Greek revival - Issue 173 - Magazine | Monocle

thumbnail text

In Athens, the sun shines brightly, the music is extra loud and crowds overflow from cafés and restaurants. This commitment to savouring life’s simple pleasures – good food, good company, good weather – has defined Athenians’ outlook. And today, it seems that the world is taking note and looking to join in on the fun.

This would explain why hotels such as the Grand Bretagne in the centre, the newly opened One & Only resort in the south and many new boutique concepts are booked year round. Athens is becoming a real destination and not just a mere summer stopover for those visiting Paros or Spetses. It has also become the chosen home for an ever-growing group of entrepreneurs and creatives who move here for the sunshine, the food and the cost of living. A renewed sense of optimism is in the air too: the streets are cleaner and busier than before, people smile at strangers more and entire neighbourhoods have been transformed by the opening of new restaurants, bakeries, shops and cultural spaces.

It’s no surprise that the hospitality sector was the first to take off, given the Greeks’ affinity for hosting. But locals have been experimenting beyond food and drink by applying their skills to retail by launching their own fashion brands and setting out to revive craft and manufacturing traditions that have been dormant since the 1980s. This means that when you walk around the Greek capital, whether along the cobbled streets of Plaka or in busy Syntagma Square, you’ll find more than cheap souvenirs and mass-produced fashion. Instead, there is a variety of multi-brand boutiques, concept shops and brand flagships where the owners are likely to greet you in person, share stories behind their designs and tell you about the provenance of their products – the majority of which are proudly “Made in Greece”.

“We’re finally in the right place at the right time,” says Dimitra Kolotoura, co-founder of Zeus 1 Dione, a luxury ready-to-wear and accessories label. “The economic crisis of the 2010s urged people to start thinking outside the box. In our case, we wanted to do something creative for our country during that difficult time,” says Kolotoura, who co-founded the label with Mareva Grabowski 11 years ago.

Zeus 1 Dione is a good example of what a modern Greek luxury label looks like, translating classic Greek design and symbolism into modern clothing, supporting artisanal manufacturers across the country and making its presence strongly felt in the city centre. “Within a half-mile radius, you’ll find us in so many different locations, from the GB Corner Shop inside the Grand Bretagne hotel to the Attica department store and our own flagship,” she says. “International customers come to Zeus 1 Dione to buy something that represents Greece.” 

Dimitra Kolotoura, co-founder of Zeus 1 Dione
The Zeus 1 Dione boutique in Athens
It’s A Shirt colourful spring collection
One of Christina Christodoulou’s classic designs
Christina Christodoulou, It’s A Shirt founder

The brand’s own shop is a minimal, compact space on Voukourestiou Street, a prime spot where the historic Athenée café, Pallas theatre and boutiques for the likes of Rolex and Eres are also located. Kolotoura and her team are always on hand to talk customers through the stories of cultural heritage underpinning every choice of fabric: silk produced in the town of Soufli, embroidery from Argos or shearling from Kastoria, nodding to the area’s community of shepherds. “Greeks have distanced themselves from manufacturing but as new opportunities come up, people will want to get involved again,” says Kolotoura. “If you commit to creating high-quality products, recognition will come, people will start to feel proud and they’ll change their preconceptions around Greek-made products. Greeks didn’t want to hear about local labels in the past but I think that we’ve helped change that mentality.” There are signs of this shift across the city centre, where homegrown labels now sit proudly next to shops by established international houses. A stone’s throw from Zeus 1 Dione, and next to Chanel’s Athens boutique, is the flagship of handbag label Callista, which is owned by Celia Sigalou and Eleni Konstantinidou. “The idea was to create quality leather products with artisanal details so we built our entire team around that [concept],” says Sigalou in reference to the Callista atelier where women make hand-embroidered straps and handles that go on the label’s minimal tote bags. “There was a danger at one point of associating Greek design with folklore. We want to apply traditional craft to modern silhouettes.”

On the other side of the street, you’ll find a sun-filled shop designed to resemble a glamorous 1970s hotel, complete with mesh chairs (reminiscent of the ones found in Athens’ popular outdoor cinemas), colourful tapestries and aquamarine tiles. This is the home of Ancient Greek Sandals, another local label that has achieved international recognition and established itself among the new generation of Athens’ luxury that Athenian brands are achieving, with its footwear collection (beyond the signature summer sandals, you’ll find shearling slippers, ballet flats and more) and curation of other international labels, from Italian sock label Maria La Rosa to Ukrainian outerwear specialist Ienki Ienki. “We have this home and we want to use it to bring friends of the brand together,” says co-founder Christina Martini.

There is even more to discover beyond bustling Syntagma Square. Heading uphill to the heart of Kolonaki, an area that was always populated with high-end boutiques, you’ll find renovated brand flagships, menswear specialists and heritage jewellers scattered amid its narrow streets. The absence of a main shopping thoroughfare makes venturing into Kolonaki a little more adventurous than usual; there is no loud signage so you have to seek out each destination and brave some steep slopes along the way.

Christakis, the area’s historic tailor, is a great place to start. Having operated in the same spot since 1947, the shop is an Athens institution. It’s now run by brothers Christos and Antonis Nyflis, the owner’s grandsons, remains a go-to for lightweight shirting, made-to-measure suiting and pyjamas. The in-house tailor is often found cutting patterns at the back of the shop and the Nyflis’s mother manning the till while they meet clients for one-to-one appointments. “There’s a lot of new business travellers from Europe and the US who have become loyal clients because we offer competitive prices and shorter waiting times,” says Christos. “You can also get a feel of old Athens here. We stick to the original design of the shop so that someone can come in and be reminded of what it is like to visit a traditional shirtmaker.” Indeed, the dark-wood cabinets, stacks of archival sketches and sounds of fabric being cut and steamed transport shoppers back in time. 

Across the street, multi-brand boutique The Aesthet brings together a number of Greek womenswear brands under one roof, from Zeus 1 Dione to summer specialist Ancient Kallos and jewellers Lito and Ileana Makri. “We were the first boutique to bring together local designers in about 2013,” says founder Alexandra Zakka. “Before that we were governed by this xenocentrism and everything was imported.” Zakka, an ambitious entrepreneur, has gone on to open a second shop on the island of Mykonos and plans another in the forthcoming Ellinikon malls in Athens. “There’s ongoing demand from both tourists and locals,” she says. “Given its position, Athens is a great weekend destination and can really deliver when it comes to food, nightlife, history and now shopping. We are calling it the ‘Greek-end’.” 

Jewellery by Nikos Koulis
Jeweller Nikos Koulis
Olgiana Melissinos
Melissinos’s handmade sandals

The Kolonaki neighbourhood is also a treasure trove for jewellery lovers, filled with boutiques and showrooms of some of the city’s most renowned jewellers. Ileana Makri is the leader of the pack, known for her namesake line, which is particularly popular with US department stores. Her concept shop, near Kolonaki Square, brings together her own collections with some of the best – and hardest-to-source – names in fashion. You’ll find cabinets of Ileana Makri rings featuring the popular evil eye motif next to pieces by Bibi van der Velden, Sophie Bille Brahe and Marie Lichtenberg; accessories by The Row (elusive founders Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen are fans of Makri’s work) as well as clothes by La Double J. “Nothing is seasonal,” says Myrto Anastassopoulou, Makri’s daughter who works on the shop’s curation. “We don’t

“Athens is a great weekend destination and can really deliver when it comes to food, nightlife, history and now shopping too”

see competition – we just want to reflect how people dress and you never just wear one brand. The mix of brands and price points also means that people feel more comfortable to walk in.”

Nikos Koulis has also built an international jewellery business out of Athens with partners in the US, Europe and the Middle East who appreciate his purist design ethos. He is now building a new Kolonaki boutique to create more space for meeting his customers and designing bespoke pieces for them. “A big part of what we do revolves around unique stones,” says Koulis as he opens the safe behind his desk to show off two dazzling, uncut emeralds sourced for this type of commission. “I build a narrative around the stone.” The pieces are produced in a workshop where a multi-generational team of artisans works together. “It’s a family-style office and the ages of our staff range from 25 to 75, with everyone offering their own perspectives and wisdom.” 

Fashion discoveries aren’t reserved for the hilly roads of Kolonaki. The older parts of Athens, known as Plaka and Monastiraki, where the streets are narrow and lined with cobblestones, are becoming destinations in their own right. If you’re heading to the Acropolis today, you won’t just find cheap souvenir shops along the way. Though there are still plenty of those around, a corner of Plaka is now also home to Mouki Mou boutique’s new Athens outpost where you can pick up glamorous evening wear by Paris-based Maison Rabih Kayrouz, classic linen tailoring by Apuntob and handcrafted homeware. If you feel like a break, the shop’s terrace also happens to have one of the best views of the city.

A quick stroll around the surrounding area reveals the wave of change taking place in an area that was previously the preserve of tourist traps. After shopping at Mouki Mou, you can also stop at Wine is Fine, one of the many new wine bars and try modern Greek cuisine at Linou Soumpasis & Sia, a favourite of Mouki Mou owner Maria Lemos. 

The area is also home to historic, family-run shops that are finally becoming recognised for their meticulously crafted products. Olgianna Melissinos Sandals is one such spot. Discreetly located in a Monastiraki arcade between antique shops and cafés, it offers some of the best made-to-measure leather sandals in town, crafted by owner Olgianna Melissinos, who continues her father’s craft. “I was scared of living up to his name; he was such a character and had a reputation as a sandalmaker but also a poet,” says Melissinos, who now spends her days cycling between her shop and her workshop, where all sandal orders are fulfilled by her and her husband. She is not afraid to experiment with colour and different types of leather, which means that her shop has become the worst-kept secret among discerning travellers who appreciate handmade pieces and classic designs. “We want to highlight that sandals are a sophisticated shoe choice for the summer,” she says. “At the end of the day, sandalmakers in ancient Greece were also politicians,” says Melissinos, who is always on hand to take customers’ measurements and offer personalised recommendations. “The concept of handmade can be quite elitist but I want to make sure that it is as accessible as possible.”

Clothes featuring traditional Greek block printing
Alexandra MacLellan and Harilaos Kourtinos Pallas, co-founders of Aphilo Athens
The team at historic tailor Christakis

The energy of Athens can be felt throughout the city but nowhere is it more evident than Exarchia, the city’s anarchist quarter, which has now turned into a vibrant, creative hub filled with independent boutiques run by young entrepreneurs, vinyl shops, artists’ studios and bookshops. “There was a time when you weren’t able to walk here at night or leave your car without the windows getting smashed,” says Harilaos Kourtinos Pallas, who has just opened concept shop Aphilo Athens in the area, with visual artist Antigone MacLellan. “When I lived here as a student there was something to discover in every corner but all of a sudden everything was deserted and crime went up in the 2010s. It’s great to see people walking around freely again and tourists exploring the area.”

Aphilo Athens brings together the founders’ creative circle (jewellers working with upcycled materials, designers experimenting with natural dyeing and ceramicists) as well as their own work, which ranges from jewellery to furniture and handcrafted fashion. “This was missing in Athens, where these concepts are usually limited to art galleries,” says Pallas, who custom-made all the furniture in the two-storey shop. “We want to show the skills being revived by young people in Athens.” He is leading by example by introducing his own label, Kyr Lakis, in the shop, created as an homage to his grandfather, a craftsman specialising in traditional Greek block printing. “My mum taught me the craft young,” says Pallas, who now prints his grandfather’s drawings, carved on wooden stamps, cotton shirts, silk scarves and tote bags. “We’re the only family with this heritage and it would have been lost otherwise,” “I want to grow this into a fully fledged lifestyle brand.”

There’s a unanimous urge here to revive traditional Greek craft and a palpable sense of national pride. “We’re seeing this in the design world too,” says Pallas. “People used to throw away mosaics and traditional furniture. They craved that modern, clean look because in the 1990s they couldn’t travel much and felt a bit trapped. Now that the world has opened up, we are able to appreciate our own culture more.”

Pallas’s thoughts are echoed by Christina Christodoulou, founder of shirting brand It’s A Shirt, whose studio-cum-shop is a street away from Aphilo. Her brand is equally intertwined with family heritage; she grew up with a tailor father who now cuts and sews every shirt that is produced by her label. “Up until the late 1980s, my father ran a small production company in Athens and worked with 10 to 15 local clients but most of those brands either closed down or moved production to China,” says Christodoulou, who saw an opportunity to revive her father’s workshop and target the growing group of local and international customers who want to know who makes their clothes. She sources cotton and linen from a factory in Nafpaktos in the west of Greece, which is one of the last cotton producers in the country. “People write to me to say that they can’t wait to travel to Athens to try on the collection,” she says. 

The Vathis neighbourhood in the city centre, is being transformed at a similar pace. It was best avoided until a few years ago but for US-born Andria Mitsakos, the neoclassical building that she took over on Anexartisias Square was the perfect location for her by-appointment concept, Anthologist, where she sells clothing, accessories and furniture produced in small workshops in Athens, Cairo and Armenia. Her presence in the area, along with the opening of the Alekos Fassianos Museum nearby, has helped to transform the face of the neighbourhood. “I make most of my bags, belts, ceramics, jewellery, furniture and stained glass all in this country,” she says. “There’s a shift in perspectives and people’s value systems so they’re appreciating tradition again; what’s old is new.”

Ileana Makri designs 
Ileana Makri with her daughter, Myrto Anastassopoulou

Mitsakos’s business is shining a light on the plethora of skilled artisans across the city and connecting them with a new European and American clientele, who often come in to commission custom pieces. “Athens is a convergence of cultures,” says Mitsakos. “That’s why I feel strongly about also producing in Egypt where so many Greeks still live, “It’s about cultural preservation. People don’t want cookie-cutter, they want pieces with history and soul.”

And there’s plenty of soul in Athens, given the intimacy of the shopping experiences on offer and the sheer breadth of products and price points available. You could be commissioning furniture in Exarchia one day and picking a stone for a piece of high jewellery or getting a pair of made-to-measure sandals for less than €100 the next, all the while having coffee and a deep conversation with each business’s owner. Locals are grasping this momentum and are determined to maintain it, with more ambitious shop openings, cross-sector collaborations and a new vision of what modern Greek design could look like. “There’s this freshness in our designs that is surely associated with our country,” says Nikos Koulis. “Every time I land in Athens and see the sunshine, I’m so thankful that I live here.” — L

Address book:
Best for Athenian style:
Zeus 1 Dione
6 Voukourestiou Street, 10564

Elegant leather bags:
11 Voukourestiou Street, 10671 

Footwear haven:
Ancient Greek Sandals 
1 Kolokotroni Street, 10562

One-of-a-kind jewellery:
Nikos Koulis
15 Filikis Eterias, Kolonaki Square, 10673

Meet the tailor:
5 Kriezotou, 10671

Made-to-measure sandals:
Olgianna Melissinos
7 Normanou Street, Monastiraki, 10555

Best luxury curation:
Mouki Mou
15 Diogenous, 10556

Best-in-class shirts:
It’s A Shirt
67 Asklipiou, 10680

Craft revival:
Aphilo Athens
49-51 Zoodochou Pigis, 10681

To refuel:
Wine is Fine
6 Vissis, 10551

Post-shopping dinner:
Linou Soumpasis k sia
2 Melanthiou Street, 10554

Share on:






Go back: Contents

Monocle Design Awards


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio


  • Konfekt Korner