Sophia Kokosalaki, Who Gave London Fashion a Grecian Spin, Dies at 47

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LONDON — Sophia Kokosalaki, a widely admired London-based clothing designer who drew on her Greek heritage in highlighting classical silhouettes and artful drapery, died on Sunday in London. She was 47.

Her death was confirmed by Antony Baker, her partner and the managing director of her brand, Sophia Kokosalaki. No cause was given.

Over more than two decades Ms. Kokosalaki became one of the most prominent Greek designers of her generation, respected by such star peers as Alexander McQueen and Kim Jones for her balancing a cutting-edge feminine look with ancient Greek, Minoan and Byzantine motifs.

She had earlier been a forerunner of a new wave of European fashion designers who moved to London to study, then stayed to set up their businesses.

“After Sophia came a stream of Europeans as integral to London’s fashion cultural renaissance in the 2000s,” Sarah Mower, Vogue.com’s chief fashion critic, said in an email, “including Roksanda Ilincic, Marios Schwab, Peter Pilotto, Mary Katrantzou and Marques Almeida.”

In a signal honor, Ms. Kokosalaki was chosen to be chief clothing designer for the summer Olympic Games in Athens in 2004. Ms. Katrantzou, a fellow Greek designer who also works in London, said in a statement that she was “eternally grateful to Sophia for making us all feel proud to be Greek and communicating the values of our culture far beyond our borders.”

Ms. Kokosalaki was born in Athens on Nov. 3, 1972, to Vasilios and Stella (Leonidaki) Kokosalakis. Her mother was a journalist, and her father was a civil engineer. Initially wanting to be a writer, Ms. Kokosalaki studied literature at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, but all the while, she later said, she had been resisting an internal call to pursue a career in fashion. When she was 3 she had started drawing dresses with price tags, she said, and at 11 she had taken notice of how people dressed.

“Back then in Greece — we’re talking the mid-1990s — it wasn’t considered serious to do fashion,” she told the London newspaper The Evening Standard in 2010. “In England, you have art colleges and you take it seriously. But the examples I had growing up were few, and they weren’t necessarily inspiring. Being a designer was a last resort. It was not the thing you did if you were a model academic.”

Ms. Kokosalaki decided to move to London, where she earned a master’s degree at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design. Among her professors was Louise Wilson, then the kingmaker of British fashion. She graduated in 1998 and debuted her first woman’s wear collection at London Fashion Week a year later. Her blend of draping and plissé with rock star energy gave birth to an aesthetic that would be her signature.

“Sophia was the first designer to emerge from Central Saint Martins who fused a European heritage — classical drapery, Hellenic folk craft — with a minimalist sense of how that could be worn on the street or in a club,” Ms. Mower said in a tribute to Ms. Kokosalaki that was published in Vogue. Ms. Mower recalled watching Mr. McQueen — then one of the most revered designers in the world — shouldering his way through crowds outside Ms. Kokosalaki’s show in 2002 to see her new work.

After a stint as a guest designer at the Italian leather company Ruffo Research, and after winning the new Generation Designer prize at the Fashion Awards in Britain in 2003, she was given an even more distinguished accolade: the appointment as chief designer of the 2004 Olympics. A source of immense national pride, the Games marked the return of the Olympics to Athens, where the modern competition began in 1896.

Ms. Kokosalaki dressed the more than 7,000 performers and athletes for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games, creating clothes to represent different periods of Greek culture and art. She also designed the uniforms for the Games information attendants and officials.

Two years later she was made creative director of the Parisian fashion house Vionnet, as part of a turnaround effort by the brand’s new owner, but the appointment lasted only a year. In 2007, her own brand — by then worn by celebrities like Jennifer Connelly and Kirsten Dunst — was bought by the Italian fashion conglomerate Only the Brave, run by Renzo Rosso. But that association, too, was short-lived. Ms. Kokosalaki bought her label back two years later.

She also became the creative director of Mr. Rosso’s high-end Diesel Black Gold label, which represented a move away from time-consuming and expensive hand work and toward mass production and slick commercial appeal. She remained in that post from 2009 to 2012 — a period of “intense business education,” as she called it.

That experience prompted her, in 2012, to start Kore, a cheaper line that was sold through ASOS, one of Britain’s largest fashion e-commerce retailers. She also started a chic bridal collection.

In addition to her partner, Mr. Baker, Ms. Kokosalaki is survived by her daughter, Stelli

The Greek culture minister, Lina Mendoni, noting that it was “extremely sad when a young person dies,” called Ms. Kokosalaki “a dynamic and self-made woman who starred in the harsh and competitive world of international fashion.”

As her health wavered, according to people around her, Ms. Kokosalaki chose to spend more time in Crete, where she had always found inspiration. In 2015, she designed cabin crew uniforms for Aegean Airlines, and in 2017 she turned to fine jewelry.

Those collections, mostly in gold, retained her hallmark of incorporating ancient and mythical patterns with a modern twist. It was all in keeping with how she liked to define herself — as a “Greek woman, but an English designer.”

Susan C. Beachy contributed research.


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