The exhibition “Vanity: Stories of Jewelry in the Cyclades,” organized by the Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades and running since last year at Mykonos Archaeological Museum, tells the 7,000-year history of this region’s relationship with jewelry, but with a special focus on the island of Mykonos.
The exhibition begins with the Neolithic period, when the inhabitants of Ftelia adorned themselves with necklaces, beads and bracelets made from natural materials like stones, pebbles and seashells.
Later, you learn that Delos, after being ceded to Athens by the Roman Senate, was the region’s first free-trade port, and that the richest merchants and bankers based themselves here. This explains why Delos and the nearby islet of Rineia revealed precious and imaginatively constructed jewels of antiquity. Traveling through the centuries, we reach the Byzantine era, when jewelry was made of bone and ivory, or gold and precious stones, and vanity reached a new level, providing ample evidence of the eternal human desire to self-adorn, attract, charm and impress.
“The choice of theme and the perspective we adopted on jewelry was dictated by our intention to connect the exhibition to the contemporary world,” says Dimitris Athanasoulis, director of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades. “We wanted to introduce a leitmotif that runs through the different historical eras and yet is still present. We wanted to shed light on the ageless objects of beauty, in such a way as to make them accessible and familiar to the visitor.”
The final section of “Vanity” features contemporary creations specially commissioned for the exhibition to top Greek designers: Deux Hommes, Elena Syraka, Ileana Makri, Ioanna Souflia, Lito, Minas, Nikos Koulis, Sofia Vamiali, Sophia Kokosalaki, Two Is Company, Venyx by Eugenie Niarchos and Yannis Sergakis.
A special place is accorded to the Mykonian jeweler Sofia Thanopoulou-Maroulina (1908-1997), a prominent figure in the history of jewelry design. Entirely self-taught, she managed to expertly combine inexpensive components such as shells and beads with more valuable material such as gold and pearls. Experts see in her work an aesthetic that draws on both ancient tragedy and the modernist movement, inspired by the art of Nikos Engonopoulos, Alekos Fasianos, Yannis Tsarouchis and Salvador Dali. Her shop Maroulina’s in Chora counted Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn and Melina Mercouri among its clients; they showcased her creations around the world. For 25 years, she was an island figurehead and a symbol of postwar optimism.
Today, the tradition of jewelry making serves a larger marketplace, but tourists in the streets of Chora continue to seek out, just as earlier travelers did, the glitter of gold interpreted through the special gaze of Greek creators and expressed in their jewelry. The truth is that, here on Mykonos, shoppers in search of shining beauty are spoiled for choice.
Ilias Lalaounis – Greek elegance
Established in 1969 by Greek jewelry pioneer Ilias Lalaounis (1920-2013), this house is famous for its mythology-inspired designs and applies jewelry-making techniques devised in ancient Greece. The result is a collection of hammered gold necklaces, bracelets and earrings, some decorated with precious stones, that creates a new “Hellenistic” style.
The Lalaounis Boutique was the first luxury jewelry store to open in Matogiannia back in 1968, and it remains ageless. Jackie Onassis was a regular customer, as were many royals. “I believe that we have also contributed to the popularization of ‘Greekness,’” says Aikaterini Lalaouni, the eldest of the founder’s four daughters. “Mykonos is a place that has given us a lot, most of all inspiration, through the traditions of Cycladic art and the simplicity of its architecture.”
14, N. Polykandrioti, Chora
Tel. (+30) 2289.022.444
Minas – Liquid Shapes
Many think that this renowned designer is himself a Mykonian as, over the last three decades, he has forged clear connections to the island, not only by designing the famous Astra bar and several private residences, but also through his obvious love for the place. He came here in 1969, chasing romance. “I forgot the woman in question, but Mykonos stayed with me. It became my home,” says Minas. If a visitor asks the locals where to buy Greek jewelry, they will inevitably be sent to his store, a simple building with red windows that stands opposite the Church of Aghia Kyriaki.
The 79-year old designer has done away with stones, as he believes that they weigh too heavily on his designs, and has chosen flowing shapes without sharp angles, which resemble poured liquid. Here, shoppers will find thick silver bracelets, pendants hanging from black leather cords, a nautical collection featuring anchors, and men’s jewelry inspired by functional objects such as screwdrivers, magnets and corkscrews. “Mykonos inspires me and I inspire her. I love her because she is beautiful and free. Look at her,” he says, his voice full of affection.
This year, on the invitation of the municipality of Mykonos, he designed and dedicated a bench and a streetlight which were installed in Gialos and which bear his signature. “This place can’t have ugly benches, garbage cans or public toilets. They are not in its nature,” he argues.
Aghia Kiriaki sq. Chora
Tel. (+30) 2289.027.320
Nikos Koulis – The crown prince
Nikos Koulis’ jewelry draws inspiration from the Art Deco movement. His creations combine strong geometric motifs with the use of precious stones. Emeralds, rubies and different colored diamonds are combined and frequently framed in a black enamel setting – a linear minimalist element which the designer uses to break up the richness of his creations. Within a decade, he has managed to win a large clientele and has become known internationally.
He opened his first boutique on Kalogera Street, in a former cellar with typical local elements: arched windows, an old wooden door, large flagstones from the nearby island of Rineia and a marble display table that brings to mind an ancient altar on Delos. “We wanted to create an ascetic aesthetic with strong references to Cycladic tradition,” he says. “The setting of the store redefines the customer’s relationship to jewelry, combining respect and accessibility.”
35, N. Kalogera, Chora
Tel. (+30) 2289.028.688
Fotis Poniros – Gems for island hoppers
Fotis Poniros presents a more classic approach to jewelry, and welcomes to his store Greek and foreign visitors in search of necklaces, charm bracelets and rings with precious stones. A highlight of his collection is the Aegean Star line, featuring the famous windmills of Little Venice, rendered in 18k gold with white or colored diamonds. “Everyone wants a windmill to symbolize their very own Mykonos,” he says with a smile.
Aghia Anna, Chora
Tel. (+30) 2289.078.545
Kessaris – Jewels and spirits
It’s hard to speak about jewelry in Mykonos without mentioning the Kessaris name. The jewelry shop which represents imported name-brands and attracts its own glamorous crowd has been based for 20 years in the famous 1970s bar Vegera. It has succeeded in becoming a hangout that’s packed both day and night. The few tables by the entrance, located at a key spot on the Chora promenade, are perhaps the most sought-after on the island.
While sipping your drink, you can watch famous clients picking out a designer watch or a stunning jewel. “I opened a store in Mykonos because I wanted to give my customers the opportunity to continue enjoying our service on their vacation,” recounts owner Kostas Kessaris. “As this used to be a bar, I was at first accused of depriving the regulars of their hangout. So I decided to offer two in one: drinks and jewels!”
This spontaneous and paradoxical combination is totally in keeping with a place where both tradition and innovation are held in high regard. This flexible philosophy, in turn, opens new paths for enjoyment, excess and, at the end of the day, glittering memories.
58, Mat. Andronikou, Chora
Τel. (+30) 2289.022.880