Sophia Kokosalaki is one of the few names that Greece is proud to list as one of the country’s Ambassadors abroad. She studied literature at the University of Athens before she decided to move to London and continue her studies at the renowed Central Saint Martins.
In 1999, her first show was part of the London Fashion Week caused interest and immediately, since then numerous people sign as her devoted fans. Kokosalaki is regarded as a rising star of the London fashion world. She soon received the Elle Designer award and Art Foundation Award for Fashion in 2002 and New Generation
Designer award in 2004, and received regular editorials from Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar to W magazine. In autumn 2006 she was appointed Creative Director of the leading Madeleine Vionnet fashion house but resigned in May 2007, stating that she will solely concentrate on the development of her own label instead. In the same year
Sophia Kokosalaki entered the orbit of the Only the Brave group, directed by Renzo Rosso who acquired a controlling stake in the brand through his holding in Staff International.
She is also known for the wonderful dress worn by Bjork at the 2004 Athens Olympics and also as the costume designer of Antigone, a classic play produced in 2005 and directed by Irene Papas.
Her trademark style often features the classic Grecian draping combined with handcrafted elements, in an innovative fusion. Her specialty is soft flowing dresses, and her work with knitwear and leather has also drawn praise. Aiming to produce clothes that are perennially popular, Kokosalaki fuses the old and the new. This season she decides to see her own creative past from another point of view that will lead us all towards the future.
FM: Sophia, thank you so much for this interview. My first question is about your new collection. What is it about and where does it find you?
SK: This time I went back to where I started from by re-introducing some free-hand drapery. I worked on the dummy using soaked fabrics, creating surfaces and leaving them to dry, aiming for the final result to be something more airy and free. Although this might sound a bit pretentious to you, while visiting the new Acropolis Museum, I noticed that all the clothes that we tend in fashion to categorize as Grecian have nothing to do with the original Greek ancient garments. The actual Grecian clothes were about movement in combination with drapes and in a way, in sculpture, sometimes looked as if they were wet. This last detail was my motive for this collection and the result was achieved by using less thread and a more free and airy touch. I also used references from various traditional folklore elements, especially for the leather section of the show. This approach gave a more contemporary result, relevant to the fashion street-wear that young people tend to wear here in London. The decoration as well as the surfaces also came from the Greek traditional history. As I see it, it reflects exactly of who I am: A Greek woman living in London.
FM: Your obsession with the Greek ancient history was meant to be your original pick, correct?
SK: Yes, the way I turn the history into something modern. I assume it has to do with the fact of me living abroad has, in a way, given me the ability to value the elements of my origins’ heritage with an up-to-date effect.
Of course I don’t see the Greek history the way a tourist does. I would never dress a woman in a cloak! (Laughs)
FM: So, for once more you go back to the Greek history, although for a while now, your work has moved towards a completely different direction…
SK: Indeed! At some point I was quite equated with this specific style and I had to react by being opposed to what I became famous for: drapery. But this summer, my visit to the museum touched me on a different level among with my collaboration with the Jewellery House of Lalaounis, for whom I designed a series of pieces. This is how my decision was made, to illustrate my past but this time from another angle working with a more minimal point of view.
FM: It sounds more than a challenge using the resources of the past to lead something towards the future, don’t you think?
SK: It’s not easy! It can be a hustle sometimes, putting yourself in the condition where you have to understand all these intense references, breaking their rules in order to achieve a totally new idea. One might easily say “It’s just a dress” but one can’t imagine sometimes how much work has gone into the process of conceiving and the realization of a garment.
FM: Who is your heroine really?
SK: I don’t have a standard. My work is a reflection of the workingwoman who has some education about fashion without being victimized by it. She is a current independent who certainly does not dress in order only to attract men. If so, she will probably need to choose something else to fill her wardrobe with (laughs)
FM: What always impresses me is your ability of combining different and opposite materials and also the way you create your own surfaces and textures..
SK: I am still using the same vocabulary but I can form more complex and inventive sentences, if you like. It took many years to be where I am today. In the beginning my work was simpler and slowly it was transformed to something more complex, although complex is not the way I want my clothes to appear like. I don’t want the clothes to be over sophisticated or difficult…
FM: You were head designer for two other labels, apart from your own: Ruffo Research and Madeleine Vionnet. How was that experience for you. I mean how difficult it is for a creative to take over someone else’s vision and turn it into something new?
SK: I wouldn’t say it was difficult. It felt like someone asked me to write a different kind of text than my own, see things from another point of view. The truth is that the more I design, the happier I feel. Why not undertake such a great challenge? It was a chance for me to learn more and go through a variety of different stages.
FM: Your collection for Vionnet is truly wonderful.
SK: Thank you! If the structure of the company was different, things would have worked out, but that’s another story. It’s registered as a positive experience.
FM: There were several rumors…
SK: Really… I’m interested to hear.
FM: That the product prices were too high, for example…
SK: But they were; and frankly I was opposed to it. Anyhow, lets not get into details.
FM: More and more designers, season by season, present their work through videos or short films. How do you see this trend? How do you sense the future of Fashion will be like?
SK: Indeed it would have been nice if there were a new option for us since the cost for a catwalk show has become so high. Unfortunately, nothing can replace a real fashion show. I don’t really think it is actually possible, at least not for now. The journalists still want to see the collections look by look after the show. I don’t think it would help if we send them a movie still.
FM: Can you define what is considered as modern for you Sophia?
SK: Primarily it has to do on how you use the fabrics, your choice of materials and the construction as well as the woman you want to project. Then of course follows the presentation, although my shows tend to be quite simple since I am more concerned to be understandable and that everyone will be able to focus easily on the clothes and the craft. This is where I actually emphasize. A histrionic presentation is of little interest in the way things work for me.
FM: So what is fashion for you really?
SK: I certainly don’t see it as a game. I am very serious about what I do. Making clothes is my reason for working and I will never stop. I am not here because its fun nor because I like hanging out at parties and meeting celebs.
FM: What do you enjoy most; the conception or the implementation of an idea?
SK:Both! Working with my team is also my favorite part of the process. Exchanging ideas, the route to the end result each season is so creative and enjoyable.
FM: Aren’t you afraid of losing your inspiration sometimes?
SK: It has never happened so far. My only problem is with time. There is never enough time.
FM: All these years you spent in the service of fashion…this art…
SK: Fashion is applied art but it needs to be commercial. Its purpose is to be worn and not to be treated, as it is some kind of sculpture or object to look at. Otherwise Fashion is a failure.
FM: What is the most interesting thing you have learned over the years?
SK: Working with the Italian factories is very interesting. I learned so many things all this time. Everyday there is something new, an interesting experience. I wake up in the morning; go to the studio feeling happy. Honestly.
FM: Out of the new designers breed, who are your favorites?
SK: There are so many gifted young designers. Greeks too. So many come to London and study at Saint Martin’s which I often recommend.(laughs) Mary Katranzou is one of them and the fresh graduate Myrto Stamou.
Too bad there is not such an art school in Greece.
FM: How do you see your own future? Do you plan far-reaching projects?
SK: I think of it without putting myself in a tight plan otherwise I would stop enjoying what I do. So far, I operate by using my instinct. I avoid far-reaching plans only because there is the slight possibility of everything turning upside down. I have a method that has helped me go on through the years.
FM: It would be nice if you presented your work at the New Acropolis Museum. Why don’t you propose it?
SK: Because they will say no? (Laughs)
Read the interview on Vogue Greece by clicking here.
The interview was originally published in Isterographo magazine in 2010.
Kokosalaki started her eponymous label in London in 1999.She received the Elle Designer award and Art Foundation Award for Fashion in 2002 and New Generation Designer award in 2004, and receives regular editorial from Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and W magazines.In 2004 she was commissioned to design outfits for the opening and closing ceremonies at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, which were staged in her home town of Athens.
Over six thousand people were dressed by Kokosalaki for the opening ceremony, most notably the singer Björk who performed “Oceania” in an enormous ocean-inspired dress composed of many pleats and folds.
Briefly, between 2006 and 2007, Kokosalaki was the first Creative Director of the relaunched Vionnet fashion house.
Although Kokosalaki cites Madeleine Vionnet as one of her favorite historical couturiers, and her work was well-received, she was ultimately disappointed in the experience, and left after two collections to focus on her own label.
Her trademark style often featured classic Grecian draping combined with hand-crafted elements. While Kokosalaki was particularly known for draped, softly flowing dresses, her designs were also be architectural and heavily textured, and she worked in leather and tougher fabrics as well.