Clothes that tell a story

Melbourne-based fashion designer Anna Vithoulkas explains how she captures the 'soul of Greek summer' in her collections

For Anna Vithoulkas, the process of creating a new clothing range resembles the art of storytelling, where vintage meets contemporary style.

The designer’s aim is to convey femininity through simplicity.

“There’s a very strong influence of vintage in today’s style and people respond to that. One of the most evident things about this response is that the clothing was well made, clothes were made to last,” says Anna.

“I have some fabrics similar to the stretch fabrics they produce today that you can wash a thousand times and nothing will happen to them.”

Yet quality is not the only factor that motivates her into sourcing materials from the ‘glorious past’ of fashion.

Several years ago, when off-shore mass production was starting to find its way into market and manufacturing companies were closing down, Anna would track down rare fabrics from the ’70s and ’80s.

“What makes me excited about my work is working on unusual garments, finding things that are one-off that can be translated to the trend and the feel of today,” she explains.

In fact, most of the time it is the fabric itself that determines the style, with the prints and patterns defining the cutting lines or just providing the inspiration for her next creation, which is rarely common or conventional.

“The first time I made a dress out of a tablecloth I remember my mother saying ‘I cant believe you came up with this idea!’. But she loved it, and then she wanted me to make her one.

“Some people would look at fabrics from the past and not draw inspiration to necessarily create something for now, but for me it just happens,” Anna tells Neos Kosmos.

Her immersion in the world of fashion started in her late teens, when upon finishing college, she completed an apprenticeship at a clothing manufacturing company where her mother was working as a designer.

When Anna’s mother migrated to Australia at the age of 18, she had already completed a sewing course in Athens.

It was a time when everything was made in Australia and a lot of women from the Greek community worked in the manufacturing industry, but her mother was one of the few involved in the design process.

Anna had the opportunity to get hands-on experience in every aspect of the creative process, from brainstorming and pattern-making through to the finished garment.

“Thanks to my mother, I kind of grew up in the industry – I managed to build up my skills and confidence.

“She was the best mentor for me and I can’t imagine having that opportunity elsewhere,” she admits.

After launching her label Anna Cat, the designer opened her first retail outlet in 1993 in Perth’s Fremantle before returning to Melbourne.

Having travelled through Asia and Europe, the experienced designer claims she is particularly influenced by the traditional hand craft she came across through her journeys and folk costumes worn by the locals.

From Indian embroideries and Turkish embellishments to the French aesthetic, she has discovered the interconnection between diverse clothing traditions to be the greatest source of inspiration for her creations.

“You find yourself completely saturated by the different colours and patterns. When I travelled to the more rural areas of India, for example, the better the clothes were.”

Among the various Western and Eastern cultures the designer has encountered, one commonality she noticed was lace artwork, which she has since incorporated into her own style profile.

“I never put a petsetaki (crochet) with kendimata (cross-stitch) on my table, but in my ranges of clothes I’ve always had something with a little bit of the hand crochet,” she says with a laugh.

Through of her all travel experiences, the designer admits it’s the time she spent on the Greek islands during summer which undoubtedly shaped her identity as a fashion designer.

“I think the Greek woman is generally quite confident, and spending years in Greece when I was younger, I found there is a lot of comfort in how women dress. This is why I use a lot of natural fibres that make you feel good in your clothes,” she says.

While in Greece, she recalls staying at the beach until late at night and then going to a bar with the same outfit, a memory that has inspired her to design versatile pieces that can be worn straight from work to an outing.

This is the reason the designer channels all her energy, from the very beginning of the design process, into creating clothes that complement and support the body, rather than hide or restrict it.

“I tell a story with my clothes, the story that translates from morning to night.

“In the last few years I realised that my inspiration comes more from the female form than the structure of clothing. It’s more about draping a body and showing the curvatures and the shape of a woman’s body. I think that’s very Greek.”

For more information on the ‘Anna Cat’ label, visit www.annacat.com.au/