Innovators: The Trendsetters of Athens

The Greek capital is a hub of creativity. Here are some of the brightest stars in their fields, individuals who bring something new to the city experience.


Ifigenia Filopoulou Chara Lianou, Florists

When Ifigenia Filopoulou, biologist and photographer, and Vassilis Tzeremes opened Kopria together (30 Eressou, Tel. (+30) 211.113.2535), they couldn’t have imagined that their establishment, the first meta plant shop in Athens would have such an impact on the urban environment. The team turned a rather gray corner of Exarchia bright green, creating a lush, living space. Many downtown residents, younger people in particular, have taken up caring for plants as they would for a pet and have become what – on social networks – is called #plantparents.

Since 2018, when Kopria first started operating, more than twenty other plant shops have opened all over the city. “These plants that we reintroduced to the Athenians used to be in our homes many decades ago. They were in our living rooms, sitting rooms and verandas, without us paying much attention to them. Now we’re noticing them again,” says Filopoulou. Together with Chara Lianou, the newest member of the Kopria team, they supply monsteras, alocasias, ficuses, ferns, succulents, cacti, air plants, and floral bouquets not only to homes, but to offices and restaurants as well, spreading a plant-friendly culture with psychological benefits to well-being and fueling social relations. “Through Kopria, I’ve met many people that I like to associate with. After all, the driving force of Athens is its creative community,” says Ifigenia. -Nena Dimitriou 

Panagiotis PANtazis, illustrator and musician

Panagiotis Pantazis is a comic artist, illustrator and musician. He’s been publishing comics for 19 years; his first music album was released in 2010. He put music aside for a while, but he’s now back, both with his solo project, Pan Pan, and with the electro-pop band he formed with his friends, Echo Tides. His performance at this year’s “Polygono Live” event was highly praised. It was a family- friendly music and art event that turned into a massive block party, on a basketball court in the neighborhood of Polygono – everyone talked about it for weeks.

“I speak as simply as possible about things that really matter to me. I draw my inspiration from things that have been around since the beginning of time. None of this is new,” says Pantazis. “I like observing, as if scanning and using my stimuli as ‘samples.’ Then all this, maybe even years later, translates into images and sounds.” Inevitably, Athens is at the core of his work. “I enjoyed all the years I lived in the center of the city, but I’ve been away from it for a year now and I feel like I’ve left behind an anxiety that I didn’t realize I had in the first place.” -Elina Dimitriadi 

Maria Alafouzou & Ianthi Michalaki, KORA bakery

KORA is a sourdough and viennoiserie bakery in Athens, founded by Maria Alafouzou and Ianthi Michalaki. Maria is a writer and editor who later ventured into the bakery industry; Ianthi is an acclaimed pastry chef and baker who’s worked in some of the world’s finest restaurants.

Beyond bringing sourdough and viennoiserie to a wider market, the most interesting thing they’ve done is shed some light on the process of baking. “We use long fermentation methods,” says Alafouzou, “which make our products more nutritious and digestible than conventionally produced breads. Baking is a challenge that you need to rise to every day – Ianthi does this beautifully with her team – it’s part science, part art, and the rest is physical labor and technique. Apart from that, we are a values-driven business that gives back to the community by supporting non-profits, running a low-carbon production facility, and practicing low-waste initiatives. Running a business in Greece comes with other difficulties – a small market, outdated accounting systems, a tiny pool of third parties to collaborate with – all of these and more make it harder to thrive.

 

“On the other hand, in Athens you can still enjoy small-town living – a way of life that’s obsolete in most cities. Things are more flexible and fluid, and there’s emphasis on personal relationships with the people who make your life go round. This makes your daily interactions a lot richer; you’re exposed to more layers of life. It’s an ancient city, it can be dysfunctional and messy and grimy, but it’s also honest, and the people are so, so kind.” -Nena Dimitriou

Dimitris Bairabas, founder of fashion brand

Dimitris Bairabas is the founder and art director of Greek clothing brand milkwhite. He initially set his sights on a career in photography, but he never completed his studies or worked professionally as a photographer and eventually turned to fashion. From the outset, Bairabas didn’t see milkwhite as mainstream commercial brand, but more as an avant-garde fashion concept with a very specific identity, which would evolve over time. Each of his art-inspired creations seems to have a story to tell and because of this, milkwhite has developed an identity so unique that it’s rare to wear one of its items and not be noticed. Even the showy, theatrical display windows of his boutique near Syntagma turn heads

“Athens doesn’t make its beauty apparent at first reading,” says Bairabas. “It’s only when you wander its streets and feel its spirit that you understand its uniqueness, because then you discover the diversity of its people and its architecture.” -Kelly Stavropoulou

Terpsichori Savvala, ceramist

Terpsichori Savvala is a modern ceramist who incorporates concepts from ancient Greek art into her work. Recently, she focused on the semi-cylindrical shape of the epinetron, a clay thigh protector used by women in ancient Greece when they combed wool. “I read everything there was about this particular object and came up with an idea of how I could use its shape,” she explains. “Was it part of a means of independence for the women who used it, or part of a way to keep them confined at home?” With that in mind, she created different epinetrons, some bearing protective symbols, others as vessels for votive offerings.

She was born and raised in the grimy downtown neighborhood of Exarchia, which is why, she says, she learned to find beauty in the places where most might not: “I grew up a few steps from Kallidromiou Street, famous for its farmers’ market; we went there every Saturday with my mom, and I remember looking forward to the bustle, and the colors. In the afternoons, after school, I used to play on the sidewalks of Methonis and Themistokleous streets. Many years have passed since then, and I’ve lived abroad for a decade in very different, very well organized cities, but I never thought of Athens as an ugly city. Now that I live here again, I find it amazing that I still come across places that I feel like I’m discovering for the first time, even if I pass by them every day. I can’t think of anything that can stimulate creativity more.” -Kelly Stavropoulou

Marina Farasopoulou, cook

Even though Marina Farasopoulou studied photography, at some point she realized that she could communicate better through cooking. She came to public notice three years ago when she started working behind the counter of Morning Bar (16 Odyssea Androutsou), creating unusual breakfasts with original food items such as English-style scones made with Greek kasseri cheese. In a three-square-meter kitchen, she prepared delicacies for which city residents lined up. Particularly famous was her own version of the burnt Basque cheesecake, which was copied by many other cafés, restaurants and pâtisseries.

“Morning is an important part of my day, so I basically shared the way I think about breakfast/brunch. I wanted to create a new experience of the meal,” she explains. Today, Farasopoulou creates side dishes that pair with the drinks served at PLAI (15 Zan Moreas, Koukaki), Morning Bar’s sister shop, just a few meters from her original spot, in the bustling inner city neighborhood of Koukaki. “I grew up in Athens, so I’ve witnessed the evolution of this city, the changes in its suburbs and its center over time. I’ve seen how it constantly adapts to change without losing its identity. Athens is a city that you can love and hate at the same time, but it’s also a city that gives you reasons and ways to be creative and makes you want to be a part of it as it goes through every new phase.” -Nena Dimitriou

Alexandros Douras, artist & ceramist

Visual artist and graduate of the Athens School of Fine Arts, Alexandros Douras never imagined when he was younger that he’d ever be teaching ceramics. For the last three years he’s been running KORKODILOS, a ceramics workshop in Metaxourgeio. In a city where pottery has become incredibly popular, and it seems nearly everyone’s bent over a pottery wheel, word quickly spread that his approach was different and fun, and could be applied to all skill levels. Not only have his courses sold out, but he’s managed to fill his students with confidence even as he assigns them difficult tasks, such as working with live nude models, making clay self-portraits, and creating objects inspired by sessions of introspection.

“I deal with everyday life and expression, and focus on working with my hands. My workshop is a place to meet and play,” says Douras; it is precisely this sense of creative play with the themes that the workshops explore that makes his approach unique. Douras has presented work in individual and group exhibitions, including the 7th Biennale of Athens, and is preparing a new project called LASPI, due to be launched this summer.

 

“Living in Athens is a constant process of discovery for me. It isn’t an easy city; it doesn’t reveal its secrets easily and it keeps its history well-hidden. Life in Athens feels like a neverending treasure hunt. Amidst the confusion, you’ll discover tenderness and beauty if you look closely. That’s how I think the city feeds me.” -Elina Dimitriadi

Dimitris Ladopoulos, brewer

It’s been four years since Dimitris Ladopoulos and Angelos Triantafyllopoulos founded Blame the Sun, the nomad microbrewery that helped change the way the city enjoyed beer by introducing one of Athens’ first taprooms. Following his studies in food technology at the International Brewing and Distilling Institute, and with a great love for craft beer, Ladopoulos quickly established himself as a successful brewer and businessman.

At Blame the Sun (60 Veikou, Tel. (+30) 210.921.3523), one of the first taprooms in Athens, craft beers are served among surfboards and tiki-style decor, and all to the sound of punk rock music and conversations about brewing, beer recipes, and unexpected food pairings. “We’re making experimental recipes like Beach Bum, and some that are more traditional. We offer beers from the entire craft spectrum, including limited edition ones, all at reasonable prices,” says Ladopoulos.

 

“Craft beer enthusiasts will always find something new to try here, from Greek and foreign breweries, since the tap-list changes every week. They can even try original cocktails with rare beers and spirits. ‘Blame the Sun’ as a name comes from the idea that we need to steal time from the routine of our lives and devote it to what really relaxes us and makes us smile. The city of Athens can get very hot and it’s nice to escape once in a while,” says Ladopoulos. “Our beers, our lifestyle and our tiki-inspired bar reflect this need to get away.” -Marina Petridou

Vassilis Charalampidis, entrepreneur

Founder and director of the BIOS cultural organization that comprises three unique venues, “Bios,” “Romantso” and “Latraac,” Vassilis Charalampidis has changed the face of entertainment in Athens over the course of the last two decades. During this time, as co-founder and president of “European Creative Hubs Network,” and through BIOS, Charalampidis has brought together an active, innovative and creative community in the city and established spaces and platforms to allow new and exciting things to emerge in the wider field of culture.

Hundreds of festivals, theater performances and musical events have been organized within the framework of BIOS programs, and many have left their mark on the cultural life of the city. “I was born and live in the center of Athens. I love the chaos and singularity of life here, and at every opportunity I let people know that I wouldn’t trade it for any other city in the world,” Charalampidis says. “Athens is a unique crossroads of cultures, a chaotic and anarchic space, and its long history has kept it from being homogenized by today’s globalized society. It is where creativity and the birth of new ideas find their home. This is what I like about Athens.” -Marina Petridou

Giannis Siganos, wine merchant

Giannis Siganos was born in Athens, grew up in Crete and then returned to Athens again and again, in a back-and-forth movement that’s been going on for years. He’s constantly traveling in search of vines, wines and producers that will shake up the world of winemaking. Siganos belongs to that select group of courageous people who, during the crisis, didn’t stop believing that young people could do interesting things in the city. In the heart of Kolonaki, he launched Mr. Vertigo (15 Filikis Eterias Square, Tel. (+30) 210.725.0862), a shop that sells wines from Greek and international producers who focus on non-intervention winemaking. Over the years, he has given shelf space to older, largely unsung producers who paved the way for organic and biodynamic wine production in Greece, laying the foundations for a younger generation to follow in their footsteps. To Siganos we owe the introduction of premium terroir wines, selections which are appearing more and more often on bar and restaurant wine lists.

Since 2019, he has been organizing BACCHAE, “a festival dedicated to the things that make us happy to live in Greece today.” As for Athens? “The city,” Siganos says, “gives you the opportunity to do whatever you want … . I never get tired walking around my favorite neighborhoods, although sometimes the bustle and pressure of the center suffocates me. Athens for me is its architecture, its sky, and its young people in all their diversity; it’s the National Garden, the theaters, the concerts, the countless restaurants and street-food stalls, the bars that stay open until the morning and the energy of the neighborhood of Exarchia.” -Nena Dimitriou

Vasilis Kyritsis & Nikos Bakoulis, bartenders

They began their careers as bartenders around 2000 and, after having worked in a number of city bars, joined a group of active young businessmen as co-owners of Clumsies. With this Athens bar, which drew international attention, Vasilis Kyritsis and Nikos Bakoulis introduced themselves to a clientele looking for something more than a simple drink. They started experimenting, setting up a laboratory with state-of-the-art equipment, and they applied culinary techniques to their drinks as well. Always open to questions on their innovations, they have proven, time and again, the value of sharing ideas with their peers. Their willingness to do so, their close ties to the global community of bartenders, and the popularity of Clumsies (it has reached No. 3 in the list of 50 world’s best bars) have made them role models within Greece and beyond its borders.

Today, these two innovative bartenders are busy with a new project, Line, for which they have created a series of wines out of fruit other than grapes. ‘Why-ins,’ as they call them, are produced, using mostly standard winemaking methods, from pomegranates, figs, cotton blossom honey and various other raw materials, and Athenians are already falling in love with them. “We’re inspired by the way the people of this city eat and drink, and we adapt our ideas to their habits,” says Bakoulis. “It’s a good place to live if you like what you do for a living; it’s a multicultural city which is now an international destination, and it allows you to share your work with a wonderful public,” says Kyritsis. -Nena Dimitriou



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