By Méri Charitonidi.
Melissanthi Spei is a contemporary fashion researcher/artist based in Athens and I can confidently state that she is one of the most talented people out there right now. Melissanthi has spent the first 10 years of her artistic career in the United Kingdom. She is a graduate of Fashion Design for Industry at the School of Textiles and Design of Heriot Watt University in Scotland, a graduate of Art, Media and Design at the University of Wales, Newport and she has also acquired her MA in Fashion Artefact at the London College of Fashion; today she runs the University of the Arts Alumni group in Greece while accelerating her practice and career. In 2017 she returned to her home country, Greece, and often has to answer the same question again and again: Why did she make the choice of coming back (?), to which she answers that “There is never a right timing to make a decision like this”. She clearly sees that “there is quite some prospect in this city, as the time seems right for young creators to evolve”. It is a fact, there is a lot happening in Athens at the moment and many Greek and International people do build their chances here from scratch, collectively or solely, but always in solidarity. So what is at stake? I guess time will show, as the global industry of arts and fashion is practically maneuvering around the new order of things, towards the endless horizon.
Malgosia Bela in Melissanthi Spei top and @etro skirt by @danbeleiu and @alicelefons for @numeromagazine October. Hair @michalbielecki_ Make up @mariannayurkiewicz Production @ania.rybus @prospero.production Set @daughter_of_lama
Apart from her impressive educational background, Melissanthi’s exceptional creativity lingers upon various fields, which are clearly manifested through her admirable work. The anthropological and sociological references are hard to miss as her influences on the folklore culture determine the avant garde costumes she makes with her own hands. Her designs do not fall into the stereotypical greek context one would expect to face when thinking of Greece, such as archaic symbols, ancient history and mythology nor the Hellenic heritage as a whole. In Melissanthi’s work, the mentions are subtle but indicative, blending with elements of contemporary runway garments and performance ensembles. Diving deep into her cultural heritage her sculptural costumes promote some sort of fashion regeneration and style transformation in a sense that the identity of the outfits ignite an exploration for the audience, that alters when combined with the the person who wears them, the function they serve and the way presented, all deriving by the exquisite taste, research and craftsmanship of Melissanthi. Her work is personal and thus functions as a canal through which she communicates her ideas on elegance, individuality, image, character, confidence, etc. Her aesthetic approach may seem complicated, due to the elaborate attention given to every single detail but once you see it, it stays with you as inevitably distinguishable to which you will recur as a reference of strong and unexpected aesthetic storytelling that revolves around tales that fascinate her. Part of Melissanthi’s uniqueness as a designer is her choice of everyday life materials such as clothing pegs, pendant drill cups, industrial brushes and religious trimmings and the fact that she constructs compositional items based on layering, interdependence of clothing and accessories from skirts to whole face masks and visually stimulating/pleasing forms.
PH: Fringe daemon Melissanthi Spei World of Wearable 2018 Avant Garde entry finalist @worldofwearableart Photographer @yannisfragos Model @iamada.y Make up artist @sissipetropoulou.makeup Hair @yolanda_sofouli
Her work has been hosted in festivals, featured in numerous magazines, amongst which Vogue Italia, L’Officiel Italia, Harper’s Bazaar Brazil, Marie Claire France, Numéro and the Vogue Netherlands collaboration for The Queen's Ball - the coronation ball of the new King of Netherlands in 2013. Furthermore, she has been nominated as a winner at ‘Find Your Inner North - Modern National Costume’ by Nordic Design Society in 2019, an Avant-Garde finalist at World of Wearable Art 2018 Awards, Accessories finalist for ITS International Talent Support 2013, International Research Award finalist for the Ancient & Modern Prize 2014 and represented Greece during the EU presidency exhibition at Malta Fashion Week in 2017.
PH: A long farewell to all my greatness project by Melissanthi Spei
FU: How would you describe your personal style and how does it affect your work?
MS: My personal style keeps changing and evolving, in the past 15 years I have been through many phases from emo to punk, from new romantic to a bit more hipsterish, but the more I focus on my work the more minimal I get in my personal style - and God forbids I think of being functional sometimes! Of course total black always rules but I would love to add some colour again and it is slowly getting better. Oh and I love glitter and body paint! Glitter makes everyone happy :)
FU: On materials : your favourite ones and the ones you use the most.
MS: I love working with tassels and fringes, anything that looks fluid and has movement. It is good to allow materials to take their natural form and not force them to do something unnatural in terms of shape and silhouette. I also do a lot of upcycling, meaning I work with everyday life objects and see their potentials in different contexts. We are taught objects are meant to have a specific use but why not try to see the beauty in something that is otherwise considered very boring? A wire wheel brush cup is used to remove rust but for me it looks like a golden flower.
FU: Who wears your clothes? For whom are they made?
MS: I mainly work on commission for film and theatrical pieces. So far my work has been exhibited in museums and galleries, photographed for editorials, worn for events, concerts and videoclips and has been displayed for international shows and competitions worldwide. The garments are made for all these and many more, each piece is unique to the wearer and is not replicated, this is what makes each item so special, it is one of a kind. My work has travelled the world from tiny Greece to France, Italy, UK, Poland, Netherlands, Russia, China, New Zealand, Argentina, USA ect. Some of the wearers have been Conchita Wurst, Naomi Cambel, Tamta and many more and I love dressing up Drag Queens!
FU: Something in fashion you would never be interested in doing.
MS: Everyone has been asking me when I will create my own label and it is something I am not considering, at least not one where you have to fast forward 4 collections a year, I do not think the world needs another label like that, it needs a different approach to things, something that matters more and lasts. There is a constant attack of images and information and everything is too much and too fast. For me the right thing to do which is also the core of my work is to go back to our roots, take things slow, appreciate our heritage and examine how it could be brought into today’s world saved from the oblivion of museum exhibits.
PH: Details from various handmade textiles and material fabrications by Melissanthi Spei
FU: How is 2020 for you workwise?
MS: So far 2020 has been a very different year and we all learned to adjust to the most extreme conditions but maybe this is also the right push to get things done so I have been a busy bee. I have been nominated as one of the winners of OpenMyMed 2020-2021 Prize from Maison Mode Méditerranée and have been doing workshops with different fashion professionals. It is a great deal as MMM’s main sponsors are LVMH and CHANEL so you get to meet and work with top professionals in the field. Hopefully when all this passes we get to meet in person in France. Αlso I have been very proud to have been accepted in the ΘEA incubator programme in Athens supported by the Greek Chamber of Commerce that will help me get the support I need to set up my own business ‘STUDIO SPEIS’ and I am preparing a lot of interesting collaborations which will be officially announced in 2021 for the 200 years from the Greek Revolution. Earlier this month my collaboration ‘Traditional Greek Lamentation’ with super talented performer Nikos Raptis was presented at Athens Pride and you should expect to see more! One thing is for sure it will not be minimal!!!
FU: On Studio Speis
MS: Studio Speis is an interactive space that provides equipment, open workshops and residencies for designers, makers and researchers in the fashion, costume and textile sector that are interested in linking their work with cultural heritage in terms of their research development and their practice. The residents will be able to visit Athens and be inspired by Greek folk culture and also share their own cultural heritage and roots and study how this affects their work in terms of inspiration and craft making methodologies and techniques. I am open for collaborations and looking forward to meeting anyone who is interested in being part of this initiative! More is coming soon, so stay tuned! :)
FU: Finding inspiration in today's world & the work of people who inspire you to pursue your goals.
MS: Fashion is always connected to what is currently happening in the world, it tries to understand social-political concerns by making its own impact. A great reason behind my work is current anthropological needs and changes that are reflected by being inspired by my cultural heritage and its evolution or extinction in the following years or decades. Earlier influences were art and especially the impressionist and pre raphaelite movements, costumes and theatre, textile art and history of nations, photography of the early 20th century, contemporary dance and performance and anything to do with the movement and fragility of the female body... Also upcycling and recycling everyday life materials, Martin Margiela’s Artisanal line was one of the best and raw designs ever made, up until he left.
FU: Living and creating in Athens: where does the city stand in the fashion industry of today?
MS:I have a great connection with the international approach on things, so staying true to my aesthetics and keeping a multicultural and diverse point of view makes me feel like a citizen of the world, but with the Athenian industry I still feel very disconnected. There are numerous reasons for that, there are a lot of artists and designers that cannot blend in as the industry is very limited and the market is not ready for a change. Of Course there is some great talent out there and it would be really important for the rest of the market to embrace it rather than alienate it. If fashion was taken seriously as a trade, it could bring jobs and income to the Greek market and it has a rich textile history to support that so I am going to keep trying to make things better.
FU: Can you share a wish or a dream with us?
MS: I wish I get the funding and support I need to open my studio space and shake things up in the Athenian creative community and also start working for commissions on international film productions and explore my creativity further.
PH: Melissanthi Spei in her unique creations
Ph: courtesy of Melissanthi Spei