There is a lot to learn from internationally acclaimed designer, Anna Giannis, on how she carved her career, venturing bravely beyond the borders of Australia to follow her dreams and build her brand across the world.
The Principal and founder of ‘Anna Giannis Interiors’, travelled extensively for ten years. China became her second home until another opportunity would take her even further from home as she expanded her luxurious linen range in New York, Europe and Dubai.
“I look back now at some of the things that I have done, and wonder if I would do it again,” the talented designer of Greek descent told Neos Kosmos in an interview about her journey. “When you are younger it all just rolls, and I was also so passionate.”
Today, her Melbourne-based business, is increasingly getting noticed in the real estate industry across Australia, due to her talent and professionalism in property styling and renovations. As bespoke and custom furniture is becoming the next big thing, her expertise in this area is often being sought out, and we have seen her featured in articles published in WHO and Home Beautiful among others.
From Melbourne to Shanghai to New York
She remembers, with particular detail, her first business trip to China at the end of the 1990s, where her friend and business associate to this day, Richard Leong, would open her eyes to an amazing new world.
“For five days I was immersed in the fabrics, the ceramics, and the art. China was like a magnet to me then and I knew I would be back.”
And so it began. “I went back and started sampling, and the bigger we got, the more I travelled to China, until it became my second home. I enjoyed the process when I was there,” she said, describing how sometimes she would just hop on a plane to get there when issues arose, as it was quicker to resolve a situation in person. She also loved visiting the factories to observe the whole manufacturing process in action.
It was in China that Ms Giannis was presented with another opportunity that would open up a whole new chapter in her life. She met businessman Johnny Zhang who would soon become her business partner and they started venturing to America and other parts of the world to build their brand.
“We exhibited in Shanghai and then started travelling to America to sell our products.”
Soon, they opened up their own show room in New York, on Fifth Avenue, opposite the Empire State Building which she operated for three years.
It was an amazing experience, Ms Giannis said, “That feeling of building something from nothing.”
In Australia, focused on the local industry
Anna Giannis would return back to Australia in 2011.
“It took me some time to adjust after years of travel. I decided to get back into interiors, real estate, and homewares.” But this time she decided to keep it local and pick from the best that Australia had to offer.
It’s been ten years since Anna Giannis returned home from her stint abroad and she now feels ready to present her own art work, on her new range that will be launched in April. “It’s exciting because I have never done that before.”
Currently she is also doing restorations and renovations on two beautiful mansions, one in Fitzroy and the other Kensington, amongst other styling projects. “I do a lot of custom furniture too. I love working with our local artisans. Whenever I go out there it reminds me of my father. The timber, and the machinery.”
Her father, Anastasios Giannakopoulos was a builder and furniture maker from Greece. He learnt the trade when he was only 13 years old, in the town of Hora, in Messinia. He was her biggest inspiration growing up.
“I watched him, as a little girl, create and build. If I were a boy I probably would be a builder,” she adds with a laugh.
“He was on the tools even six months before he passed. He was very skillful, and such a perfectionist. I think that’s something I inherited from him. If something is not right it just gets redone.”
Sometimes she would get him involved in the projects she was working on. She appreciated his skills but it was also an opportunity to spend that special time together, discussing the work that they were both so passionate about
But Ms Giannis seems to also have inherited her mother’s gifts. Her mother, Theodora, was a dressmaker and Ms Giannis would sew alongside her from the age of twelve. That is when she discovered her immeasurable love for textile. During that time, her passion for rearranging spaces also emerged.
“As a little girl we had to dust the house every Saturday morning. And I remember I would move all my mother’s things around.” She adds how this would often perplex her mother, though to this day, it’s a habit that has stayed with her, as she continues to rearrange the rooms in her own home every month!
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Transformation is rejuvenating
“We feel great when we renew our space,” she said.
There are many easy and quick things you can do in your home, she explains. Cushions, for example, can change the look in a room. “You can follow the seasons, give your room a winter feel, a summer feel, a fresh feel or a navy feel. Whatever you want, you can create. You can also change the rug, buy some new vases, and move your art work around. Some people call a designer but not everyone can, and there are many things you can do on your own. These things will rejuvenate you. You don’t want to be looking at the same things for a year, I know from me!” she laughs.
Ms Giannis loves colour and texture. Her style is neoclassical, a little bit baroque, rococo, renaissance and she likes to mix them.
“I might not be a minimalist but I don’t like clutter. The objects and furniture in a space should not fight for attention. When you walk into a room you should be able to ‘see’ each piece,” she said.
Her travels around the world
One could write a book about her experiences traveling around the world. And that is exactly what Ms Giannis is doing in the little time she can spare from all her projects.
“The book will be about a woman and her travels. There will be funny stories from China, America and Dubai and learnings too. Hopefully it will be released by the end of this year,” she said.
It is important to have your own tribe, your own people
“It wasn’t easy at times. There was loneliness in the beginning. In the show room in New York, through the window I could see the Empire State building and it was magnificent. But many times, I would miss home, mum and dad, my sisters my friends and I would cry because I was so very far away.”
But though it might have been hard at times, New York is definitely a highlight in her life, she stresses, when we ask her about the experiences that stand out in all that she has achieved so far.
Of everything, she feels most proud of “the journey”, she tells us towards the end of our conversation. The courage to do what she did in New York and also that she managed to stay doing what she loves to do.
“I didn’t give up. Because at times you can. The ‘lonely CEO’ is a real thing. But I have had a couple of good mentors and a good network of people around me. My fiancé is really knowledgeable. From a business perspective Tony is very sound and more grounded, whereas I make decisions based on my gut. And he has been a great support. And Theo Fotopoulos, who is a marketing strategist, has helped me throughout my career. We met when we were working together at Optus so long ago, before I started my career in design. I owe a lot to him for his support. It is important to have your own tribe, your own people.”
Perhaps that is the reason Anna Giannis created her own a mentoring programme in 2016, to mentor young women, finishing their studies or just starting their career in the design disciplines. The programme was designed to give these young aspiring professionals the opportunity to gain real-life experience, to know what it’s like to have deadlines, to work in a team and to get feedback. Some of them have gone on to become quite successful and she feels so proud of them.
“I found it was really good for my soul. They saw that in me, they knew my story and they were inspired. I loved giving them advice, sometimes even life advice. It was a nice time. It’s been really busy this year but I’d like to resume it soon, hopefully next year.”
For more information on Anna Giannis projects and services visit: annagiannis.com.au