International fashion editors of the time, such as Bernadine Morris (New York Times), Sally Kirkland (Life Magazine), Eugenia Sheppard (International Herald Tribune, Los Angeles Times) entitled him ‘The Greek Designer’ praising his work; research projects on his thematic collections, accredited Yannis Tseklenis as the artist and businessman who pioneered Greek fashion to the contemporary international fashion world introducing a global market for Greek identity.
Yannis Tseklenis introduced theme fashion drawing inspiration from local, Greek or world cultural styles, which he developed for fashion in his textile patterns.
Tseklenis theme collections were on sale in leading stores in more than 30 countries (Harrods, Selfridges, Debenhams, Saks 5th Avenue, etc)
Over the course of his fashion design career (1965-1991), Yannis Tseklenis drew themes for his Avant garde collections instinctively, or by tracking on current events; thus, forecasting future trends that remain up-to-date even in our times. Greek history and folk art (i.e. Aegean art, ancient Greek vases, Byzantine art, etc.) and international art history (i.e. Russian art, African art, the Persian tapestries, etc.), as well as painters’ works, such as the Impressionists, El Greco and Greek contemporary painter Yannis Gaitis are themes from his 30 collections. Nowadays, they are exposed in Peloponnesian Folklore Museum in Nafplio.
Tseklenis Vase Look Collection 1969/70
Our team is proud to host an exclusive interview of Yannis Tseklenis; focusing on his vision to pioneer and create a brand that would inspire and transmit Greek identity throughout the world, whilst remaining timeless in our days.
Beginning of your career – influences. What was your vision at that time?
I grew up among textiles; Textures, printing, fabric manipulation techniques were some of my earliest experience, since the age of 14, when I was employed in the family couture-textile retail business. At that time, our business as a textile retailer, was collaborating with high fashion textile companies of Paris and distributed fabrics to fashion ateliers in Greece; my inclination to choose instinctively fabrics for the upcoming collections, a year after proved to be ‘prophetic’ as the very same designs were purchased and used on collections by the French haute couture. This relationship with textiles, in combination with my background in painting and advertising, were the motivation to evolve further, when in 1965, aged 28, I took over the family business.
Tseklenis Waves & Abstracts Collection 1965
My vision was to create textile designs that were one of a kind; collections with a theme that would stand out in the world fashion scene. I admired the bold prints of Emilio Pucci and the identity that he gave to Italian fashion. Later that year, in December 1965, together with fashion designer Dimis Kritsas, we presented the Waves collection in New York.
‘The clothes are cut simply; the excitement is in the fabric’ writes Newsday fashion editor Betty Ommerman.
The show was a great success; followed by rave reviews by leading fashion editors of the time. In short time, the entire collection, including 5,000 meters of fabrics was purchased by Elizabeth Arden Couture of New York and we signed a contract with American Puritan Fashion Corporation to create together a $ 1 million printed campaign ‘The Greek Fashion Odyssey‘.
Bernadine Morris comments in The New York Times that ‘many of the clothes achieve their distinction from Mr. Tseklenis’ prints, which look like modern abstractions but are derived from such ancient sources as a Minoan octopus and a Corinthian vase’.
In 1967, you pioneered with the design of thematic collections, based on European production standards. Tell us about the transition to this era.
The transition to this era started with supplying excellent raw silk from Soufli in Evros and the establishment of the brand Tseklenis Silks. The brand expanded worldwide through licensing and already in the winter of 1967, nine manufacturers in Germany had been producing my collections. The recognition of Tseklenis brand in foreign market has led travelers to search for the brand when visiting Greece and purchase collections in my boutiques on Greek islands, sales points on cruise ships, etc. Tourism in Greece was at its peak and I liked playing with that stream. Greece was a trend; when a tourist was thinking of Greece and fashion, what comes up immediately in mind was vacation and resort wear.
Yannis Tseklenis Retrospective short film based on his last fashion thematic collection now belonging to the Museum of the Peloponnesian Folklore Culture Foundation in Nafplion.
In 1968-1969 I started designing thematic collections. My choice to work on a theme started from the idea to emphasize on its branding, with the first short fashion films, shows and a holistic experience around the original idea. Furthermore, the theme itself would define the success of each collection. If the theme is up-to-date, then it gains much more attention from possible byers. The essences emerging through Tseklenis theme collections were Colors, Shapes, Motifs, Music; they created a show that captured the buyers’ interest and promoted even more the collection’s identity.
Tseklenis Czars Collection 1972/73
During your career how important was to create thematic collections with a strong design concept? Is that the key to timeless design?
If the theme is up-to-date, then it gains much more attention. In 1972, Tseklenis Russian Collection, received great awareness worldwide through its up-to-date theme; Russia at that time was in the spotlight for its political scene. My inspiration was drawn by the Russian Revolution, the Czars and Fabergé Artwork. In 1976 Yves Saint Laurent designed for Dior his first collection, drawing themes from Russia. Trend forecasting, unique designs, high quality textiles and branding were the keys to successful theme collections. In my career the following years, I remained loyal to thematic fashion, that even today remains up-to-date in high fashion houses.
Tseklenis Mosaics Collection 1966/67
In thematic collections you drew inspiration from archetypal motifs. Greek history and culture have been in the center of your creativity. Why did you choose themes from Greece for your collections?
Greece with thousands years of history and culture, definitely has many themes to be inspired from. ‘I used Greek tradition a lot; actually, in the first article of The New York Times on my work during my collaboration with Kritsas, when I was asked ‘What do you do in your collections’, I answered, ‘I use three thousand years of history’; by this, I meant ‘of civilization’
Tseklenis Gaitis Collection 1983
Yet, when dealing with dynamic elements, such as colors and prints, themes should vary and stay up to date, or else they end up to be folklor. Ethnic fashion shouldn’t be folklor. During times, choosing Greek themes at the right moment when ethnic fashion prevailed the international trends, proved successful. Mosaics, Vase Look, Byzantium, Gaitis, El Greco were my thematic collections inspired by ancient Greek mosaics and vases, Byzantine manuscripts and the painters Yannis Gaitis and Dominikos Theotokopoulos, respectively.
Tseklenis El Greco Collection 1978
In the following years, until today, themes from Greece, were drawn by high end fashion brands in different seasons; mentioning Romeo Gigli in the late 80’s – inspired by Byzantium for Teodora collection and recently, Karl Lagerfeld for Modernity of Antique collection that drew inspiration from themes of Ancient Greece.
Tseklenis Byzantium Collection 1970/71
The 70s was a statement period for design & Greek fashion. Pop culture, intense colors and prints. How did you synchronize the trends of the 70s to your creations?
In 1970, I tried to motivate other Greek designers to participate in the first group fashion shows in Athens; in collaboration with Onassis, Greek Tourism Organization and Hellenic Fashion Institute, we organized a – three days – show in order to promote Greek fashion design worldwide; International press covered the event with enthusiasm.
Presenting different aspects of work, under the same concept: Greek culture and history, would definitely boost the identity of Greek Designers worldwide. Yet, at that time establishing an international fashion brand proved not to be that easy and the idea of ‘Greek Designers’ discontinued. Through years, the lack of design prototypes and motivation to expand, led to a passive clothing industry; production of ready-made patterns, low know-how and limited creativity.
Tseklenis for Olympic Airways 1972/76
At that time, the period 1972 – 1976, you designed the emblematic uniforms for Olympic Airlines. The company’s logo was your inspiration. What are the symbolisms in your designs?
Under Onassis’ leadership Olympic Airlines gained a reputation for lavish style. The cabin crews were attired in Pierre Cardin – designed uniforms; for me, the best uniforms ever designed. Onassis supported Greek production – especially when characterized by exquisite quality and international branding. He preferred Greek products to be available for sale on board.
Tseklenis for Olympic Airways 1972/76
Onassis appreciated my work, so I was commissioned to design the cabin crew uniforms for Olympic Airlines. The challenge was great; to overcome it I was inspired by the company’s bold six ring logo – a resemblance to the Olympic circles. The first five rings stand for the five continents, while the sixth stands for Greece. Colors used were yellow, red, black, blue and white. The designs combine all six colors – and their symbolisms.
Interior design and architecture are extensions of your personal intellectuality and creativity. Tell us about your decision to create and interact with spaces. How can fashion norms be interpreted into spatial design?
My international presence in fashion was based on Greek production; when textile industry started to collapse, I decided to leave fashion in 1990 and move on to interior design.
Vedema Hotel Santorini, Greece
In 1992 Yannis Tseklenis art-directs the establishment and the construction of Vedema, The first boutique hotel in Greece.
This transition was like a normal evolution to me; in my fashion career, I have always been interacting with spaces, from conceptual design for my boutiques and exhibition installations to custom textile design for transportation and hotel interiors.
Zannos Melathron Hotel Santorini, Greece
A 19th century mansion built by Michael Zannos, a famous merchant of its times, and an adjoined renaissance architecture villa built in 1750, have been renovated and converted into a luxurious small Hotel, under the artistic supervision of Yannis Tseklenis.
At that point, I would like to emphasize on Massimo Vignelli ’s phrase about creativity and multi-faceted dimension of design: ‘If you can design one thing, you can design everything.‘
Kelia vacation housing settlement Tinos, Greece
In 2004 Yannis Tseklenis designs and supervises a stone house settlement on the island Tinos consisting of 18 villas.
In your career, what were your initial thoughts about the design concept of the textiles and your strategy to produce locally but to think in a global trade scale in the pre-internet era? How can Greek design and idea influence the modern world of the internet era?
For me, supporting local material sourcing and production had always been of highest priority. Greek cotton and silk were the finest raw materials to use for my textiles and collections. Greece possessed 60% of cotton production in Europe, they used to call us ‘Cotton partners’. When textile industry declined, this had a chained impact to all; then and now. Along with tourism, cotton and silk production could have been the pillars for Greece’s economy. During the period 1930 – 1950, Greece produced 3.500 tons of raw silk, while in 1990 only 3 tons were produced. State indifference to invest on silk production, led to 1000% reduction, during 50 years.
Tseklenis Drawings Part of Omar Khayam II Collection 1976
Nowadays, things are different, globalization introduced new markets and industries; so for a new brand that chooses to use local raw materials, produce locally and be expanded globally, the costs are high enough. In that case, an interesting design concept, highest quality, excellent branding and international promotion via new technologies may compensate the risks.
Tseklenis Drawings Part of Omar Khayam II Collection 1976
Greece has many talented designers; also has 3.500 years of history and culture to source inspiration for design concepts. What this country doesn’t have is a strategy for the brand ‘Made in Greece’. In a country of 30 million tourists per year, Greek design is highly connected to tourism; travelers are searching for products to carry back home, that have an identity, an experience and emotions from their visit in Greece.
Let me explain the added value, when keeping production locally and promoting the brand ‘Made in Greece’ with this example:
1kg raw silk is sold for $11, 5 – 12. After processing into silk thread, almost 4, 50 meters are produced and used for the sewing of a fine quality 100% silk dress, that depending on brand name, it is sold on the internet for $150 – 300. 13 – 25% of profit remains in Greece.
Tseklenis Impressionists Collection 1971
‘Tseklenis aspires to a niche in the wardrobes of women who are international about fashion. His newest collection is adapted freely from the canvases of such Impressionist masters as Van Gogh, Seurat and Gauguin.’ writes Bernadine Morris for The New York Times.
Tseklenis Foulards. The iconic foulards are revisited and digitally printed on highest quality silk of Soufli. Tell us about this venture. All the symbolisms it holds for you, from the transition to the digital era to the sourcing of local materials of finest quality.
During time, it is a personal pleasure to see that themes from my collections are reviving back again on international fashion scene; Ancient Greek Vases, Insects, Russian, Impressionists, Abstracts & Waves, El Greco, Gaitis, Byzantium and more.
Tseklenis Insects Collection 1976
Thus, I wanted to revive the original prints of Tseklenis silk scarves, through digital printing, in collaboration with my longtime associate and silk manufacturer Tsiakiris in Soufli – Greece’s Silk Centre. You know it is a great experience to step into the digital era. Everything happens fast. You have to catch up with a lot of information, data, possibilities, and choices. From design concept to production and finally promotion.
Tseklenis Foulards Remake
These days a designer has instant access to inspiration sources on the internet and can keep a track on color and print trends. In 1972, there was no trend – forecasting, like Premiere Vision. As an example, for the Czars collection, the idea just popped into my head instinctively; I wanted to create an up-to-date theme for my collection, so I imprinted the Russian stream of this period. This collection in ‘70s would acquire 6 months to be produced, now 3 – 5 days are enough.
Tseklenis Foulards Remake
So, the difference in times and through times is huge; fast ideas, fast production, fast promotion. Going worldwide might be easy via the internet, but to be distinguished among this plethora and establish an identity, is a challenge.
‘What do you distinguish for? And then I go back to 60’s, and to my vision as a young designer – ‘to create textile designs that were one of a kind; collections with a theme that would stand out in the world fashion scene’…’Trend forecasting, unique designs, high quality textiles and branding were the keys to successful theme collections. In my career the following years, I remained loyal to thematic fashion, that even today remains up-to-date in high fashion houses.’