I became familiar with Hellenic Art and Design through my walks around Plaka. In my mind it was that cute little shop that seemed to be so happy in its yellow and blue colors. I wasn’t familiar with the extraordinary Kallirroy who runs the place. A passionate designer and a person you can listen to forever. In between amazing work by the talented old and new, Kalliroi pulled out pots and papers and sketchbooks from her days in Paris and coffee mugs and scarves, only to leave me breathless with the efficiency a design can hold and the beauty a store can engulf.
You’ve been running Hellenic Art and Design for the past 3 -4 years. How would you describe it?
I don’t want to put a label on it and I wouldn’t want to define strictly what Hellenic is.
You only feature Greek designers in your store?
Yes, just Greek. But I chose what I decide to sell.
But you also get a lot of contacts from greek designers proposing collaborations?
Yes, that too. I need to know, though, I can support fully anything I place in my store. I don’t want to have things lying around, just because they were designed by a Greek designer. I chose carefully, before deciding to sell. The judgment of course is completely subjective. I have studies design, I am a designer myself and I think I can form an opinion on such matters. Sometimes I chose very simple designs, that are also very useful as well, with an exquisite construction and a marvelous balance between the idea and the production. For example Maria of Psarokokalo is such a designer. She has designed a key chain in the shape of an owl. I think the way she decided to make it, is all about how a creative idea and thought should be handled.
You mean it should be simple?
It should be able enough and important enough. Nothing more, nothing less. I believe most things found in Hellenic and Art Design hold that principle. Olympia’s bags are also like this. She has a great idea, a very good construction process and a very good product in the end.
Are you in touch with the designers while they are designing and producing? Do you collaborate with them?
Yes, we talk and discuss. I can understand what they are telling me and I can try to consult them with their work. I would never pressure them on what to do, I would never force them to do something they don’t want and then sell it to others. I respect them and enjoy working with them.
It’s amazing that you are not just a store, but a living organization. Producing and working and collaborating. Let’s talk a little bit about social media. You start a lot of discussions and propose a lot of artists through your facebook page.
I recently started a project based on spring and on designers that take their art a step further. People that escape mediocrity. Their mind is a bit beyond. People I love, because not everyone takes their profession to the next level. Doing something creative, even being an artist, doesn’t mean you will be able to do the impossible. I don’t consider myself to be one of those people who have that special something. I just started talking about these designers. I am just observing and talking about the people I admire I guess. Goscinny was one of those people. He was working on Asterix and publishing Pilote for quite some time in France. Pilote was the magazine that promoted all the commix artists back then. And if you pay close attention to what he says on interviews, you will see that he was a great person. So smart and always making fun of every obstacle that came in the way. At the same time he was such a generous person to all the people he worked with, never trying to overthrow anyone. That was amazing. Men like him will be remembered for ever. It’s not about being famous. It is about the creativity you have in you, a flame that is yours to keep and use and no one can take it away from you or copy it. Another example would be Hugo Pratt, maybe also Bilal, it’s just that he is very melancholic and I didn’t want to mention his work especially in the times we are going through. You can see melancholia in his cities and the killings in his work. But Hugo Pratt could be also melancholic. It is just that he does that is such an amazing way, with so many references to each one of his images, that in the end leaves you everything but a melancholic sentiment.
How about designers you admire?
I have some people I really look up to, but then again if I started mentioning them, I would surely leave out many and there is not enough room for everyone. A designer, though, I really got fascinated with recently is Eileen Gray. You see people talking about the 30s a lot lately and there was an exhibition with her work on Pomptidu last spring in Paris. I really loved her work. She was an Irish woman, who in the end hang out with all the modernist architects. She started doing art deco inspired work and then ended up doing very stylish and modern designs and furniture. You can see her designs being altered even in Ermou Street. Of course the original design was much better.
Do you really believe that the 30s are similar to our times?
Many people do. And they talk about it non stop. I think so too. But designers back in the 30s were masters on working with their hands and designing custom made products. What they were craving for was the mass production. They wanted to design something that could be sold anywhere on the planet. At large quantities. What our problem is nowadays is that we have been fed up with mass production. We want smaller portions of design, more carefully made, we want the intimate back.
You used to work in Paris and then came back to Greece. How was the return like?
In 2000 when I came back to Athens things were not as good as I had hoped they would be. I got myself to work. I re-designed the dolphin hanger. It all started when I was 22. The government and some institution were organizing these workshops that would bring designers and craftsmen together. With many of my colleagues we traveled to Milies, village in Metsovo. That was when I first designed the hanger. When coming back to Greece, I wanted to take part in a design competition and decided to re-design my dolphin hanger. I went back to Milies, worked with the craftsman who was the best carpenter I have ever met in my life. It was a priceless experience. I still work with him. Whenever I have an order that requires wood, I send it over to him.
That’s very inspiring. Do you see other designers also respecting the craftsmanship of the older generation?
Yes, they try to. But then we will start talking about what is wrong with this country. You see all these artist living in the villages and working on arts that are slowly fading, whenever they tried to grow their business, the state would do something to erase their efforts. They won’t let them grow. Some law, some fee and they are forced to close their business.
A few comments on the things pictured above:
It was very hard to keep up with all the amazing things Kallirroy was taking of shelves and drawers. I wanted to ask a million questions and take a million photos. / The sketches she was showing me go back to her years spent in Paris. She has so many notebooks with drawings and poems and leaves glued to the pages. Her notebooks are a work of art on their own. / The cups that are inside each other are supposed to be lovers’ cups. The blue ones were especially designed for Hammam in Thission.