CULTURE

An open studio for all to see and purchase

As Lito Karakostanoglou turns 30 tomorrow, her cool jewelry is proud, at the age of three. «For me jewelry does not have to be loud; it does not have to prove something,» she says. «It has to be something gradual, something which is part of you.» And so the designer offers «loud» as well «quiet» pieces, all defined by their colors, shapes and sincere individuality; her collection has developed a quasi-cult following with extensive coverage in the local fashion press. As more and more young designers flood the Greek jewelry market with their ethnic-oriented, handmade jewelry, at first glance Lito’s work would not look out-of-place in that hip category. On closer inspection, however, it does not belong there, because it is constantly changing. «The field is vast,» she says. «And I will never cease to move from one point to another; three years ago, I started working on semi-precious stones, looking for different ways to mount them. I didn’t start from the goldsmithery point of view, but rather with feathers and crystals. As I grow up, so does the work, which has become more mature. These days I use a lot more gold, which leads me to new paths.» The designer, who studied marketing at Deree College, traveled to Boston, where she received a master’s degree in advertising. Back in Greece, it only took her a few months to establish her label: With the right mix of business skills and passion, the Lito Open Studio opened in June 1999. Since then, what sets Lito apart from her fellow designers is her approach to the craft. «Initially the idea was to have a place which was open to the public, where you can get in touch with the designer, and where, in turn, the designer can see what you need, through your body language, the way you behave or dress,» she says. «Because ultimately, the end result, the jewelry, will be an extension of yourself.» It is this kind of work-in-progress which makes the Kolonaki studio a buzzing place full of scattered, colorful beads and chunky semi-precious stones. «It all started in an experimental manner and the risk involved when you start from scratch,» she concedes. «Even more so here, when everything was and still is on display for all to see, and you have to learn and perfect your craft as you go along.» At the store, clients will find each season’s basic core collection, which ranges from necklaces and rings to cufflinks, but above all, the opportunity to experience a sur mesure approach. «There are both positive and negative aspects to the custom-made qualities,» says Lito. «What comes out is made exactly for you, and the aim here is to bring out the best in each one of us and then let others slowly discover the different elements. On the other hand, if a client is in the mood for buying on the spot, she or he might not find instant shopping satisfaction.» At the studio, attention to detail follows the product to the very end. Take the packaging, for instance: It goes according to the color and the size of the jewel purchased; an amethyst ring, for instance, goes into a little handmade gauze envelope, sealed with a little amethyst, while an accompanying explanation offers details on the gemstone’s healing and other qualities. The whole process is as intimate as it is educational. And above all, it goes beyond current trends, as the designer does not believe in fashion. «Of course there are some elements which are more obvious this season, such as ethnic elements, but overall, jewelry is beyond fashion. What’s more, when something is overexposed it loses its magic,» she says. Essentially, the work begins with all those things that inspire Lito, mainly the gems purchased during her travels. From India to New Mexico, to Egypt and China and then Morocco, stones remain the great source of inspiration and the starting point for every new design. Traveling three to four times a year, she avoids going to the same place twice in a row. «Every stone, every rough-cut piece has its own form,» she says. «That is why you must see them before purchasing them, while contact with the supplier is very important.» In the last few months, the designer has been working closely with mother-of-pearl from China; Mediterranean and Taiwanese corals; pieces of Chinese porcelain, while a new element are the cloisonne – traditional Chinese beads in various colors. «I’m interested in what you can see from a different point of view; trying to get to know the stone and all that you can do with it,» she says. Besides the stones, inspiration has often come when Lito designs a piece she simply wants to use herself. That was the case with ankle bracelets, for instance, or even this season’s must item, the komboloi. It was during her Boston days, when she first came up with the idea of making a bracelet which could turn into a komboloi when one felt like playing. This delicate, feminine version comes complete with silk thread. On the other hand, heavier and more eccentric pieces, which she designs especially for fashion editorials, often become strong sellers, even more so than the smaller pieces. For Lito, artist and businesswoman, these are the challenges. «From the moment you decide to have a store, you have a business; yet the main concern is to develop this kind of artistic jewelry, and that is why I decided to approach things in this way. Whether making it or wearing it, jewelry is a means of expression,» she says. «I call it the unbearable lightness of being; it is an expression, it’s fun, I have fun, my sense of humor comes out in my pieces, I’m always experimenting and don’t take my creations too seriously.» Yet while crediting spontaneity as a creative plus, at the same she concedes that she is particularly strict when it comes to execution, setting high standards in technical and quality terms. What began as a one-woman venture has turned into a production chain involving collaboration with goldsmiths as well as staff members who assist Lito at the studio. Pieces have also began traveling abroad, to London, where they sold well at the hip Sanderson hotel and at Browns, the well-known, forward-looking designer store. «The whole story with the jewelry is like art therapy,» says Lito. «You try to build something and in the process you get to learn yourself. It is a luxury and it is also a blessing.»