A distinguishable brand of unique handbags, born out of artist Lila Karagianni’s realisation that European chic and Mediterranean tradition blend together naturally.
Lila, being passionate about Greek heritage and all things colour, decided to make a bag out of kourelou, or what most of us know as the traditional rag rugs made of old fabrics our grandmothers would throw on the floor or the sofa. After a walk on the beaten path with studies and a successful career in finance, she decided to take the leap, quit her job and devote herself to art. She has been painting for over 10 years, with a continuous search for inspiration in almost every detail of her Greek Mediterranean surroundings.
Lila’s husband Alex Krassanakis has always believed that art is the best manifestation of whatever Man may consider divine. He thinks of himself as a natural-born traveller, in fact he cannot remember living in the same place for more than three years in a row after his childhood. With studies in the US, and following three expatriation assignments during a dynamic career in the financial sector with regional operations and HR roles for a large multinational, he still salivates like an intern for any new challenge that comes into his professional life. His deep love for art, combined with the end-product and exciting prospects of the Kooreloo brand, was enough to completely seduce him and make him join this amazing journey.
What was it that inspired Lila to start making bags out of kourelous?
“Lila will answer with three words: Light, colours, Greece,” Alex replies instantly.
“If we can put a finger on what makes our creations special, we would say that with the introduction of the artful mind into design, you can elevate humility to the levels of luxury. Key to this achievement are inspiration and the highest quality of craftsmanship and materials.”
Lila weaved the pattern herself and ended up creating a huge folk accessory that could not only fit all the things a young mother of three needs to carry, but also turn many heads. She could never have imagined in the beginning that Kooreloo would take off so quickly and become her main job.
“One of our main materials is the loom-made kourelou, which is what inspired us to use ‘kooreloo’ as our brand,” Alex explains.
“We have also used Byzantine silk lining. Our new collection has now evolved and our lining is created with technologically-advanced fabric prints with Lila’s artwork. We have also created a very successful limited edition line with drawings by contemporary artist Thanasis Lalas. Other than that we have also recently introduced leather.”
All the bags are hand-made with love and are unique, as Lila wants each accessory to be special and different. The label has been welcomed by the Greek art and fashion lovers, gaining in popularity day by day.
“I want people to fall in love with the Kooreloo bags, take them into their hands and own them.”
“Kooreloo bags are handcrafted with exceptional care and are better described as art objects,” Lila Karagianni adds. “Thankfully, I’ve come to realise there are many people able to appreciate the amount of love and effort that goes into each and every one of them. I have so many ideas flooding my mind and I’m just trying to put them in order. There are so many combinations and materials to work with. Sometimes the bags are one colour − usually the leather ones − but I mainly make patterned custom-made ones, using colourful fabrics. Silk is my favourite.”
Lila just wanted a spacious and sturdy day bag to accompany her, and the idea of it being a staple Greek item reworked to suit a modern woman’s needs seemed interesting.
“The bags feature traditional weave and ornaments from local materials that come directly from the glorious heritage of Greece. Kooreloo started from my desire to fit my past into my present and carry it into the future with pride,” she says.
Initially Greece was not a major part of the couple’s target due to the financial difficulties the country is facing. However, they have gradually positioned themselves in a limited number of high-end stores and the results have been surprising. On the other hand, sales abroad have a dynamic which is largely driven by the uniqueness of Kooreloo’s products’ design and the ease of communication that social media and the internet provide.
Was it challenging to start a business amidst the crisis?
“Our answer is somewhere in the middle,” muses Alex. “On the positive side, though not always in the right direction, many of the policies and structural reforms that have been imposed on Greece by the EU and the IMF have reduced bureaucracy and eased the interaction of businesses with the state.
“In addition, due to the crisis, a silent enlightenment has started in a number of industries − agriculture, tourism, trade − by a large number of young professionals that decided to make career changes.”
For Kooreloo this has created a whole new pool of enthusiastic prospect partners and providers.
“On the negative side,” he continues, “no matter how well you perform, operating in a financially ailing environment brings you in daily contact with professionals struggling to survive. You are frequently posed with dilemmas, in an effort to balance effectiveness with humaneness. Taxation levels are a huge issue too, and receiving daily calls from foreign law offices with proposals to move your company’s fiscal residency is a constant bitter reminder that something is still not working right in your country.”
Both, however, feel blessed for having a job they love, and are not at all deterred by Greece’s predicament. Meanwhile, they have started the production of other accessories which they intend to launch with Kooreloo’s Spring/Summer 2017 collection; always in the spirit of the label’s current design traits. Discussions with prospective investors have also begun.
“For the past full year Kooreloo has been our main project. Lila is becoming very active in design production and has created an impressive set of creations that we now have to decide how to launch over the course of the next few years. On the other hand, I myself am becoming heavily involved with how our brand’s success will continue at a global level,” Alex says.
“We believe that the Kooreloo brand has enormous potential at a global level and we are committed to helping it grow.”
For more information go to www.kooreloo.com