Sundrenched sandy beaches, the sound of cicadas chirping in the trees, and the scent of saltwater wafting through the warm island breeze. This idyllic image is the substance of many people's recurring daydreams. But can those daydreams become the basis of a luxury lifestyle brand that's quickly becoming synonymous with the image that inspired it? For the realization of that evolution of the daydream, look no further than Greek born, Switzerland bred, London based designer, Athena Procopiou.
"I was always surrounded by creativity and encouraged to develop my own," Athena says from her color-filled studio in Chelsea. As a child, she studied classical piano and toured all over Switzerland. Later, History of Art studies at Christie's in Paris ultimately led to graphic design at London's Central St. Martin's. It seems unavoidable that Athena would eventually helm her own brand; and she already had the perfect vision to fulfill.
"I’ve always identified with the well-travelled, free-spirited boho woman who is forever chasing the sun," Athena tells me. It's the stuff of any designer's dreams the way her first scarf collection was instantly picked up by some of London's coolest boutiques. Well-deserved, international success quickly followed.
"I absolutely love when a customer tags me on their Instagram photo wearing one of my kimonos while lounging on their super-yacht while cruising around the Mediterranean, or while dancing on a wind-swept sand dune with a pack of Gypsies in the desert!" she says, earnestly.
Her eponymous label has evolved and now also includes glamorous kimonos, boho-chic dresses fit for dancing by a beach bonfire and her latest addition, a covetable swim collection made in some of her most iconic prints. "My favorite pieces are the ones you can wear during the transition from the beach to sunset. You know, the little sun dresses and sexy fun kimonos which can be thrown over a bathing suit for after beach cocktails, but before you go out for the night?" I think each and every single item from her collection fits that criteria perfectly and, more often than not, tends to actually inspire many photo ready moments!
Athena's business strategy has been a major factor in her success. "I’m growing my business organically - letting it evolve season to season. I think it’s great to plan ahead but not to force it." Moreover, she always trusts her instincts and turns to them when making important decisions, such as expanding from a scarf brand to a full lifestyle brand.
Trusting instincts is also the critical advice Athena offers anyone interested in beginning their own company. "Every day has its challenge, but in the end it’s a wonderful feeling to see something grow organically!" Another majorly important factor is brand recognition. "Even though my collections change each season I have several iconic designs which I carry over and incorporate into each collection," she shares. "I use these as a ‘common thread’ to make my brand stand out. It’s important for any new designer to create and maintain their own brand identity."
Despite her careful strategizing, Athena is amazed that in such a short amount of time, her label is carried in some of the best stores worldwide and she has an international clientele. "It shows that there are boho women all over the world that chase the sun just like me!" she says, enthusiastically. "It's fantastic how I have customers from Bali to Bahrain and everywhere in-between." She attributes some of her success to social media. "We're so consumed with social networking on a global scale - the world seems so small on your iPhone! I’m able to use this wonderful platform to sell my dreams, products, lifestyle, brand and aspirations."
Other than working with a great team, a favorite part of her job is when new deliveries arrive at the studio (everything is hand made in Italy) and the finished products look just like she envisioned when designing. But that's not to be taken for granted. "I find production a very tough part of my job," she says. This is especially thanks to Athena's extremely high quality standards. "I design a luxury brand and the quality of the product needs to match the design. My customer notices the difference between great quality and mediocre quality - I always have to have the best quality in all my products."
She tells me that the creative process is a constant work in progress; she has to make herself move on when one season is over and start fresh with a new collection. If this all seems slightly overwhelming, she admits that sometimes it is. "The best way to relieve my stress is through yoga," she shares, easily identifying herself with the free-spirited, boho-chic, sun-chasing women she dresses.
What's next on the colorful horizon? Other than her new swimwear line, Athena's also working on home furnishings -- fabrics, wallpaper and cushions. "Ultimately, I would love to have my own bricks-and-mortar flagship shop. But it needs to happen in its own time," she says, waiting for her finely tuned instincts to give her the go ahead. Until then, she's looking into pop-up shops in "various sun-drenched cities" to test the waters. "You may find the first Athena Procopiou pop-up shop in Mykonos next summer!" I'm sure that her customers will be mooring their super-yachts in port and lining up all along the island's winding streets for the occasion. After all, that's what they do in the daydream...
(Originally published in The Huffington Post on April 21, 2015)