Q&A: Kyriaki Drakotos

"Everyone was proud of their names and it meant something personal to them, they each had their own stories. Watching this interaction gave me an idea and it was out of this that the concept of the line was first born."

"Everyone was proud of their names and it meant something personal to them, they each had their own stories. Watching this interaction gave me an idea and it was out of this that the concept of the line was first born."

When we think of the alphabet, neither design nor beauty typically come to mind. Our initials, however, hold a true and sometimes unique meaning.

Surface spoke with Kyriaki Drakotos on the day of her brand’s launch about the importance of the names we were given and how that became the inspiration for her textile collection.

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I’d love to hear about how you got your start in the fashion industry and the creation of Kyriaki.

My interest in fashion started when I was young. Every girl in Greece was taught embroidery. I loved seeing images come to life using various stitches and the beautiful colors for the threads. I came to New York from Greece when I was 10 years old and during high school, I loved going to thrift shops in New York to buy vintage pieces with lace, cutting them up, sewing them by hand to create new garments—halter tops and blouses. During this period, I entered a contest the Metropolitan Opera was sponsoring for Carmen. The winner would have their design exhibited in the showcase outside for the duration of the showing. I still have the $10 check which was my prize for winning.

I enrolled in Pratt’s Fine Arts program, focusing on graphic arts and illustration. I often frequented the city’s museums, falling in love with the medieval tapestries at the Metropolitan Museum, the way painting and weaving married each other creating beautiful works of art in fabric, the variety of flora and mythological animals were captivating.

I have had a variety of jobs, my first working for Bonwit Teller, and later as a colorist for a textile studio in the city. By this time, I decided combining design, fabric, and painting was what I wanted to work with. 

While at Pratt I studied calligraphy, which sparked my interest in initials. Later on, I began to teach art, and found my students loved an assignment designing their names. Everyone was proud of their names and it meant something personal to them, they each had their own stories. Watching this interaction gave me an idea and the concept of the line was first born.

Now, many years later, this holds true. I am continually inspired by those around me and feel there is something enduring about letters, initials, and how this connects us to our own personal stories and each other.

I’m wondering if your upbringing had a strong influence in the way you think about or experience design?

Yes, I was influenced by the beautiful things I saw around me, first the handmade clothing and embroideries of my childhood in Greece, and then the eclectic interiors I grew up with after immigrating to New York, collected from various parts of the world (Persian rugs, lace curtains, beautiful velvet cushions, satin pillows in pastel hues). 

I was raised in Jamaica, Queens, with my aunts and uncles, who appreciated art and it showed in our everyday life, particularly through things that surrounded us in the home: paintings on the walls from artist friends, Chinese wallpaper in the living room, decorative vases from Italy, marble cabinets, fine objects and decorative statues collected from the 1920s and 1930s. My aunt was a talented seamstress; I admired the way she could look at a garment, make a pattern, assemble it and create a beautiful coat or dress. She learned in Greece, gathering various designer pieces from France and Italy, which she would then reference and reinterpret in her own designs. It helped to provide for our family during the war and periods after. They often traveled and brought back objects from diverse places like Africa and Italy. They also frequented museums, bringing back brochures for me to look at, which incited my curiosity and made me dream.

Fashion design was respected as well. My mother had bed jackets, negligees which she embroidered with initials—surrounded by floral designs in cross stitch and my favorite French knots. They came in soft, lovely colors like peach, cream and lavender. I remember embroidered tapestry evening bags in petit point.

All these visual elements created a well of inspiration that I was able to draw from.

How and where did you decide to create this hyper-personalized brand?

I decided I wanted to see women wear something that was part of their own lives, not just designer names and logos, but their own name and story. I wanted them to feel special, because often women would get married and change their names. I wanted them to feel like this was their’s and something they could feel happy with. (This is now becoming less and less the case, but this was where the idea first began.. many years ago.)

The collection honors strong women and individuals, particularly ones that I have known and who inspired each design: painters, sculptors, musicians, an opera singer, outspoken activists, educators, professionals, each with their own narrative, experiences, and ornate story.

The design process was a meticulous one, which started by experimenting with design placement and functionality, painting on fabric to see how they would drape and how the design would fall on the body.

I started experimenting with the letter and allowing it to create the design—the letter suggested the shapes and colors. I then began to elaborate and pick out what I liked. The letters intertwined with the design itself, so the letter would reveal itself or remain hidden, until I achieved a result where they together were harmonious and played with each other visually.  I felt that color was important, one color for each letter. The color itself is symbolic to the design and is one of a kind.

I worked in my studio every morning for 4-5 hours. It was small space but full of light and surrounded by trees, which gave me a wonderful view of nature and landscape, for me this is important. The sunlight affects the colors, they way they are seen and in their creation.   

Where do you draw inspiration from?

I draw inspiration from nature, tapestry, antique fabric designs, wallpaper, interiors. I have always collected books and magazines and look through them for inspiration, referencing fabrics used for upholstery and the home, and I’ve kept Italian pattern books from the 1940’s that have beautiful motifs and patterns. I also collect handmade table cloths, pillows, blankets, ceramics, all of which speak to me in different ways and lend themselves to my designs.

What do letters mean to you?

Letters connect us. A letter communicates a story, a memory. They are personal, they each have meaning, and can signify different things to each person, but everyone has a connection to them in one way or another.

What about Kyriaki are you most proud of?

To have honored the women in my life who have inspired me and supported me. This is a testament to them and my way to give back to the ones that first believed in me and encouraged my work in art. As well, to be able to create an outlet which in turn will give back to supporting issues that have long been important to me, specifically supporting women and their work in environmental justice, media creation, healing, and indigenous rights.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I often attend concerts, most recently flamenco and classical performances in intimate settings like the barge under the Brooklyn Bridge. I also frequent museums (Neue Galerie, Noguchi Museum) and go to the cinema (great films at the Museum of the Moving Image, various international film festivals), and I am involved in local political issues.

What’s next for the ever-growing brand?

The brand is just launching today so there is a lot ahead for us. The website and Instagram are now live! We will continue to build out our social media and site where we will share updates on the brand’s development and latest projects. Excited to be available as we look forward to the holidays since this is such a wonderful moment to honor those we love with gifts that are personal. We are working on new designs for the next season, new sizes, shapes and introducing new initials. After completing the alphabet with the scarves, I see the brand growing into more diverse categories and creating a lifestyle brand including more accessories categories and decorative items.

We are also exploring collaborations and custom designs. Since there is such an element of personal connection, I feel it is important to offer the possibility of creating pieces that are bespoke.  


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