Eleni Kyriacou’s brand is all about fashion that is innovative, yet entirely wearable. As part of our season of interviews with new and developing fashion designers, we talked to Eleni about her inspirations and goals, and how exactly she goes about creating collections that look at home on the catwalk, yet translate so easily to women’s wardrobes.
Background and early days
Eleni has always considered herself to be of truly Greek Cypriot heritage, despite having lived in the UK for most of her life. Her Greek Cypriot parents have now moved back to Cyprus and so she spends part of the year in London and part of it in Cyprus, where she feels she has a “very strong bond and relationship there… being in Greece or Cyprus resonates with me on a very profound and spiritual level.” Indeed, one of her early collections, Women as Treasure, was inspired by Greek architecture and history.
Eleni was educated privately before attending University College London, where she studied architecture at The Bartlett followed by Textile Design at Central St Martins. She had known since her teenage years that she wanted to be a fashion designer – she had already dabbled in creating her first textile and making her own jewellery. Fashion and clothing had always been important to her – “I always had very strong opinions about what I wanted to wear from very early on” – and it was natural for her to develop that interest into a rewarding career.
The first piece that Eleni took pride in creating was a cream and gold dress which formed part of her Women as Treasure collection, which drew on all her knowledge and experience of architecture, combined with her natural skills with textiles and design. She explained to us: “My work has been described as architectural. I think I also aim to have a sensitivity and originality in the way that I use textures, in how I combine the materials and design the textiles… I want women to feel wonderful in my clothes. I aim to design clothes that are intelligent and completely wearable.”
Sources of inspiration
In terms of other designers, Eleni is clear that her favourite high end designers are Hussein Chalayan and Issey Miyake, whom she described to us as great innovators in the field. Indeed, she classes Chalayan as one of the most influential people on her career, as his transformational dresses made her realise the potential of fashion as a truly powerful creative medium.
But when drawing inspiration for her own items and collections, Eleni doesn’t just look at A-Label designers, she also peruses indie fashion magazines, vintage and antique fashion, and various fashion weeks around the world. She presented a collection at the Athens Xclusive Designers week but she also particularly enjoys watching the various designers who present at the Copenhagen Fashion Week. This is undoubtedly how she remains aware of the latest trends in fashion, but being aware of those trends does not make her a slave to them: “I don’t consciously follow them. I am not a trend-driven designer. I would rather create something that is centred around good design and therefore, hopefully, more timeless.” This sense of timeless, classic style is evident in her pieces, which can all be purchased through her website’s e-shop.
Her muse may be Greek Cypriot in heritage, but Eleni is inspired by many things, from music, literature and nature, to archaeology, history and the work of other artists and designers. Common among these inspirational sources is “a sense of process”. That process is evident in how she brings to life her ideas and design concepts.
Eleni’s creative design process
Collections aren’t created overnight, and we wanted to understand a little more about how Eleni goes about imagining her items and then transforming those abstract concepts into concrete designs. Like many artists, for Eleni the mood of the collection is vital and from that all of her ideas will flow naturally. “I create my world first, before I can begin. I use the mood boards to extract the elements that feed my imagination best. I prioritise what I find most interesting and relevant. This is imperative for me when starting a collection, as I need to enter the spirit of the concept and keep that with me throughout the design process.”
Once the ‘feel’ of the collection has come together, Eleni can start to create samples using her pattern cutter (in the case of her most recent collection, Eleni turned to an Athenian knitting manufacturer to develop the knit she had designed).
She buys her fabrics from the UK and Greece and from other parts of Europe, and she believes that good materials (as much as good design, good construction and wear ability) are crucial to creating a quality piece of clothing. She samples and produces in Athens, so that she’s on hand to supervise everything.
It can be a challenge to marry her concept of what the collection will look like with what the fabrics will physically do, and so the samples may need altering. Eleni estimates that it could take an entire season from starting to develop a concept of her design to actually creating the pieces that will form her collection. She works on all of the pieces intended for her collection together, rather than making one piece at a time, and, while the overall collection takes time, she could turn out a sketch of a single item in less than a minute – if sufficiently inspired.
Once her designs are all ready, Eleni will already have a firm idea of how she wants them to be presented in a shoot or catwalk, in order for the mood of the pieces to be accurately reflected. Everything from the music, projections, tempo, sequencing and the hair and makeup of the models is all intricately linked with the designs that Eleni has already created – so the shoot or catwalk show is all put together based on plans made long before.
Her models are well-known women (who are successful and established in their own fields), as well as professional models, since it is important to Eleni to demonstrate the versatility and practicality of her pieces by showing how they will look on ‘real’ women, rather than simply on catwalk models.
Looking to the future
Eleni hopes to work more in the field of costume design, having thoroughly enjoyed designing a costume for a staged production in London last year, and possibly to design stage outfits for a Greek singer who has asked Eleni to do so. In the longer term, she would love to work on the Green Line in Cyprus with Hussein Chalayan.
She believes that the qualities that a successful designer needs to be financially viable may not be compatible with the qualities that will allow them to have artistic freedom and happiness. So, for future fashion designers, Eleni has the following advice: “Do it because you love it, passion has to be your drive. You have to have great confidence, financial flexibility and courage to follow your own path and not always the status quo. Be completely authentic, you owe it to yourself to be you. Never try to be something that you are not.” This may, she says, conflict with the advice that young designers are given by professional advisors (this superficiality is perhaps the only area of the design world that she dislikes) but for her it has helped her to develop a career in her own way, on her own terms. This attitude is something that she considers to be a real strength.