The woman who pushed the boundaries of fashion by combining creativity with tradition.
Dimitra left rainy London behind and a brilliant career in marketing and travelled to Soufli and Pomakochoria in mainland Greece. Through her fashion brand, Zeus+Dione, she introduced Greek culture and heritage to the fashion world.
The idea of Zeus+Dione was born 11 years ago on a balcony in Syros. Tell me more about that day.
It was August, almost midnight. I was with my good friend Mareva Grabowski Mitsotakis, talking about the state of our country over a glass of wine. At the time, “Grexit” and “Lazy Greeks” were the headlines in international news due to the crippling economic recession. We agreed that everything said was very unfair and that there were many hard-working Greeks in all fields. We realised that Greece lacked a fashion brand that genuinely reflected our culture and heritage. There were great designers such as Tseklenis and Parthenis, but in their creative process, there was no thought to incorporating cultural elements of Greece into their creations. That is what we wanted – to show the world that Greeks are important people.
So you decided to create a brand representing modern Greeks abroad, but without any experience in fashion; were you not scared?
We were crazy (laughing)! On the other hand, we moved forward with a business strategy. I was in marketing, Mareva was in finance, and we created a plan and implemented it. We were not afraid at all. When you have been working from a young age, and when you have achieved things in your life, you have the certainty that, no matter what happens, you can start again from scratch. We witnessed people who took their savings and placed them in foreign banks out of fear. We said, “let us do the opposite! We will put everything we have into this idea. We will invest in our country and its people. If we lose, we lose. It is a venture.”
Until that moment, what exactly had you been doing in life?
I lived in London for many years. I had my own company dealing with communication strategies for tourism products and was a representative for the BBC and Condé Nast Traveller.
So, you created a business plan; what happened next?
We had to find the right people in textiles and other materials and establish those working relationships.
That is how your journey to every corner of Greece began?
Exactly. When I reminisce about that decade, all the travelling comes to mind with the madness of this new idea. Like a heart overflowing with love, we did not accept “no” for an answer. We drove our car everywhere. We met Kostas Mouhtaridis, one of our main collaborators, in Soufli. Upon seeing us for the first time, he must have thought, “What do these two blondes want?” We wanted to use his signature silk fabric ‘Spathoto’ to make dresses and shirts. When we told him, he looked at us in wonder. Everyone looked at us that way, telling themselves, “It is not possible!” We said, “We shall see.”
With this, “we shall see” approach, you went to Paris and presented your first collection?
We presented our collection in a Paris showroom for the first time. I remember the owner of Matches Fashion coming in. As she was walking by, she suddenly stopped in front of us and said, “What is this? Isn’t your country in shambles?” We answered, “Our country is going through a difficult phase, but it is certainly not in shambles.” So, we were allowed to tell our story truthfully – the Zeus+Dione fashion brand is of outstanding quality and represents the history and heritage of our country. Then, we go tour first order. The rest is history.
How did you feel when you came back from Paris? Did you say, “We did it!”?
We never said, “We did it.” Even today, we do not say that. Our goal from the outset has always been to preserve quality. From day one, we have been involved in every step of the process, from the looms, cuts and sewing to working weekends at all hours. There was a lot of anxiety, but our goal was to ensure that those who purchased our Greek products were fully satisfied. We were not born into a famous fashion house. We worked hard to make it big.
For you, what moment stands out as a high point during those days?
There are so many that I can not simply single out one in particular. One highlight was when Net-A-Porter placed an order with us. Later, we saw our dresses in their ads. Everytime a Greek woman said, “You make us proud,” or when Maria Gracia of Dior decided to source fabric from us after seeing our work – those were incredible moments.
Can you tell us a bit about working with Dior?
When I saw our dresses passing in front of me in Kallimarmaro, I cried. These are fashion rock stars, people with tremendous experience; the fact that they were impressed with our work was the reward for all the effort we had put in over the years.
What came next?
Something incredible – Sarah Mower, the fashion world’s leading journalist, called me and said, “I want to come and make a documentary about you.” I could not believe my ears! Her words hold so much weight. We spent more than a week together on a trip to Soufli and Argos. I remember taking Sarah to meet a family in Pomakochoria, one of our embroiderers. She was with her children, one on her leg, the other asking for food. Smiling, she showed us the knitting method she uses. I could tell that Sarah was emotional. She said, “This thing you do, helping these people by keeping their art alive, is important.”
Why do you believe you succeeded?
Have we; I am not sure? For me, consistency and emotion are imperative for success. When they combine, it is hard to fail. You must invest your entire self into what you do and not deviate from your vision.
Talking to you, I sense that there are no limits to a person’s desires.
Limits do not exist. The biggest nonsense is what others put in our heads. Those who say, “By this age, you should have achieved this much and, if you have not succeeded, you will never succeed” – for me, these are people of limited perception. I believe that, at any time, anyone can do something else, something they love, whether they are twenty or seven-ty. Obama became president at the age of 42, and Trump at age 72. You never know when your time will come. Who sets limits and boundaries? Our minds do. People who have their antennas attuned to the universe should receive its stimuli and adapt constantly.
What role does luck play in all of this?
I once believed in luck a great deal, but not now. I used to tell myself, “How lucky I am to have landed on the BBC. I am 27 years old and picked from hundreds of candidates.” It was not luck. They had seen the increased budget rates at Condé Nast during my tenure there. No one gives you a job because you are cute or likeable. I have often heard, “You got lucky with Zeus+Dione.” If only they knew just how much work went into it. It is like looking at the tip of an iceberg and giving no account to its mass below.
If you had to define Greek fashion, what would you say?
It is going through a rebirth. There are different ways to begin, other motives and more organisation. In these regards, I think that we have made a small impact, and many others are following in our footsteps. It is a great thing! Women of which nationality have embraced you the most? The French, who have refined tastes in fashion, love us because our clothing is very familiar to them: simple, sexy, dynamic and romantic.
Your mother once advised you, “Always have your passport in your bag because you never know when you need it!” At this moment, if you could fly anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Nowhere. Summers in Greece are magical.
INTERVIEW : ROMINA XYDA
PHOTOS : YIORGOS KAPLANIDIS