Singular vision | Monocle

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It shouldn’t come as a surprise that as you approach the Zeus 1 Dione eyewear laboratory in Kryoneri, a northern suburb of Athens, you spot goats, wild boar and the odd cow wandering around the pine-tree- dotted meadows. This is a brand born out of a desire to reconnect with craft traditions and nature, as well as forge partnerships with the best local manufacturers.

Twelve years since its inception, the business co-founded by Dimitra Kolotoura and Mareva Grabowski-Mitsotakis, Greece’s current first lady, has revived abandoned silk factories and employs artisans across the country to embroider kaftans or create woven fabrics on traditional wooden looms. Naturally, the brand has always thrived on summer wear, starting with a line of handmade leather sandals and expanding to breezy linen tailoring, as well as the most elegant beachwear and cotton shirting, which immediately brings the Mediterranean sun to mind. Kolotoura, an ambitious businesswoman with global expansion plans, has always been working on developing the brand’s collections and completing the Zeus 1 Dione look. 

Sunglasses were at the top of her agenda. The sun shines brightly year-round in Greece, so shades are as essential as your wallet or keys when you leave the house. “I always had a passion for sunglasses,” says Kolotoura. “Eight years ago, when I decided that we should expand into eyewear, everyone in the office looked at me as though I were crazy,” she says. Rigorous research and a commitment to the brand’s “Made in Greece” ethos led Kolotoura to the Nea Optiki, an Athenian artisanal factory specialising in high-end, handcrafted eyewear.

Handmade precision
Italian machinery, Greek design
A pair of Leonidas
Bold styles are key to the brand’s success

The facility opened in 2013, as a response to Greece’s economic crisis of the 2010s and the closure of eyewear factories in Italy. Consulting with industry friends from across the Mediterranean, Nea Optiki co-founder Costas Destounis decided to purchase the machinery from the abandoned factories across Italy and, alongside his brother and cousin, bring luxury eyewear manufacturing to Greece. Since then the trio has assembled a team of experts – employees are trained for several months before they can join the team on the factory floor – and begun crafting eyewear that has won a reputation for its handmade qualities and green credentials. The factory roof is covered with solar panels, harnessing the sun’s energy to power the machinery in what is the only carbon-neutral factory in Greece. 

“We began with 500 square metres of factory space,” says Destounis, speaking above the roaring sound of the workspace’s many tumbling machines. “Since then our production facility has tripled in size to 1,500 square metres to meet the demand we have for the eyewear that we produce.” Inside the vast hexagonal devices are thousands of perfectly polished wooden frames. They are buffed through four different types of tumbling equipment for 24 hours each time, before heading to the room next door for a final hand polish.

The partnership with Zeus 1 Dione, which includes both manufacturing and distribution of the label’s sunglasses collections, has played a key role in the factory’s expansion, allowing Destounis to employ and train even more staff. “We had an extremely good chemistry from the start,” says Destounis of his collaboration with Kolotoura. When the Apollo – their first frame design, combining acetate and metallic details – consistently sold out and prompted fast-fashion copies, he knew that he was onto a good thing. Now Zeus 1 Dione sunglasses are sold across Europe and the US, from department stores such as Harrods in London and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York to popular multi-brand boutiques in Athens, including Aesthet. 

“I proposed that Zeus 1 Dione design a full collection of sunglasses that we could then distribute across Europe,” he says, explaining how he works closely with Kolotoura on designing the frames. “It’s very rare to have the brand so involved in the design process but because Dimitra has such strict and high standards about the brand identity, all the design happens as a collaboration,” he adds, ordering a coffee for Kolotoura without needing to ask how she takes it.

Dimitra Kolotoura in Diorane sunglasses
Iason sunglasses
Zeus frames
Option called Kriton
Colour one's view

Such close-knit partnerships are rare in the eyewear industry. Fashion labels tend to licence their sunglasses collections to the conglomerates that dominate the market and often become divorced from the creation process. Instead, Kolotoura and Destounis have fostered a different type of relationship – one which is now paying off. The pair’s designs are bolder and more individualistic than anything else in the market, helping the company to attract clients in search of distinctive styles who continue to bring new business to Nea Optiki. 

Collections range from colour-block frames and cat-eye styles in punchy hues to elegant, geometric forms such as the “Thalassa” (Greek for sea). It is a playful, pick-and-mix of eyewear to suit a variety of situations, whether you’re looking to make a statement for your next beach holiday or opting for a more discreet item for summers in the city, there’s something for everyone. 

Kolotoura admits she had a feeling the project would work out, as soon as she stepped inside Nea Optiki. “I went to a couple of small workshops and kept hearing, ‘No, it can’t be done,’ when I shared my ideas,” she says. “Kostas immediately liked the concept and expressed an interest, so I knew that I had found the right person.” 

The Zeus 1 Dione co-founder has come a long way since launching the brand in 2012, at a time when Greece was still grappling with financial upheaval, a global media slammed its politicians and speculation mounted about a “Grexit”. At that time, a project that celebrated the country and its traditions seemed laughable, yet Kolotoura and Grabowski-Mitsotakis (who has now exited the business) felt that it was time to get creative and shift public perception. “When the situation in Greece was bad and we were represented on the world stage in such negative light, it created an anger inside me,” says Kolotoura of her initial motivations. 

Even though they had never designed for a fashion label before, they had a vision that was equal parts romantic and forward-thinking, blending elements of ancient Greek and folkloric traditions with modern silhouettes. 

Working with an in-house design team, the pair’s initial collection of sandals quickly expanded to ready-to-wear pieces, which have now been joined with covetable collections of eyewear. All are overseen by Greek-Austrian designer Marios Schwab, who joined the brand as creative director in 2020. Kolotoura admits that Schwab had declined an earlier offer to join the company but her determination to redefine the image of Greek fashion paid off. 

“We were happy working women [before launching the business] but, at the same time, very passionate about our country,” says Kolotoura, as she takes monocle on a tour around the facility, proudly admiring the team and the eye-catching frames they are working on. “Being able to support Greek crafts is the most satisfying part of the job.” — L

Zeus 1 Dione’s top models

1. Zeus: An elegant rectangular-shaped design, inspired by the statement silhouettes worn by Aristotle Onassis. We are opting for the classic, midnight-blue frames, perfectly offsetting the black lenses.

2. Odysseus: These sunglasses are as timeless as the stories of the mythological King of Ithaca they were named after. The thin square frames are suitable for any occasion and come in classic shades of dark burgundy and brown tortoiseshell. Refreshingly, they’re also logo free – aside from the label’s discreet emblem, a minuscule gold square on the temples. 

3. Leonidas: A unisex, aviator style given the Zeus 1 Dione treatment, with subtle engraving on the bridge that highlights the handwork the team of artisans at Nea Optiki applies on every single design. 

4. Arethusa: A style to make a statement in. These oversized, square frames are one of the top sellers in the label’s eyewear range, featuring acetate and metallic details on the frames – juxtaposed materials are one of creative director Marios Schwaab’s design signatures.

5. Ino: Experimenting with bold, asymmetric shapes is a big part of the brand’s success formula when it comes to sunglasses. The Ino style is testament to that, featuring diagonal lines that add an element of surprise. Try the Yves Klein blue version – ideal for long days at the beach.

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