Making fashion, now and then

The highs and lows of the business of fashion became focal points during a one-day industry conference earlier this week. Organized by the Athens Exclusive Designers Week, «Greek Fashion, Designers, Business, Looking Outward and the Role of the State,» came under the aegis of the American and Italian embassies in Athens as well as the Tourism Ministry and the Greek National Tourism Organization. Three keynote speakers gave their own distinct take. On the advice of the late Gianni Versace, Theodosia Tziveli changed her first name to Thes before embarking on a successful career in fur and leather fashion in Italy. A native of Volos, Tziveli married into a family of furriers from Siatista, Kozani prefecture, and moved to Italy at the age of 18 where she used her fur know-how. Starting out as supplier of raw materials for houses such as Christian Dior, Tziveli took the risk to enter the design arena, ultimately turning into a competitor for her clients. In Athens, Tziveli shared her experience with the audience, noting how the Italian industry took her under its wing and gave her a chance. Without investing in advertising campaigns or venturing into other fashion fields, such as working with fabrics, Tziveli’s current clientele stretches from Italy, Greece and Russia to the United States, Korea and newly found fashion industry haven Dubai. «You need to be respectful and to act fast,» Tziveli advised aspiring designers, adding that in a world where the «made in…» notion is increasingly blurred, fresh talent needs to focus on aesthetics and production. The notion of production is never far away from the thoughts of Yiannis Tseklenis. The designer’s story could be a reflection of the Greek fashion industry – so far. Starting out as a fabric designer, his first fashion hit was a series of print dresses. Tseklenis’s reign in the 1960s and 1970s included licensing of womenswear, menswear, hosiery and other accessories, conducting business on a global scale – from the United States to Iran. In the 1990s, the designer moved away from apparel, immersing himself in various projects, including hotel and home design. «The relationship between fashion designers and the industry is dead,» noted Tseklenis of the bitter reality facing local fashion matters. No doubt his own fashion destiny would have been quite different had he been able to secure financial backing. At the conference, he mentioned the case of Christian Lacroix, whose French fashion house was established in the late 1980s, thanks to the long-term backing and investment of Bernard Arnault and LVMH (Moet Hennessy-Louis Vuitton). Tseklenis also noted that the Greek fashion boom of the 60s and 70s was based on the success of the local fabric industry, which at the time gave an impetus to ready-to-wear. Low wages, «facon» methods and the quality of Greek cotton were some of the reasons behind those good years when Greece was known as a «needle-country.» In 1988, said Tseklenis, Greek fashion industry exports amounted to 2.5 billion dollars, yet these fine figures were never followed by market development, private and public funding or branding. His advice to aspiring local designers? «Go away as soon as possible,» he said. «Your country will applaud you, but the business here is nearly over.» Industry works Dimitris Katsachnias offered a rare glimpse into the workings of the global fashion industry. As a founding partner of the Paris-based ad agency AIR Paris, Katsachnias works with a number of leading brands (including Armani, Ferragamo, Dior and Lancome), as well as Champagne label Piper Heidsieck and Greek apparel company Toi & Moi. Katsachnias noted that the industry is rife with confusion: Celebrity is confused with talent, ambition with genius and style with content. How do brands work? They simply look into the future. Forecasting trends is the major story here and Katsachnias took the audience on a short yet concise journey via international ad campaigns reflecting changes in society. From zen to post 9/11 neo-realism, art-oriented styling to baroque and now fairy tales and dreams, he demonstrated how brands become «a point of view about life.» «A brand is a man,» said Katsachnias, adding that this country should reach back into its own history and rethink the idea that «aesthetics make ethics.»

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