“Everything happens for a reason,” said Mary Katrantzou, quoting the Greek philosopher Socrates as she stood in front of the Temple of Poseidon, high above the Aegean Sea.

Beside her were the models who had presented a spectacular show – each outfit related to Ancient Greek culture and Mary’s origins.

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Here on the breast was an olive branch – in fact made out of feathers by the designer in her London studio; there was a reference to the golden age of Greece, including a column of a dress with spiralling triangles, named ‘Theodora’, or bead embroidery mixing multiple techniques of an Athenian past.


Mary Katrantzou Spring/Summer 2020, featuring bead embroidery
©German Larkin

“We were given permission to do something at the Temple of Poseidon and no one has ever been granted access before,” said Mary, who has been based in London for the last decade but wanted this show to be a “personal love letter to Greece – the country that formed the person that I am today.”


Mary Katrantzou was given unprecedented permission to stage her show at the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion
©German Larkin

The evening was exceptional for the grace and intricacy of the dresses, the mesmerising music – composed especially for Mary by Vangelis – and for a totally different reason: The show was a homage to and major fund-raiser for the ELPIDA hospital for children with cancer and its charity founder and supporter, Marianna Vardinoyannis. The event marked the 30th anniversary of the hospital – a gift from Vardinoyannis to the state.

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As the last models walked past in colourful puff dresses, a new moon rising overhead, they were joined by small children who had survived cancer and walked the runway joyfully. It was a heart-stopping moment, and the many guests – from socialites to Queen Anne-Marie of Greece – were discussing it long after the show was over and the audience had dined in a green garden by the Aegean.

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Queen Anne-Marie of Greece (left) and founder of the ELPIDA children's cancer hospital Marianna Vardinoyannis
©German Larkin

How Mary had pulled off this event in just eight weeks was awesome, in the true meaning of that over-used word. One of the generous supporters was the Roman jewellery house of Bulgari – originally founded in Epirus, Greece in 1884 by the silversmith Sotirios Boulgaris. The jewellery lent a lustre to the clothes, and the depth of handwork that was exceptional.


Bulgari, whose founder was Greek, lent jewellery for Mary Katrantzou's Spring/Summer 2020 collection
©German Larkin

“Sotirios grew up in Greece, and I was excited to do something together with Bulgari. It was a huge honour to be able to use these elevated pieces,” said Mary, whose models – already glinting with Swarovski sparkles and multi-faceted dresses – used the fine jewellery as the ultimate decoration.

With my own rusty knowledge of a Greek culture, I found the Katrantzou inventions, with such depth of historical knowledge, quite exceptional for a fashion show.


Mary Katrantzou Spring/Summer 2020
©German Larkin

“I think it was singular because every look represented an idea of that past time and my interpretation,” Mary said. “We were taking different ideas – like the stars, lunar chaos and harmony – and also looking at ideas that came from maths, science or trigonometry. Each piece had to be individual. But it was all connected through colour. I wanted it to come from the duality of darkness and light, and black and white, and then run through the whole spectrum of colour.“


Mary Katrantzou Spring/Summer 2020
©German Larkin

The gowns themselves reflected this complexity of thought through their light layers and dense decoration. They would be appropriate if you were off to a grand ball or at least an evening event that required a waterfall of fringes in ombré shades from dark to light. Even the names of the outfits, in Greek and then translated into English, described the “sea-foam” green of duchess satin or the “mustard and olive” of a satin coat worn over shorts.


Mary Katrantzou Spring/Summer 2020, with jewellery by Bulgari
©German Larkin

Many aspects of design seemed to have referenced the sea, with hair stylist Sam McKnight producing styles that looked as though the models were drenched and had walked straight from the waves.

Throughout, the mesmerising lyrical synthesis by Vangelis gave the show an added cultural depth.


Mary Katrantzou Spring/Summer 2020
©German Larkin

“The soundtrack was the most incredible part of building this collection,” Mary said. “I called him and said that we had permission to hold it on the Temple of Poseidon and that I wanted to do the music with him – not anyone else.”

The Katrantzou force of will and the generosity of so many other people produced a meld of beauty and history that was utterly compelling.


The finale of the Mary Katrantzou Spring/Summer 2020 show
©GoRunway.com

But was this more than an exceptional one-off event contributing to an important cause?

Mareva Grabowski thinks a cultural clothing revival has already started to preserve historical skills. The founder of an upmarket clothing line, and married to the Prime Minister of Greece, she is committed to making fashion a project, focusing on awareness of Grecian artisan skills. She would like to see the handwork of traditional clothing, unique to her country, preserved and used in a modern way.

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Her belief is that nature is a powerful part of this nurture, keeping alive traditions yet making them appropriate to the world of today. With that purpose, Grabowski has worked with business partner Mimika Kolotoura to create a brand that puts modern clothes with a Hellenic spirit on the fashion map.

With strong on-line sales at Matches and Net-a-Porter and in a sprinkling of stores, the duo are trying to bring their country’s skills back to life – not with the high art of fashion that Mary Katrantzou represents, but with more approachable looks.

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Appropriately, in a country that must feel that its distant past was its peak, the fresh fashion brand has a name that echoes back to 1700 BC. This fashion for the future is named Zeus+Dione.