Inspired by the regal beauty of model-turned-baroness Fiona von Thyssen, fashion designer Vassilis Zoulias sweeps us off our feet to another time and place with his latest catwalk creations at Athens Xclusive Designers Week
Photos by Carlo Raciti
And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow – GK Chesterton
Not even a cataclysmic downpour could dampen the enthusiasm of those who witnessed Greek designer Vassilis Zoulias’ bright and elegant show of his Spring-Summer 2017 collection, held in Athens’ stately Zappeion Hall in October as part of the Greek capital’s fashion week.
But with 53 spectacular designs which were inspired by Baroness Fiona von Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kászon, before she assumed the title, how does a girl choose?
The softly-spoken established Greek designer adores women and it’s plain to see. Zoulias has been carefully navigating the fickle business of fashion since his early twenties, starting out in lifestyle magazines, including a stint as editor of the Greek edition of Vogue.
He admires the strength, intelligence and inner and outer beauty of women and clearly communicates it through his designs.
Zoulias is that rare breed of gentleman who loves ladies in the old-school way, the way that Bogey loved Bacall.
In an era when a reality TV star who dresses in a way that leaves near nothing to the imagination is propped up as a global style icon for millions of girls and women – something that confounds the designer – Zoulias continues to be a breath of fresh air tinged with nostalgia.
His creative vision has always been laser-focused on and inspired by the elegance of decades gone by, from the 1930s through to the ‘70s, with an occasional sentimental throwback to the ‘80s and ‘90s, his days of wild partying and excess. These days he’s a devout teetotaller.
Crafting collections at his atelier in the uptown Athens neighbourhood of Kolonaki since 2002, Zoulias knows full well that nothing compares to how a carefully-cut, form-flattering dress can make a woman feel.
Long before retro and vintage became cool, he was fitting gowns sur mesure for Athens’ well-to-do ladies.
Flowing circle skirts, knock-out gowns, cinched-in waists, curve-skimming below-the-knee cocktail dresses, the occasional floor-sweeping tail and drainpipe pants cut in print and block colour fine satins, silks and lace.
He doesn’t seem to take any notice of those who knock the nostalgia aficionados.
When Zoulias trotted out his SS17 demi-couture collection during biannual Athens Xclusive Designers Week, there were plenty of wide-eyed twentysomethings who nabbed the golden ticket for his full-house show vying for a clear view of his freshest creations.
Expressing his respect for and admiration of a woman who is the personification of quintessential elegance and style, he found inspiration for his latest works of art in Baroness von Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kászon, when she was Fiona Frances Elaine Campbell-Walter, in her modelling days.
Cecil Beaton’s favourite muse, looking as sophisticated as ever, attended the presentation.
Just hours before, tropical-like rain meant a last-minute rearrangement (at which Greeks tend to excel) of the catwalk show in the open-air courtyard of the Zappeion, one of Athens’ most precious neoclassical architectural gems.
A grand piano, where model and pianist Isabelle Darras was scheduled to tinkle the ivories, was swiftly moved indoors.
Guests were seated right on the sweeping rotunda-turned-runway for Zoulias’ show, which is always a highly-anticipated highlight of Athens fashion week.
Two young ladies in their late 20s dressed in head-to-toe Zoulias, with immaculate hair and makeup, bristled with excitement.
They were joined by women of all ages who eagerly waited for the midday show to begin.
Ravel’s stirring Boléro began flowing out of the loudspeakers, setting the mood and transporting us to another time and place.
Zoulias’ models filed out in opposite directions, presenting graceful gowns and chic cocktail dresses, with a number of 60s-styled skinny suits making an appearance.
Jewellery designer Pericles Kondylatos, a close collaborator of Zoulias, added his eccentric touch with oversized pearls, crystals, ostrich feathers, glass trumpet flowers, giant colourful butterfly ear clasps and the odd crystal-eyed skull that somehow worked brilliantly with each and every design.
Delicate tiaras crowned the heads of models wearing gowns inspired by the period after which his muse became a baroness, while the fashion designer’s signature pointed pumps encrusted with jewels completed each look.
Zoulias once again swept the audience off their feet and took them on a journey from the 1940s through to the ‘60s, when elegance was the norm, not the exception.
When sensuality was a cheeky smile paired with an exposed calf below a flouncy skirt.
Somewhere along the way, possibly between Madonna and Kim K, it seems as if the phrase “less is more” may have been misconstrued. Minimalist styling was replaced by diminishing fabric.
Zoulias, meanwhile, delivered a collection that was a true show; one that brings a sparkle to a girl’s eye and celebrates womanhood. He knows how to charm a girl.
He loves playing with swathes of brilliant colour and this collection is no exception: emerald, fuchsia, deep red and peacock blue all figure prominently.
Delicate floral prints, checks and hounds tooth, black and cream horizontal stripes, rich brocades, glistening satin, fine silk and romantic lace abounds. There are backless, strapless, shoulder-baring and décolleté-shaping dresses, each design featuring meticulously thought-out detail.
There were pretty pastels, too, including a dreamy dusky pink lace strapless number, arguing the case for a shade that has been much maligned of late.
One particular black silk beauty of a dress was among the designs that prompted a collective gasp of delight.
The show concluded with the models donning masks portraying the baroness in her pre-baroness days and a celebratory shower of gold confetti.
What is always exciting about a new Zoulias collection is his innate ability to sweep us off our feet and back to another, more romantic era.
He has an accurate eye for what flatters a woman’s silhouette, whatever her shape.
And it never ceases to amaze when a man envisions a design that simultaneously shows off a woman’s shape, boosts her confidence and empowers her soul.