edition, carved in 356 pieces, marks the birthdate of Alexander the Great. Completing the tribute is a white gold and sapphire lucky charm owl. «Cartier has a long relationship with Greece through its own archives, watches and jewels, a lot of designs of jewelry were designed based on Greek motifs and through private orders at the beginning of the 20th century,» says Christopher Kilaniotis, general manager of Cartier Greece. Following the Greek victory at the Euro 2004 Championships in July, the Greek flag became another major player of style: from bed sheets to sequined T-shirts all the way to Baccarat crystal, the ubiquitous white and blue has now been incorporated into design and jewelry. High-end Athenian jewelers are incorporating the Greek flag in their designs, playing with platinum, diamonds and sapphires. They are joined by luxury brand players such as Chopard (with a collection of «Happy Hellas» watches) and jewelers such as Rinaldo Gavello («Bandiere» collection). «Greece has been in the limelight for the Games and the Euro Cup and as a result a lot of other countries are paying attention. Traditionally, many of our Western neighbors would not be paying too much attention in terms of trends, but in recent times, there is a lot of borrowing from culture, symbols, there are a lot of Greek things,» says Kilaniotis. «Through my travels recently I hear a lot of good things about Greece and art, and we are going to see a lot more in the future, especially immediately after the Olympics and next year, there will be a continuation of the promotion of Greek culture, design and art; basically Greek items with Greek details.» Local talent is also putting a serious effort to develop home styles. Drapes are one of the recurring fashion stories these season. In some cases, old ideas get new twists. The classic Greek sandal takes on a new meaning in the hands of Dukas Chatzidukas. When the shoe and accessory designer was invited by Swarovksi International to design a pair of collector’s sandals, he came up with a Meander motif featuring leather, plexiglass and Swarovski crystal. «There are some very strong things going on right now. It’s our chance to see what we really are about, it’s our greatest opportunity,» says Elena Votsi, designer of the gold, silver and bronze Athens 2004 Olympic medals. Known for her sensational jewelry designs in bold combinations of metals and stones, Votsi’s medals are about to make history. For the first time since 1928, the medals are changing to reflect their Greek character. «There is no doubt that all that is happening these days is affecting things, but the real influence will be seen after the Games,» says Votsi. «The real and lasting effect will come once we have lived through all this joy and excitement, after everything we will live through in the next few days.»