When I was browsing online for inspiring people in Greece who cook, I came across Lexi, who is the co-founder of Athens Amateur Gourmet Society. But soon I discovered there is a whole lot more to Lexi than just amazing cooking, she is an up and coming fashion designer, with her own label Alexis Barrell, which is conquering boutiques around the world with great success. Born in South Africa, Lexi is what you call a modern day woman, travelling around the globe, running her successful business in three continents and cooking all around Athens. Her talent and amazing ability to multi-task is what make Lexi special – of course the fact that she comes from one of the most beautiful places in the whole world helps. Here she is, posing for [imatioθiki] in her wonderful apartment in Kolonaki.
How did you become a fashion designer?
I studied Architecture in South Africa and on my last year at the University I was working for one of my professors. It was then that I realized architecture is not for me. An architect is required to have a lot of patience. There is a lot of time in between designing and building and I am an impatient person. So, I dropped out just 2 months before graduating. I then moved to Paris, to work at a studio that mostly did interior design, which didn’t really happen, because I enrolled at Fashion Design School! At first I thought I would be just working on textiles, but I couldn’t leave the design process out of it, so I became a fashion designer. I moved to New York, where I worked with a very talented couture designer, who taught me all about draping.
Each collection you design is about a place and a story. How do you pick the places that will host your stories for every collection? Do you think of a story about your heroin and afterwards start designing?
Well, the places I chose are places I have visited and loved. For example my first collection was based on Cyclades. My mom had come here a long time ago, before she was even married, and someone hired her as a model. Her pictures and my first contact with Greece is what made the first collection be all about Cyclades. The second was all about Russia and art deco and my latest was about Naples, I wanted it to be light and happy. So, in general I would say that I chose places that I have been to and that have really inspired me. As for the girl starring in every collection, well it is not about her at all. It is all about the place. It’s almost like it is the same girl in every story. She is just visiting a different place each time, like going on an adventure and this procedure changes who she is.
You are very active professionally in Europe. But what about South Africa? Are you planning on expanding your business in your birth place?
Yes, as a matter of fact I intend to. I am very inspired by bush, which is the safari in South Africa. There’s something to it, you know? So I am thinking of designing a collection that can be sold in these luxury lodges you find there. Mostly swimwear and colonial-inspired things that will be made in Africa. I want to do this not as a way to earn money, but because of sentimental reasons. Mirella Ricciardi’s pictures have been a true inspiration to this idea of doing something in South Africa.
Would you like to show your creations at a Fashion Week?
I think in times of crisis it is better to be more creative and do smaller scale moves. I would love to show Alexis Barrell at NY Fashion Week. But when I think about it, you have to have the best stylist, a very good team of hair and make-up artists. And it is a lot of money and energy just for a day. So I stick to photo-shoots and small films of my clothes. I also have a PR company working for me in London, Spring London. They do a really good job.
How has the economic crisis affected your work?
I can’t really say, because I started my business during the crisis! So I guess when it is all over, and things are much better, I will be much much happier! My dad says that people who work really smart in times of crisis, actually do better. And I guess it is also a good thing, because the crisis gives a certain pace to things. If things were moving too fast for my business, I don’t think I would be able to control as much.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
From my family. My grandfather and my father have this amazing style. But also my grandmother. She was Portuguese and wore really eccentric clothes. She was such a lady, always having her hair pulled up. I think she had really long hair, but I never saw her wearing it down. And when she was in the hospital, the only thing she could think of was her Channel red lipstick. She couldn’t bear the thought of her doctor seeing her without makeup! She used to travel a lot. Her father was a Portuguese ambassador at China and Mozambique and also an archaeologist. So she has an amazing collection of kimonos and other amazing clothes. I have a lot of stuff from her. Like vintage Channel and Pucci. And, of course, my mother. She inspires me a lot. She actually lived in Greece for two years. She came to teach, I think, and ended up working as a model. Right after that, she travelled to South Africa to take part in a beauty contest, just for fun. Turns out she won, so she had to stay in the country for a year. That’s when she met my dad. But also, my friends inspire me. They, after all, are the age group I am designing for.
What is your next collection about? Where will it take place?
It will take place in the English Coastline. I was really inspired by Whitstabul, a city I recently visited. It had these small wooden huts on the beach, like changing rooms, that had the most bright colors. So the collection is nostalgic, quiet, more clean. I am using a lot of pale colors, heavy wools, but also have borrowed a lot of the colors I found on the wooden huts by the beach, like retro bright. I think it will be the most me of any collection I have ever made. Oh, and I also got really inspired by my mother’s 70’s ski-suits!
Besides being a talented and successful designer, you are also a talented and successful chef. How did A.A.G.S. come up?
It’s strange, because it actually started as a joke. Jason, Johanna and I were cooking a lot, so one day we said we’ll make a society out of it. We created a page on Facebook and then a lot of people started actually liking it. One day, we decided to throw a pick nick for everyone who’s been a great support to us, so we took it outside, to Philopapou Park and we had a jazz pick nick. Almost 300 people showed up, with their food as well and we had a great deal of fun!
And you also had the chance to cook for TEDxAthens 2011.
Yes that’s right. Alexandra Stratou contacted us and we were really excited about it. We cooked everything here in my kitchen actually! By the time everything was ready, we didn’t have enough space in my fridge, so the people who run the crepes store down the street offered us some space in their fridge! The brief was: cook for 300 people. Really challenging and amazing!
How do you plan on developing A.A.G.S.? Are you thinking of opening a restaurant?
First we want to put up a website, where everything will be much more organized, and people will be able to get recipes from the stuff we make. This is also one of the rules of our society: Always Share Recipes. A restaurant I think wouldn’t be so much of a good idea right now, it’s too fixed I guess. We were thinking of doing something more portable, like a pop-up restaurant. Sort of creating spaces around the food.
Any plans of doing something over the holidays as a Gourmet Society?
We are thinking of doing a hangover dinner on the first day of the year. We are still working on it. What would be your favorite food? Pasta. I love it. Eat it every day, actually. I love fresh pesto, but I think my favorite would be al’ oglio.
How would you describe your personal style?
Romantic. Settle. Avant Guard. And Cultural, because I wear things from all over the world.
What do you find yourself constantly wearing?
White button up shirts and trousers. Before becoming a designer I would be wearing a lot of fancy clothes and a lot of layers. But since then, it’s been all about the white shirt and the trousers.
That’s funny. I thought you would be wearing dresses and skirts all the time.
That’s what everybody thinks. I don’t know why.
Do you show anyone your sketches? Do you have anyone who you trust with your ideas and talk about them with that person?
I have many friends who I talk about my work with. But it’s a tricky thing. If people agree with some ideas you may have, then you are good to go, all confident and ready to move on with your ideas, but if someone is pulling you back, it’s not so good. The other day I was stuck in a rut and my friend Joanna came over, telling me something that was already in my head, but for some reason it wasn’t coming out and that really helped. It’s like your friends and their comments can sometimes be like a mirror of your own ideas.
What did you go for when choosing the furniture of your apartment?
I think it’s kind of African, colonial style. I used to hate the whole African style when I was living there, but now that I am miles away from home, I miss it and decorated my house according to it! I think native African style is really all about simplicity. There’s this modernist aesthetic to it. And I love modern. Le Corbusier is one of my favorite artists and architects.
What is it like, living in Athens? Which places do you prefer? What do you love about this city?
I love walking around Athens. Especially near Acropolis. Dionysiou Aeropagitou is definitely my favorite street in the whole city. I mostly go for drinks in Plaka. I go to Vrettos quite often and other amazing places, but I can’t remember their names. One is called Radiofono, I think. I also go to 6 d.o.g.s. a lot, especially in the garden area. I normally go to eat at Avocado, which is on Nikis St, a really healthy food restaurant.! And it is such a great city! I love walking around Kolonaki and Exarxeia. Sometimes I hear people say it is ugly, but I think it is beautiful and amazing and exciting! I am pretty sure you can have an amazing day in Athens without spending 1 euro. There really is a lot to do and see here! What I love about Athens? The people! They are so relaxed. And I simply love the fact that nothing is fixed in this city. You can arrange a get-together any time; you don’t have to plan everything ahead. And I can visit my friends any time I want, because everybody is so cool having people drop by their places…
What is currently on your i-pod?
While designing this new collection, I was listening to a lot of 90’s music, like Smashing Pumpkins, Alanis Morissette, Garbage, Courtney Love. But Bach also. Yes, Bach helps. Usually… I listen to almost everything. But I would say Bob Dylan is my favorite.
A few comments on the things pictured above.
The Pucci dress Lexi is wearing belongs to her grandmother. / The black leather handbag pictured next to the Pucci dress is vintage Channel, which also belonged to her grandmother. / The silver bracelet Lexi is wearing is something she never takes off. Her whole family is wearing one, and it was made by Patrcik Mavros. The original idea comes from elephant hair bracelets, which are quite popular in South Africa. / She has frames of her loved ones all over her apartment. Yes, that includes her bath-tub. / With Lexi in the kitchen, peeling potatoes is Jason, who is also a co-founder of Athens Amateur Gourmet Society. The third partner is jewelry designer, Joanna Cave. / The bag Lexi is carrying in the elevator picture was designed by her friend Pavlina, who is the owner of Ippolito.