THESSALONIKI – Greek fashion became a major attraction at the Thessaloniki International Fair this year as the exhibition’s Pavilion No. 10 turned into a spacious venue for catwalk presentations and installations. Fashion Forward International Thessaloniki unfolded against a backdrop of white, red and black, while visitors flocked to get a glimpse of current trends as displayed through the work of 22 local designers and fashion houses, all showing their offerings for this winter. The catwalk presentations kicked off last Sunday and ended last night, while the fair will close its doors this Sunday. Organized by the Hellenic Fashion Designers’ Association (HFD) in collaboration with Helexpo, Fashion Forward became the second principal event promoting local fashion, following the establishment of a Greek fashion week, the Diners Athens Collections InStyle, which took place at Zappeion last March. Established two years ago, the association’s efforts seem to be bearing fruit. Ongoing discussions with the Ministry of Development, for instance, will hopefully lead to some kind of funding for the sector’s promotion abroad, while Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas visited the Fashion Forward pavilion last Sunday. High hopes In Thessaloniki hopes were high. On the one hand, organizers were optimistic about developing ties between designers and the northern Greek market. At the same time, the event became the starting point for what officials hope will be a long-term collaboration between HFD and Helexpo. Speaking to Kathimerini English Edition, Helexpo’s managing director, Themis Kartsiotis, noted the organization’s willingness to provide an appropriate framework for development. «Helexpo wishes to become the incubator for a fashion rendezvous along the lines of global fashion weeks and at the same time reinforce the issue of the industry,» Kartsiotis said. The existence of the association provides a sense that striving to achieve a series of common goals under a united front might eventually lead to success. «In Thessaloniki we developed a new relationship with the local public and put some kind of pressure for the development of more selling points,» said Daphne Valente, HFD’s president. «At the same time we are in discussions with the Association of Greek Textile Manufacturers, the Association of Ready-to-Wear Manufacturers and the Association of Shoe Manufacturers.» Uniting the apparel industry with local design talent is one of the greatest challenges facing the field of Greek fashion as it enters this new era. The Greek textile industry, for instance, once a booming business, is now struggling to make a comeback: Cutthroat competition with China, for instance, is making eventual collaborations more urgent than ever. Private sector As the state is looking into the possibility of offering some kind of financial aid, private initiative is also responding to the exciting, novel Greek fashion situation. The presence of sponsors such as Vodafone (the company undertook the Fashion Forward event) seems to be a vote of confidence, considering that up to now, companies were known for supporting individual designers to organize catwalk shows, which had a charity component. Besides contributions from the public and private sector, however, it is the association itself which has to develop long-term planning and strategy. With more than 40 designers currently in its ranks, HFD faces the reality that not all of these designers are on the same creative or production level. They are not addressing the same kind of public and have diverse views on how to develop their business. An increasing number of designers are venturing abroad, while others are content within Greek boundaries, having built a healthy, local clientele. As for the international arena, besides the unshakeable power of the great fashion capitals – Paris, Milan, New York and London – more and more countries are providing a platform for the promotion of their own creativity and industry. Given long-term policies, undeterred determination and substantial public and state support, there is little doubt that this country can also find its own rightful place under the global fashion sun. «Two years ago, we started out in a rather hesitant manner and with quite a few problems, yet miracles did happen,» Valente said. «Who would have thought that so many young designers would have the opportunity to present their collections three times during a period of two years? That’s pretty incredible. The next step for us is to go abroad in order to stir international interest.» One man who traveled to Thessaloniki to support Greek design was fashion veteran Lakis Gavalas, an acute entrepreneur with a sensational eye for fashion, who is also behind LAK, a Greek up-market casual-wear brand. Though Gavalas had entered the association right from the start, he decided to resign as an HFD member following the Athens Collections. His decision had nothing to do with fashion politics and everything to do with his feeling that LAK is brand-oriented as opposed to being a true designer house. «I support and give my blessing to this event,» Gavalas told Kathimerini English Edition, speaking about Fashion Forward. His presence alone was sound proof that something has definitely changed in the field of Greek fashion. The participants Participating at Fashion Forward via catwalks and installations were the following designers: Michalis Aslanis, Katerina Alexandraki, Makis Tselios, Nikos-Takis, Loukia, Parthenis, Smaragdi, Chara Lebessi, Liana Camba, Kathy Heyndels, Veloudakis, Yiannos Xenis, Erifilli Nikolopoulou, Daphne Valente, Simeoni, Christoforos Kotentos, Mi-Ro, Andria, Konstantinos, Nikolas Mavropoulos, Nikolas and Dimitris Dassios (the latter did not present a catwalk show but took part in the installation). Most of the collections shown in Thessaloniki were based on the ones previously presented at the Zappeion shows, though a few designers did enrich them or change the styling. Meanwhile, a number of the association’s members, including Giorgos Eleftheriadis, Deux Hommes and Vasso Consola, chose not to participate in the Thessaloniki event. Those who did sent models down a shiny black catwalk, offering their views of what lies ahead this winter. Numerous collections featured a penchant for black, demonstrating that local talent is in synch with the upcoming season’s predominant trend.