December 2013. London College of Fashion graduate students present their postgraduate projects in front of an audience that consists of well-known stylists, fashion magazine publishers and popular designers.
Among the projects that stand out, is Cypriot designer Othonas Charalambous' menswear collection, a unique, radical collection that makes use of the traditional hand woven cloth "fythkiotika". Models strut down the catwalk wearing the Cypriot designer's eye-catching clothes that are characterised by comfort, elegance and unique motifs inspired by Cypriot folk tradition.
Many renowned fashion designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier, John Galliano, Victor and Rolf, have, at times, been inspired by traditional garments of various countries.
However, what makes Othonas' work different, is that his collection draws inspiration from his own culture, and uses those influences in a way that only a local could reimagine.
When we first met to talk about his work, he showed me a film that he made that features the creation of his project. He tells me that his main interests lie in cinema, architecture and art and these are also the places where he draws inspiration from.
The film features the Cyprus Handicraft Service weavers, using the loom to weave the fabrics that were used for his menswear collection, images of Cypriot architecture and the designer talking about the design process behind the collection.
He explained that the creation of the project required months of research into Cypriot folk art and tradition: "It all started when I came across an old family photo with my great grandfather pictured wearing a scarf, with traditional weaving patterns, as a belt. Then I visited the Museum of Folk Art in Nicosia where I watched a documentary with Paschalis Papapetrou about "fythkiotika" and I spoke with Julia Astreou, former director of the Cyprus Handicraft Service's Weaving Department.
"I also visited the Folk Handicraft Centre where I perused through authentic woven fabrics, and it was there that I fell in love with the charming "fythkiotika" and their unique motifs. I was also told that there are murals in churches dated back to the 600 BC that depict "fythkiotika" fabrics."
Othonas then asked the Cyprus Handicraft Service for a collaboration for the making of his collection. It was a challenge for him but also for the weavers, who had to reinvent the fabrics according to Othonas' edgy concept and challenge tradition in order to create contemporary fashion-forward pieces.
His admitted that his previous work experience at studios of well-known fashion designers such as Fani Xenofontos in Cyprus and Roland Mouret and J.W. Anderson in London, helped him with the implementation of this project.
For the collection, Othonas used materials such as silk and cotton.
Among the things that make his work original, is the fact that he also fashioned an unusual technique to minimise the number of seams per cloth. Therefore, through this process, "fythkiotika" motifs on clothes are not interrupted but continue with uniformity from one end of the garment to the other. Also, he made changes to the traditional woven cloth colour, as "fythkiotika" usually come in off-white, however, Othonas chose white as the base colour to contrast with the bright, bold motifs.
As the designer explained, the collection is also based on concepts by Greek philosophers Socrates and Aristotle.
"In his work Socrates refers to the meaning of doing things that have a value, being moral and avoiding conscious negative actions. Also, Aristotle says that art is not something that exists in nature but is something that humans have created to fill the void. Therefore, my project is governed by these qualities, and the quality of love. It is important to use fibres of silk and cotton sourced from nature without exploiting animals and without using materials that have negative consequences for the environment."
Othonas Charalambous' innovative and edgy collection can be found in boutiques in various countries across Europe and has been used in fashion photo shoots for international magazines that come out this month.
The designer is now planning his next steps, even though his résumé features numerous accomplishments to date, including the fact that he put Cyprus and the island's culture on the world fashion map, by creating the first pieces to have ever been designed using exclusively hand woven cloth "fythkiotika".