If you frequent the Windsor end of Chapel Street, it’s likely you’ve walked past SoHigh Gallery a number of times without noticing it, as did I the day I arrived to meet founder and owner Paul Stam and partner Eugenia Apostolidis.
But upon ascending the narrow staircase is the most pleasant surprise, welcomed into an open, bright, and creative retreat away from the hustle and bustle of the goings on below.
A gallery, retail and creative space, adding to its appeal are the Greek Australian couple who exude a sense of familiarity.
“We’re trying to create a community experience where people can come in and be like, I feel comfortable just walking in here and hanging out,” says Eugenia of what has over the last few years come to be known as the ‘GTB (Guerrilla Theatre Brand) fam’ – the creative brainchild of Paul.
The business strategist has taken a 10-month sabbatical to focus on the project full-time, which all started with a series of dreams in the 90s and has since evolved into a mission to tell a short story through fashion, art and music.
“I was having recurring dreams for many years, and I was starting to [think] ‘what’s happening here? Why am I having these dreams?’ It was the same story, it was the same place and it was kind of prophetic in a way,” Paul says.
He started to write them down and noticed the dreams taking shape into a mythical, multilayered tale that chronicled visions of the future.
The story’s protagonist is Guerri, a millennial who is also a hybrid human with modified DNA of a silverback gorilla, with powers that allow him to travel into other realities with his weapon of choice an evil eye amulet. Accompanied by his spirit guide Soph, they battle a malevolent entity intent on consuming humanity using their own technology against them.
“These visions of the future are in the context of the way our society operates today, brands representing our consumerist nature, the counter to that being the guerrillas of today – the independents, the socially conscious, the collaborative. These forces come together and this creates the ‘theatre’ where the story is set,” he explains, though he confirms that they are not against branding per se, quite the opposite in fact, but rather opposed to the few controlling the majority and hoarding the resources for themselves.
“We believe in abundance for all with balance,” he says, citing the ancient Greek phrase “Παν μέτρον άριστον” (everything in moderation), which is one of the themes explored through the story.
With independent business facing continual pressures and fast fashion the growing trend, Paul decided to communicate his story by combating just that – through quality fashion, designed and now manufactured in Australia including collaborative pieces which double as wearable art by the likes of artists Antonios Fikos, Sean Morris, and Gareth Stehr.
Keeping with the narrative theme each ‘collection’ is released in chapters; so far the Prologue and Chapter 1 have been made available, with each instalment of the story brought to life with an accompanying short film.
While Chapter 1 is athletic and fierce with a black and white palette, Paul says that as the story develops and each chapter unfolds so too will the design aesthetic.
“The idea is to have a short film, a book, and to work with people all around the globe and then at the end of it, take it around the world and have an exhibition on everything,” he says.
But for now the couple have their sights closer to home, soon opening up the SoHigh Gallery space for events, along with the bar and kitchen giving visitors a casual yet high quality dining experience that ties in with their ethos of belonging and family.
“It’s an add-on to the experience,” says Eugenia.
“We want people to come in and instead of feeling pressured to ‘I have to go in, have a look and I’m out’, you can wander around, have a look at some of the art, look at some of the product, if you want to have a drink you can and just chill, or if you want to have a bite you can.”
While they acknowledge that there is a commercial element to their project, with the dream that it eventually self-fund itself, they’re adamant that it has never been the driver.
“We’ve started on the opposite end, a little bit organically and just said ‘hey we like creating, this is what we’re doing’. I’m not really doing it for anybody. I love that people are purchasing things – that’s fantastic, but it’s never with a commercial thought,” says Paul; a sentiment that Eugenia seconds.
“We’re not trying to create something that we are trying to be, we’re just opening up who we are in a space, through our art, in everything that we do, we’re just extending who we are and how we live,” she says.
Though Paul says he is unable as yet to confirm just how many instalments there will be to the story, it’s still a secret, Chapters 2 and 3 are well underway. But by the sounds of their passion, ideas, and commitment to focus their attention on pursuing their dreams, it’s fair to say we’ll be seeing a lot more of the GTB fam.
“This place is for everybody who can find it. We believe in being humble and just open to people,” says Paul.
“It’s something that isn’t conforming and has something to say. Explore it and see ‘what does it mean to me?’ People can interpret things their own way and if you interact with something and feel something, success. I don’t want to tell people what they need to think.”
Guerrilla Theatre Brand’s Chapter 1 is available now and Chapter two available in September at SoHigh Gallery (143A Chapel St, Windsor, VIC) or online at guerrillatheatrebrand.com. For more, like their page on Facebook and Instagram @gtblife.