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Sweeping into the world of Fashion December 17, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Fashion & Style.

Sophia Kokosalaki > Born in Greece and trained in London, the designer is set to restore the classic elegance of the Vionnet label.

The name Madeleine Vionnet may not mean much to ordinary high-street shoppers. But to serious fashion followers and upscale designers, Vionnet’s classic lines are the essence and foundation of haute couture. “Everybody, whether he likes it or not, is under the influence of Vionnet,” Karl Lagerfeld has said of the French designer.

Vionnet, who created the bias cut and dressed the likes of Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, retired from fashion after her 1939 collection, and the label’s prominence has faded since then. Now it’s set to undergo a major revival under the creative direction of 34-year-old Sophia Kokosalaki, whose 2007 spring line will soon hit stores. For now, it is exclusive to Barneys and the Vionnet studio in Paris.

“The house of Vionnet is like Sleeping Beauty,” says the Greek-born, London-based designer. “It is a house that is completely dormant but it has huge potential because the legacy is enormous.”

Kokosalaki, who grew up in Athens, was always fascinated by the esthetics of design but settled on doing a B.A. in Greek and English literature in her hometown. She briefly considered a career in journalism before going on to study women’s wear design at London’s prestigious Central St. Martins College of Art and Design. After graduating, she stayed in London and immediately began designing her own line. She also spent two years designing for the Milan-based fashion house Ruffo. In February 1999, Kokosalaki had her catwalk debut with her eponymous line in London, featuring what has become her trademark: fluid, draping styles in lush fabrics and lots of primary and pastel colors.

In 2004, she designed the costumes for the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, which included performers dressed as Greek gods and goddesses and others in traditional village outfits. She also created the long, flowing gown that the Icelandic singer Bjork wore during her performance at the Athens Olympics Opening Ceremony.

The de Lummens, a French family who had bought the rights for the Vionnet name back in 1988, named Kokosalaki creative designer last July. They had spent almost two decades exploring how to re-establish the line, recognizing that whoever took over needed to have an appreciation for Vionnet’s timeless esthetics, apparent in everything from the halter and cowl-neck dresses to the lingerie-style evening gowns. Kokosalaki, whose line is more urban but incorporates sophisticated sweeping movements, seemed to fit the bill.

“The de Lummens really want to keep the spirit of this brand intact,” Kokosalaki says in heavily accented English. “They are very protective [of the reputation] and though they could have launched the brand ages ago by licensing the name and making money, that is not their aim.”

Though Kokosalaki admits she has a big task ahead of her, she says she is more excited than stressed to see how the fashion world reacts to her Vionnet designs. “The first thing I thought when they brought me in was, Am I technically adept? and I thought, OK, yes I am, so I can relax. I am not a household name but that is not the point.” It may not be long before she is.

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