Coast to clothes | Monocle

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modern mediterranean chic

Margaux Varnavidou has spent more than a decade working for luxury groups such as lvmh and living in busy cities including New York and Paris. Her husband, Paul-Henri Bayart, meanwhile, pursued a career in finance. Both were operating at the same lightning-fast pace but, in 2020, they pressed pause. During the coronavirus lockdowns, they began spending more time in the Mediterranean, between Bayart’s native Provence and Cyprus, where Varnavidou’s maternal family is from.

The sunshine, slower pace of life and proximity to the sea inspired the couple to get creative and embark on their first joint project, Mirèio – a fashion brand inspired by their mutual Mediterranean heritage and the region’s sunny, carefree spirit. “Despite our different backgrounds, we were both passionate about clothing first and the Mediterranean second,” says Varnavidou. 

After nearly two years of researching, gathering inspiration from living by the sea and visiting flea markets, they debuted Mirèio with their now-signature Smock shirts. These laidback designs can be thrown over a swimsuit but also layered with a T-shirt for breezy island evenings. They’re made from a sturdy cotton fabric and feature charming Provençal prints, rendered more contemporary by their unisex, boxy silhouettes. “We love Provençal prints but everything in the market felt outdated – we wanted to rework these patterns into more modern, comfortable designs,” says Varnavidou. “The inspiration came from a traditional French sailor jacket that my husband’s grandmother used to have in her wardrobe. My husband used to wear a lot of [these jackets] too, so we created what we wanted to wear personally.” Some of the Smocks for women feature a playful, extra large sailor collar, while unisex styles feature a shorter, classic one. 

Coast-inspired colour palette
Paul-Henri Bayart
Margaux Varnavidou
Spirit of the sea
Moment in the sun

The south of France was the central reference point for the couple as they were dreaming up the concept for Mirèio, the Provençal form of the name Mireille. “That’s the name of my husband’s grandmother and the title of a famous Frédéric Mistral poem about two lovers coming together, which resonated with us,” says Varnavidou, reminiscing of recent roadtrips that took them from Arles to St Tropez and Marseille. The fabrics for the collections are sourced from a manufacturer in Saint-Étienne-du-Grès that has been operating since the early 19th century and specialises in traditional printed textiles. 

“The mission is to revive and celebrate the spirit of the Mediterranean but also its unique savoir-faire. Even if it’s expensive to produce here, we have to stay true to our ethos.”

Varnavidou’s Cypriot heritage – her family is from the town of Famagusta and now lives in Larnaca – and time spent on the island also had a role to play when it came to shaping the label. After all, there’s a shared language across the region, centred on joy, generosity and openness. “We are true children of the Mediterranean and love the entire region from east to west,” says Varnavidou. “The lifestyle touches every part of our lives, from the music we like to our children’s names. It’s not just a source of inspiration for the brand.”

Mirèio shoes
Provençal prints

It’s why last year, the couple also chose to open Taverna, a Cypriot restaurant, in Paris’s 11th arrondissement, serving all the dishes that Varnavidou enjoys when spending summers on the island. “The two projects feed each other,” she adds. “Taverna has a stronger Cypriot identity but we wear the Smocks in the restaurant and often use Mirèio as inspiration for the decor; it’s a full Mediterranean ecosystem.” Just like the couple gave the traditional sailor jackets a modern twist, they have also been working to add their own take on traditional, almost outdated, dishes that you would only be able to taste in a Cypriot grandmother’s kitchen, such as tava baked lamb. 

Delicious island food, year-round sunshine and traditional cotton textiles have all helped to bring Mirèio to life and attract the interest of multi-brand boutiques, including Les Galeries Tropeziennes in St Tropez, Joyeuserie in Hong Kong and Bon in Tucson, Arizona, which now stock the label. But perhaps the most important inspiration the couple took away from living across the Mediterranean is the region’s flair for slow living – and working. They make a point not to design big seasonal collections and prefer to gradually introduce new pieces, or “surprises”, as they call them, every few months – the latest being an elegant sleeveless vest. “This isn’t a Parisian brand,” says Varnavidou, who is preparing trips to St Tropez, Cyprus and the Greek islands this summer. “We want to work at a slower pace – it’s a way to turn every piece into a signature. We always return to Cyprus as a family but also make sure that we explore other parts of the region to keep decoding the local lifestyle and inspiring our designs.”

going with the flow
Cecilia Sörensen

Cecilia Sörensen

Finnish-born, Mallorca-based fashion designer Cecilia Sörensen’s clothes evoke a breeziness that’s synonymous with island life. “Being in Mallorca relaxes my designs,” she tells monocle. “Everything is more laidback and slow here. If I were designing my collections in Finland, they would be more austere and stiff.” Loose dresses made from cotton muslin – ideal for throwing over a swimming suit – and kimono-inspired jackets cut to a boxy fit quickly became her signature styles. They’re romantic yet, at the same time, rooted in reality. 

After learning the craft of tailoring in Helsinki, Sörensen decamped to Barcelona, where she launched her namesake brand in 2002. Six years ago she relocated to Mallorca with her husband and children, and settled in a village in the Tramuntana mountain range that makes up the northwest of the Balearic island. “Mallorca is special,” says Sörensen. “It almost hurts to travel because I miss the mountains when I’m not here.” At her workshop a 20-minute drive from her home in Alaró, Sörensen works with five seamstresses to produce every item in her seasonal collections, using cotton from a family-owned mill in Barcelona, as well as linen, jacquard and wool sourced from Spain and Italy. 

“I cut the first pattern and make the prototype, then the seamstresses take it from there,” says Sörensen. There’s a lot of back-and-forth during this stage, with some designs dialled down and details, such as the internal pockets of waistcoats, tweaked to perfection.

Designer in the Alber dress
Shirt dress in olive-green linen
Earthy tones
In the black

Such attention to detail is aided by her commitment to keeping operations close to home and producing everything, from start to finish, on the island. “It would be less expensive to produce in Barcelona but it’s important to do it here.” The designer has even been known to hand-deliver orders, cycling directly from her atelier to the boutique in Palma that carries her label – another attempt to work responsibly and minimise her carbon footprint.

The label is stocked beyond Mallorca, in a number of independent boutiques in Austria, Germany, Belgium and the US. Buyers are drawn to Sörensen’s carefree designs, particularly her shirt dresses and oversized blouses, all rendered in earthy terracotta and yellow tones reminiscent of Mallorcan sunsets. Even the darker knitted vests and linen overshirts carry the island ease that Sörensen has come to embody. “I’ve lived in Spain on and off for 20 years now,” she adds. “I hope that my designs can offer something that feels grounded in reality and the local community, rather than the stereotypical white linen outfits for expats sipping white wine.”

raw beauty
Isole & Vulcani

Cristiano Fini and Sara Goldschmied

Filicudi is a small island in the volcanic Aeolian chain north of Sicily, a pyramid of lava-made land where there are no cars, no streetlights and a mere 200 or so residents. 

Swimwear brand Isole & Vulcani was born here in 1989, when Daniela Fadda put together her first designs using just cotton and knots. Today, Cristiano Fini, Fadda’s son, maintains the brand with his wife, Sara Goldschmied, its designer and daughter of jeans pioneer Adriano Goldschmied. Naturally, the couple met and married on Filicudi. “We’re obsessed,” says Fini. “The island is our favourite place.”

To respect the brand’s idyllic land of origin, Isole & Vulcani collections offer some of the most responsibly made swimwear on the market. Unlike most commercial swimwear, which is made from synthetic fibres such as Lycra, nylon and other plastics, the label uses certified Italian-made organic cotton-jersey and natural dyes, with minimal elastic. “It feels completely different on the skin to plastic materials,” says Fini. 

The natural dyes also create a palette of soft, earthy hues – marsala, berry, olive – that mirror the landscapes of the island. Most summers, the duo also release printed and special-edition styles in collaboration with other design talents, such as Marta Ferri and even Adriano Goldschmied.

Dive right in!
Boutique in Filicudi

The brand has a flagship shop in Milan but its Filicudi boutique is still going strong. Manufacturing has come a long way since Fini’s mother ran the brand. Originally, the suits lacked stitching because sewing machines and electricity were hard to come by here. Though that’s no longer an issue today, Fini and Goldschmied still ensure that only the minimum of seams are stitched with a machine – all in the name of honouring Filicudi’s raw beauty.

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