‘My power lies in the unknown’

After years of designing clothes, jewelry and accessories, Yiannos Xenis is certain he has now reached a creative peak. His current state-of-style-mind? Unique pieces for curvy, statuesque women who command attention for their fashion choices. This is reflected in a powerful, soon-to-be-completed collection of 20, one-of-a-kind, entirely handmade pieces featuring a multitude of weaving techniques and often unexpected materials. «It’s a collection which keeps me constantly on the edge, because you never know when each piece will be completed and in what way,» says Xenis of the line. «It brought me face to face with endless meters of fabric; just throwing the roll up in the air, without a point of finish. This is because the image ends exactly when it has to end. Not a minute before that.» Constructing the right image is crucial to Xenis and that is why the elaborate work for this collection begins on the mannequin. That is where raw materials – including colorful beads and semiprecious stones, fine silks, feathers, leather, threads and even glass – are put together to produce dramatic bias-cut silk dresses, intricate, hand-woven macrame (Chinese knotting) patchworks and edgy embroidery. There are times when the designer seems to be creating altogether new fabrics, building on silk threads and beads, for example. Xenis does not believe in decade revivals; he prefers to take ideas from all eras, essentially mixing the old with the new. In this collection, for instance, there is a recurring tribal theme, as well as references to 13th century knitting. No doubt the designer’s versatility stems from a rich background of work: In the last few years alone Xenis has been working on jewelry pieces based on semiprecious stones (they sell really well in Germany) bridal wear and special sur mesure orders, as well as work for the theater, dance and the stage in general – collaborations include projects with actress Pemi Zouni, leading Greek singer Haris Alexiou and Dimitris Papaioannou of Olympic fame. Fashion journey Born in Limassol, Cyprus, Xenis studied textile technology, textile design and fashion design in Britain and Switzerland before moving to Milan to work as a designer at Baratta Couture. At the same time he also began designing footwear for well-established brands such Pollini, Luciano Soprani and Basile. «My ignorance was my power back then,» says the designer, who took on the challenges as they came his way. While in Milan, the designer was approached with an attractive offer that would take him to the West Coast. He accepted, thus landing a head designer position at Opera G. and a four-year stint in Los Angeles. Xenis began working on a new division for womenswear, and its subsequent success led him to collaborate with giants such as Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s. While in LA, Xenis also collaborated with noted costume designer Marlene Stewart – her film credits ranging from «The Doors» and «JFK» to «Ali» and «21 Grams.» After living abroad for 12 years, Xenis decided to establish himself in Greece, where he soon became head designer for exporting firm Modus and where he developed a young women’s line for the prominent Tsantilis stores. Eventually, he founded his own label, divided into pret-a-porter deluxe and haute couture. The designer was also invited by German Igedo to show his collection at a CPD show in Dusseldorf, where he presented his Fall-Winter 2000-2001 collection. Then in 2000, Xenis reached a turning point: Following the development of garments designed for a recycled art show – he used cellophane and metal straps to come up with a singular piece – the road was open for more experimentation and limit-stretching. «My power lies in the unknown, in things which I have never done before, even though there are references from a variety of things; this is what gives me energy and brings me face to face with the kind of work which represents so much of our life in terms of time,» he says. Once the 20-piece collection is finished, the challenge will have to be its presentation and promotion in the best possible way. Meanwhile, given the wealth of ideas the collection has produced, Xenis doesn’t dismiss the development of a ready-to-wear line that would incorporate some of them, for a wider public. «I experiment with a lot of things; once I spent a season painting with a professor of mine in Cyprus,» he says. «But, ultimately, all the other disciplines are distilled through my work in fashion. My dream? To work at the same time as a couturier and a sculptor, while enjoying as much freedom as possible.»