CULTURE

Designing… as well as selling

When it comes to fashion, creativity must be accompanied by the ability to produce and sell one’s vision. This is the story behind the Athens Fashion Showroom, a promising and ambitious effort being made in the developing world of 21st century Greek fashion. «There is no such thing as Greek fashion if you can’t find the clothes in the stores,» says Antonis Kioukas, the new venture’s owner and manager. A privately held company, the showroom’s existence owes much to the emergence of the Athens Collections, Greek fashion week, which Kioukas also produces. It was five fashion seasons ago when a group of designers, all members of the Hellenic Fashion Designers Association (HFD), came together to present their collections. For Kioukas, the desire to develop both the supply and demand end of local fashion led him to the creation of the showroom six months ago. So far, 21 designers (19 are HFD members) have followed him. These are challenging times for local fashion and the new showroom is putting up its own fight both locally and abroad. While great efforts have been made to forge new relationships with Greek buyers and retail outlets, the aim is also for designers to place their collections in foreign showrooms and stores, participate in foreign trade shows and exhibitions as well as present catwalk collections in international fashion weeks. At the showroom, a full-time staff of five is responsible for promoting the work of the following designers: Konstantinos, Yiorgos Eleftheriades, Pavlos Kyriakides, Katerinalexandraki, Celia Dragounis, Mi-Ro, Loukia, Daphne Valente, Dimitris Dassios, Costas Faliakos, Yiannos Xenis, Maria Mastori, Vassilis Zoulias, Katerina Karoussos, Filep Motwary, Christos Maillis, Christos Costarellos, Vasso Consola, Simeoni and Cyprus-based Ramona Filip and Georgian Avtandil. Essentially, the designers (with the exception of Yiorgos Eleftheriades, Maria Mastori and Dimitris Dassios, who are all in charge of their own production) create their collections and then pass on the production and sales process of their ready-to-wear to the showroom, while keeping wedding gown, sur mesure and elaborate eveningwear business in their own ateliers. When orders are placed by the buyers at the showroom, production is assured by a local factory unit in Greece. According to the venture’s production manager Nikos Tsigaros, apparel will have to circulate in the Greek market for two years before making its bid for quality certification. Besides organizing production and sales, the showroom offers further assistance through the expert advice of two fashion industry insiders: Fashion consultants Claire Esnault and Marino Repetto guide designers in terms of colors and fabrics, while indicating the course of world trends. Esnault’s experience includes 20 years as managing director of Claude Montana, while Repetto, who initially started as an agent for brands including Moschino, Byblos and Dolce e Gabbana, worked as a commercial director of a French brand. How is the local market taking it all in? «Right now, some of our designers’ collections for fall/winter have already been delivered to the stores,» notes Kioukas. «When we started out, we came across tremendous hesitation on the part of the local market. That hesitation had nothing to do with creativity and design; they were concerned with the fact that in the past they had had problems with designers who were unable to meet delivery deadlines, with the quality when it came to mass production (not straight from the atelier) and, of course, competitive prices, value for money. We are trying to reverse all this.» So far, business deals with local and foreign markets indicate that Kioukas and his team are heading in the right direction. On the home front, for instance, Ramona Filip recently signed a deal with local apparel company Raxevsky and will see her own collections at 54 outlets and Raxevsky corners throughout Greece, while a number of other showroom designers are collaborating with stores around the country. On the international level, successes include Maria Mastori and Loukia both presenting their collections at Christina Mazza’s showroom in Paris and Yiannos Xenis collaborating with the Meza-Ragi Barakat showroom in the same city. Dimitris Dassios is selling at Churchill in Kansas, while Vassilis Zoulias and Katerina Karoussos are both available at Jamilco in Moscow. At the same time, various Greek designers are participating in European trade shows and exhibitions. Coming up during Milan fashion week this fall, a group of designers will present their collections at the Daniele Ghiselli showroom from September 20 to 30. «I’m more optimistic in terms of speed and achieving things in the international market,» says Kioukas. «Greek fashion is a new product and foreign criticism is focused on design, not production. This explains our good and relatively quick results.» The real fight, it seems, is tackling the problems Greek designers face at home. «I would like to see Greek brands, the work of Greek designers, in top, quality stores. In Greece, to begin with, and then in foreign countries,» notes Kioukas. «To achieve this, we need greater concentration on the part of designers when it comes to developing and presenting their collections. Greek fashion should not only be about eveningwear and special occasions, but everyday, ready-to-wear clothes. At the same time, the state should realize that an economy which used to boast a long history in textile manufacturing should not be competing against low-cost Chinese apparel production today; it’s like a dead end. The state should support Greek design in order to create an industry of designer, quality apparel, able to compete with foreign brands.»