Walking down Adrianou Street with a friend the other day, we noticed the inevitable tragedy of the current economic circumstances: several longstanding stores are dark and dusty while cheap souvenir and T-shirt shops seem to be multiplying like rabbits. My friend lamented the fact that Athens doesn’t do a better job selecting the businesses that take up residence in the historic quarter of Plaka.
I told him what I’m about to tell you: don’t judge too quickly! Slowly, quietly, there has been a movement to pull Plaka into modernity, mostly thanks to eminent designers who have decided that while there might be other cities more famous for high design, Athens will always be home.
Boutique Belle Epoque has been open just shy of five months but it’s already making a difference in the traditional area that surrounds this section of Syntagma bordering Plaka. An unexpected amalgam of inventory reflects the owner, Ivi, as an Athenian who has spent significant time in France: vintage clothes and jewelry in the Technicolor Boutique, old globes, maps, and travel guides in the book room, and a simplified, updated take on a vintage tea room.
Eirini Eleftheria comes from a long line of Athenian tailors and hat designers. She believes the designer of today is a glorified seamstress but with more tasks to do. Her shop has the cozy, more personalized atmosphere of an atelier reflecting what she offers her customers. In the near future she intends to offer a made-to-measure service as well. Why Plaka? On top of the shop being inherited, Eirini grew up and went to school just one street over.
Pavlina Papailiopoulou, designer and founder of Ippolito bags and shoes, traded a job in Milan working for Bottega Veneta to return to her home in Plaka. “There’s creative freedom here. Everything has been done in Italy,” she says.
When asked why she chose Plaka over more prolific fashion neighborhoods like Kolonaki or Kifissia, Pavlina answered with a laugh, “I don’t want to compete with Bottega Veneta!” But more importantly, Plaka is home.
“Plaka is a little village in the center of the city,” says interior designer and owner of Hellenic Arts, Kallirhoe Kallirrou. Her small shop/studio features quirky, affordable gifts all designed by premiere Greek designers and artists with an emphasis on the philosophy of eco-friendly design.
Like Pavlina Papailiopoulou, Kallirhoe was trained abroad in Paris but finally chose to return to her native Greece, stating that Athens is a more comfortable size and has retained a certain humanity about it that’s unique. She admits that it’s difficult to be an edgy design store in an area filled with old-fashioned values.
What do the more established business owners and neighbors think about Hellenic Design? “They don’t understand. They think it won’t work,” Kallirrou laments.
Download our shopping guide “New Designs in the Old City” for a complete list of recommended places in Plaka, including Athenian designer Ioanna Kourbella, the rustic studio shop of Elleniko Spiti, and places to refuel during your shopping day.
It should be noted that the store, Poupee, was included in this article at first but is presently transitioning to a new address, which is unknown at this time.