Ten years after the economic crisis, the Greek capital is in the midst of a creative rebirth
Since it began in 2008, the effects of the economic crisis on Greece have been well documented. But though it’s been a challenging period in the country’s history, ten years on, Athens is a city in the midst of positive change. Last year saw international art fair Documenta descend on the city. Subsequently, the event was credited with bringing a new and different kind of attention to Athens: instead of riots and the quiet streets on which once-thriving businesses sit firmly closed, the spotlight is increasingly being shone on the febrile visual arts movement that’s spreading across the capital.
There’s no doubt that the art scene in Athens is garnering huge hype, but away from that, a group of local designers are creating an exciting new space in fashion – and garnering a dedicated following in the process. Me Then, Mohxa and Serapis are three Athenian brands drawing on the rich and layered history of their surroundings, harnessing the energy and tension of the city to create a new vision of the future. Each distinctly different in aesthetic, they are united by their commitment to working with local industry and bringing Greek fashion to the international audience. While the country’s problems are in no way over, for young people the future at least looks a little brighter.
We meet the three of the brands at the fore of Athenian fashion’s new wave.
Me Then is a contemporary Greek fashion brand which originally started as a fanzine. Founded by George Soumpasis, Mary Giatra-Ritsou and Tasos Papageorgiou in 2014, the zine, and consequently the clothing brand, formed a palpable reaction to the anger and frustration engendered by the Greek crisis. Meaning ‘zero’ in Greek and referring to the idea of a past self in English, ‘Me Then’ embodies a sense of reflection and new beginnings. Fashion-wise, this translates to playful experimentalism: the brand’s hyper-functional designs are reimagined with offbeat detailing, while graphic statement t-shirts reference Athenian life.
What did the creative landscape in Athens look like when you started out?
Me Then: When we started out the whole country was in a state of shock. The creative landscape, on the other hand, was just starting to flourish. Huge, cheap and empty spaces could be used by artists as studios. Preparations for Documenta 14 were starting and independent project spaces where popping up like mushrooms. Creatives from London, Berlin, Switzerland and the States were making Athens their home. Old and established institutions were either changing direction or closing down. This whole situation created a momentum, a new narrative for the creative landscape of Athens. There was a sense of hope.
How does Athens inform your designs?
Me Then: Our clothes reflect our Athenian heritage: they’re easy to wear, relaxed and rough at times, a real mix of elements. Athens sometimes gets us down, but then she offers an amazing sunset by the sea and everything is good again. Our city is anarchic and ever-changing, and this feeling of fragmentation is definitely reflected in what we create.
Did you feel like you were building on an established Greek aesthetic, or offering something totally new?
Me Then: That’s tough question. We think we’re building on an established aesthetic, but not particularly a Greek one. It’s more that we’re building upon a European heritage and infusing it with Athenian elements. What we do is not defined by the nation we belong to, but the city we live in. We’re not offering something completely new, but bridging the gap between the fantasy of fashion and the reality of dressing for a walk in the park.
In your SS18 collection t-shirts and sweaters include the slogan, ‘Das Neue Athens’. What does the new Athens look like to you?
Me Then: This new Athens is primarily a fresh narrative from, and for, our generation. Athenians have become much more extrovert than before, and are telling a new story about how we live today. It is still hard to keep up with reality, but in the ‘new Athens’ there is hope. Athens is not the new Berlin, it can only be a new version of herself.
You also have t-shirts with slogans like ‘Fuck Athens.’ Do you feel more of a responsibility to use fashion to represent Greece to international audiences, or reflect the feelings of people who live in the city?
Me Then: We feel the responsibility to be true to ourselves. To construct a narrative through our clothes that reflects what it means to live in Greece today. With the ‘Fuck Athens’ t-shirt we wanted to capture the frustration we feel towards our hometown. It’s common to say “fuck Athens”. But in choosing to print this on a t-shirt, on top of some flowers, it showed that strange attitude of love and despair we have for the city.
What are you most excited about in the Athenian fashion scene right now?
Me Then: People are more confident today. They’re less shy and they dare to express themselves through fashion. That’s a step forward for Athenians.
Founded by friends Jason Pachos and George Papachatzopoulos, Mohxa is a surf-inspired fashion brand that puts a laid-back ethos at the heart of its aesthetic. Talking about why they launched the label, the pair playfully explain that “the band never happened” – so fashion felt like the next best thing. The answer evokes the camaraderie which has formed the foundations of Mohxa. Everyday wear is imagined in loose silhouettes and bright, understated designs, while small embroidered details such as the brand’s palm tree logo feature often, bringing a sense of optimism to every piece.
What’s behind the name of the label?
Mohxa: We came up with Mohxa when we heard someone reading about Moksha, which is the Sanskrit philosophy of liberation from the vicious circle of lives lived enslaved to one’s wishes. It made us smile. We heard the word, wrote it down dyslexically, and the final image spoke to us.
How did you start out?
Mohxa: Right after an ‘espresso freddo' at the local plaza and an inspiring talk, we jumped on a Vespa and headed to downtown Athens. Way back that’s where the heart of the fashion industry was. We picked up a dozen meters of fabric that we liked, cut the shirts ourselves and, with no previous experience whatsoever, sent the designs off to be made. A week after we first made the decision, we had a small production in our hands.
You both grew up in Paleo Faliro. What’s the cultural scene like and how did it inform the aesthetic of the brand?
Mohxa: It’s the nearest beach suburb from the centre of Athens. Back in the day it was all just summer houses, but now, it’s a seamless part of the city. There’s the retired folk, there’s a boardwalk and a wave breaker and there’s even a small surf-able wedge. All kinds of crazy people go up and down that coastline, on tuned bicycles or with designer dogs. It’s derelict, it’s dull, yet it seems to offer a sense of freedom for the people growing up there. It’s our playground.
What were your impressions of the fashion landscape in Athens when you started, and how has it changed?
Mohxa: It’s probably that personal expression, in a broader sense, is more present than ever.
Why was it important for you to work with local producers?
Mohxa: The feeling of independence and sustainability is appealing, and we also like the idea of cultivating our own production, creating traditions and new prospects. So one part is pride, and the other part is that local production is the only physical way of actually running a brand our size.
What about Athens excites you most at the moment?
Mohxa: More and more people from all over the world are booking themselves an Airbnb to come and play local with us. They are contributing to the city with culture and presence, which is pretty rad.
Launched in 2014, Serapis is a fashion and art collective which offers new interpretations of the Greek maritime industry. Posing as both a shipping company and design enterprise, the brand feeds nautical language into their clothes, and the way in which they choose to talk about themselves. Although their approach to publicity can sometimes be playful or deliberately obtuse, the designs are deeply serious, considered and honest. Functional design elements of maritime uniforms are offered as streetwear, while industrial imagery is printed on large-scale scarves. Materials are locally sourced, and their use of silk from Soufli has become a cornerstone of their aesthetic. Though choosing to remain anonymous as a group, their vision is candid and clear: to build a new kind of community which operates across borders, with soulful and human narratives at the core of their work.
Growing up in Greece, how was the shipping industry perceived at a cultural level?
Serapis: It was always perceived as the backbone of the country’s economy, but had no direct link or correlation to the cultural landscape. Except maybe through the generous private gestures to the arts and culture from the various foundations of Greek shipping tycoons.
Were you aware of doing something new when you started?
Serapis: Design-wise, it was clear from the beginning that we were in uncharted waters. Luckily there was an abundance of historical archival material gathered over the years (survey photos, class inspections etc), which were a big inspiration for us, and helped to build a visual foundation for our designs.
The Serapis group often spends time on board tankers. How does the experience shape the designs?
Serapis: When on board you see the passion, energy and dedication of the crew whose spiritual thinking and devotion to the job form the backbone of our brand culture. There’s also a practical, collaborative element. Our AW17 collection ‘Night in Gadani’ showcased drawings and spray paintings which were done by our crew at a celebration feast and drawing session that took place at the Gadani ship-breaking yard.
Did documenting life on the tankers feel like it was adding more of a political edge to your work?
Serapis: Shipping companies generally do not show the human element of life on board. They aim to project the image of a robust, robotic operation that has no room for error. Business-wise this is understandable, but the individual personality of the seafarer becomes obsolete along the way: a hidden part of the corporate leviathan, which ultimately crushes both the human spirit and the corporation.
What about naval uniform did you feel translated into contemporary design?
Serapis: It is interesting to alternate the context of the naval uniform from how it is used at sea to how it works on shore. We’ve taken design elements that are added to uniforms for safety on board, like the reflective tapes, the ‘D’ rings, the extra pockets and completely stripped them of their original use. These details become functionally redundant on land. Their usefulness is transformed into design accessories and clothing ornaments. This tension is something we like to experiment with in all our collections.
Do you think offering a different narrative about Greece through fashion can help to change the perception of the country on an international level?
Serapis: Yes, very much so. Serapis was spawned and nurtured from the sea and the shipping industry, the pride and glory of Greece. It was evident that we would lay the foundations for our universe at the sea, but offer a vision through a contemporary prism. We also consciously wanted to divert and avoid the saturated notions of Greece, i.e. the summer beaches and the ancient Greek imagery, which felt like an easy trap to fall into that would keep us creatively stagnated.