”Lentils are meant to be frightfully good for you,” observed Prince Charles watching wild thyme honey being poured into a tripod terracotta cooking pot of pulses in the grounds of Knossos Palace that was constructed c.1900 B.C. The Prince, surrounded by Greek fashion and jewellery designers, archeologists, entrepreneurs and historians was immersed - learning about the impact of ancient Minoan civilisation (the first European civilisation) on contemporary style. He gained a light tan too, ahead of the big wedding.
Chiton dress styles, decorative motifs, superfoods and fabric weaves that date back over 3,618 years are part of an ongoing aesthetic dialogue between the Minoan ancients and contemporary designers including Sophia Kokosalaki, Zeus and Dione, Ancient Greek Sandals and fine jewellers, Zolotas and Paulina Ellis.
The creatives were bought together by Katerina Frentzou of Branding Heritage, a not-for-profit organisation which she set up to platform the cultural depth and breadth of contemporary Greek design through talks and exhibitions. “The Grecian chic movement is not only a fashion trend, but also strongly connected with Greek history and culture. During a challenging time for Greece, designers are re introducing the Ancient Greece civilisation to an international audience and transforming history into creativity,” says Frentzou. Her long-term vision is to establish a Museum of Ancient Greek Garments.
The inaugural event Contemporary Minoans explores how the tastes of this civilisation – think of labyrinth patterns, the lotus flower and a bee symbol (found on Aptiva skincare) clean geometric lines, the colours of red, ochre, turquoise, black, ivory and gold – still resonate today.
“Crete is a culture that just keeps on giving. Every time I approach the island by boat or plane, I feel emotional,” says Kokosalaki who has family roots on the island. The artifacts at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum (founded at the turn of the 20th Century) have held a grip on her imagination since a young girl. “The Snake Goddess is my favourite ever statue and I must have first laid eyes on her age six or seven. She has exposed breasts, a tiny waist and represents power, beauty and also an element of darkness that framed my aesthetic early on,” says Kokosalaki, who was awarded an Honorary Distinction by the region of Crete. A Minoan helmut with a tall curlicue is the latest trigger and is echoed in the handcrafted links of Kokosalaki’s new silver chain bracelet, while ancient silver votive knives inform a graphic necklace that’s now in the museum’s collection.
There is a strong link between fashion and the Minoans (the civilisation flourished between 3000 and 1200 B.C.) – physical prowess and glamour are entrenched. Back in the 1920s, Mario Fortuny even created a special label marked Knossos for a collection of his densely pleated draped dresses. The surrealists were seduced and published Minotaure magazine in the 1930s. In the 1970s, Cretan designer Yannis Tseklenis became the toast of cocktail society in New York and Paris with his psychedelic image dresses that reprised the fine frescoes and patterned artifacts found in the region. More recently, Chloe and Mary Katrantzou's spring/summer 2017 collections incorporated motifs from the famous Knossos palace fresco "Ladies in Blue" featuring opulent beauties with bejewelled corkscrew curls.
“I think the biggest impact is the craftsmanship, the minimalist forms and the sense of geometry – it lends a timelessness,” says Kolotoura, co-founder of lifestyle brand Zeus & Dione, who designed a special Knossos wrap skirt for the exhibition. Before founding her label she and business partner, Mareva Grabowski, travelled Greece for a year locating craftsmen and silk weavers – guardians of ancient techniques. Now the company employs 100 artisans.
Ancient Cretan artefacts and statues offer up a stella lesson in footwear. Ancient Greek Sandals founder Christina Martini has endlessly picked up on Minoan braiding, strap patterns and motifs in past collections. The newest is a Minatour style in vachetta leather featuring an upper modelled on the mythic bull. Polina Sapouna- Ellis, a trained archaeologist turned fine jewellery designer zones in on the architectural simplicity in her striking pieces.
“SYMMETRIA, the ancient Greek concept of counterbalance is fundamental. I believe in the power of geometry,” says Ellis, who has designed a sculpted silver Minotavros cuff.
As millions flock to the Greek islands this summer returning with mountains of glass Mykonian "eye" charms and pastiche dresses with Greek key patterns, it’s time to adorn yourself in the fineries of Minoan style. You’ll feel all the more enriched for it.
Contemporary Minoans at Heraklion Archaeological Museum is open until June 22nd.