Sometimes we feel affinity with unknown people more than we do with people that form part of our everyday life. Sometimes, somehow, the personal or professional life of somebody triggers hidden dreams and desires and we even get the strange feeling that we know somebody without ever having met him. In my case, I have always felt a unique connection with Tassos Sofroniou, one of the few Greek people working in the fashion field that has managed to leave behind his country and have a successful career abroad. Something of his adventurous spirit, of his will to risk and of his passion to chase his dreams made me identify with him. Stylist, photographer and creative director, Tassos is a free spirit, unable to compromise and always at the lookout of new sensations. Having worked with the best fashion magazines out there, including The Face, and having spent the most intense years of his London period working with Isabella Blow, he is an inspiring reference for the fashion crowd and the younger generation of designers.
The latest adventure of Tassos Sofroniou is the creation of his menswear brand, named Conquistador, in a risky attempt to define modern masculinity with a twist. We met him during the first presentation of his clothes at Grande Bretagne hotel in Athens and he really stole our hearts with his beautifully made clothes. Tassos shared his dreams with us, in a very sincere and intimate interview, and captivated us with his down to earth attitude and his kindness. If you ask me, it is really worth meeting the people that you admire. We hope you feel the same way too!
Names define us since our very beginning. How did you come up with the name of your new brand?
I was trying to identify my need for design without feeling like a fashion designer. Even though I have worked with some genius ones in my previous career, sometimes as a creative director, a stylist or a photographer, I wanted to make a statement about masculinity, strength and beauty rather than discover totally new menswear garments. I came across an article about the conquistadors of the 15th Century and when I searched about it at wikipedia all my ideas for the label took flesh and blood. The word "conquistador", literally translated, means "conqueror". A dictionary defines "conqueror" as "one who conquers" or "one who overcomes or surmounts".
In modern Spanish language the conquistador is the irresistible one who never stops till he reaches his goal. Now, this is what describes me perfectly as a person, as a professional, as a man. Sure enough there are many more out there that want to wear garments that express exactly their thoughts and feelings.
They say that giving creative birth to your own child is totally different than working for other people since, even without understanding it, you put a different kind of passion and devotion to your project. What does Conquistador mean to you?
It is my life from now and onwards. It is the rebirth and the beginning of my true new career after 24 years of learning to discover, daring, meeting and working with some incredibly talented individuals. This time I am fully equipped to do everything almost by myself, with no restrictions, fears, or opinions based on ignorance. It is truly a baby who will learn to grow with his customers, who will collaborate with great artists and industry professionals, who will never be told "this cannot happen in Greece" and who, hopefully, will put a stone to the global world of style of fashion in an international level. And this without ever trying to conquer the world but only those who will dare to follow. It is a conquest for this new brave strange world we are living, always fighting in style and without the need to compromise. When the baby is yours you will do whatever it takes to protect it!
Why did you choose to design clothes for the first time at this very moment of your life? What are your dreams for your brand?
It is a process that took more than 5 years to be presented. The original idea was to have a full line of menswear collection with all things a man might need but in an extreme contemporary attitude. Somehow I was not feeling like a head designer of an eponymous brand but only as the mastermind behind the concept. I am a firm admirer of some amazing new designers that were already doing what I had originally planned but in fashion it is important something new to be presented first. I may have had the sketches but I did not have the product and, in the meantime, Rick Owens, Rad Hurani, Julious, Spastor, Damir Doma and the genius of Helmut Lang were dominating this urban post apocalyptic new man. The problem in all of the above is that sometimes the prices are way beyond the limit of their targeted customers and the aesthetic way too difficult to follow; most of the modern consumers live, work, travel 24/7 and they need to wear this one piece that could make them look cool, in comfort and with longevity, without ever being either too trendy or too conceptual. This is when the idea of the new hoodie college top came to my mind, blending cotton and natural leather in a new proportion, with a tighter fit, with more designed details but, at the same time, being versatile for the customer and exciting for the eye. A piece than can be worn and adapted for the 18 years-old in London and also can be ideal for the 40 years-old entrepreneur in Stockholm.
I am 39 years old and I needed to be born again, both as a person and as a professional. The age gaps are so irrelevant in these modern times that there can only be one language of communication for all the Rebel Citizens of this world with the code name CONQUISTADOR. Time will tell if this gut feeling was right.
From where did you get the inspiration for the first collection?
I had this very strange experience about a year ago. I was at the National Portrait Gallery in London and outside it was pouring rain like there was no tomorrow. In the safety of this glorious building in Trafalgar square I was going thought the paintings, observing for the zillionth time the details and techniques the painters had masterminded. Slowly but steadily I was sexually aroused, feeling all hot and ready to attack! The whole vibe of these enormous paintings, the sounds of the rain in the roof glass, the beauty of the art...I was feeling so erotic I wanted to explode! Now, if paintings that were made four centuries ago can sexually stimulate me do not even ask what happens when I see a kick boxing match! Contemporary dance is also a huge part of my inspiration as it combines all sorts of performing arts a human can do, in its most purifying way. It is absolutely mind blowing.
Generally, creativity and sexuality are going hand in hand in my work. For this first collection I wanted to present a preview of what is to follow in the very near future... scuba divers, explorers of the 15th century, "Orlando" movie motorbikers, Catholic and Christian monks, free style hip hop kids.
Is everything about menswear already told? Why do you refer to Conquistador as an art statement?
No, of course not... Men started to get their voices heard in the past decade or so... they are experimenting styles, they are choosing their outfits, they take chances on how they want to be perceived in a society naked of stereotypes and fashion cliche. They are discovering the joy of so many great fashions and styles and this can explain why for the last five seasons menswear shows draw more sophisticated crowds, inspire womenswear designers and why new menswear publishing titles are spreading everywhere in the new fashion metropolises of the globe. Plus that Scandinavian Fashion seems to have totally introduced a new kind of masculinity that can only remind me the golden days of Richard Gere in American Gigolo via Giorgio Armani, this time in a 2010 contemporary version. There is so much more to come, we should be expecting some very exciting times!
Referring to your second question, fashion is one of the highest forms of art because it combines a variety of elements and references from all sorts of different aspects of culture. I feel that CONQUISTADOR is indeed an art statement because it is not just about the clothes per se. It is about the vision and the symbolism, it is about the future of the past; modern art is all about that. I am already collaborating with Andonis Foniadakis, a great director and choreographer. I am exposed to art and I have some things on the pipeline for future collaborations with artists from all possible fields in order to progress as a company that shares the same DNA with a conceptual fashion designer but at the same time is far more accessible and easy to digest. I do not even dare to call myself an artist but I am definitely an urban visionaire. Vision is what gives hope and from this point I want to stand a chance and make a statement. But as I mentioned, art is the blood in my veins, it is the rolling stone in my brain. I want to be very close to it because it makes me a better man, it makes my company to have a better future.
You have worked as a stylist, photographer and creative director for the best magazines in the world, including The Face. What have you gained from this journey and what have you sacrificed?
I have met and worked with some of my icons like Richard Avedon, David LaChapelle, Mario Testino, Julian Broad and many others... The generosity, the talent and their devotion to their craft is something I will always cherish. They don’t care where you come from as long as you can stimulate them, transfer and transform new information, ideas, passion. I was given chances that were only a distant dream for me with no paybacks, no favors, no regrets. The intellectual level of this superior race of talented professionals was blowing me away every time we were working together. In a presentation at a Francois Nars exhibition in New York some time ago I bumped on Steven Meisel while he was totally worshipped by Linda, Naomi and I think Stephanie Seymour...Thank God I was a bit drunk and found the courage to talk to him and can you imagine his reply to me, while I was expressing my admiration? "We are not doing anything special, it is our job". I think I fainted! I also learned that friends from the industry are not usually the first to catch up with whatever new you got to show... It is usually people that are drawn to you mostly for your work and character without having ever met you beforehand. They are definitely far more generous than the industry "friends". Conquistador introduced me to so many new people-including you right now-that were very supportive from day one and this made me want to communicate my vision because they can simply relate to it. This is, on its own, deeply touching.
Have I sacrificed something? I would be ignorant and rude to say something like that since I was lucky enough to go to school, be a swimming champion and work from a really young age, learning to stand on my own two feet with no worries for my professional future.
I can’t help asking you about legendary stylist Isabella Blow since you have been her assistant for quite a long time and you even refer to her as a second mother. What is that made her so special and why people are still talking about her three years after her death? What do you miss the most about her?
I said it many times before and I will say it again: the words are poor to describe the brilliance that was Isabella Blow. I was totally crazy for her and her work for years and when I moved to London my biggest hope was to see her in the streets walking all dressed in these incredible attires that were the trademark of her eccentric sophisticated style. I just wanted to see her live and I would be happy eternally. Two months later I received a phone call, her assistant had left for a romantic trip with his boyfriend with a non return ticket and I was given a chance to meet her at the Philip Treacy legendary Elisabeth str. store in Belgravia for an interview. A friend from the Select models management knew that I was looking to assist her at any cost and in the right time he made the connection. Mind you, at that time, I had left this very successful career I had in Greece and moved to London to start all over again spending every little penny on amazing clothes and super precious restaurants. I will never ever forget the anticipation till she entered the shop dressed in a black knitted Julian McDonald dress-very similar to what Mark Fast is presenting nowadays-with a black girdle underneath and a giant -humangus!-hat piece like an mochican-punk-orchid flower in fuchsia and beige , with the ruby red lipstick all gone wrongly to the left! The rest is history that I would love to write one day but I think that even her, as a rare bird of paradise, was very misunderstood and was betrayed a lot of times in her life, even though she was indeed a complicated genius without anyone equal to compete with. I spent these 2.5 years of her comeback in the British Fashion, witnessing up close and personal all these Gucci buys McQueen era, Hussein Chalayan presentations, Jeremy Scott disastrous Parisian Gold show with Bernard Arnault leaving furious from the venue after watching the models walking one flat shoe one stiletto step on the catwalk, fans screaming at Issy asking for a picture or an autograph in tears, couture Givenchy total outfit worth 55.000 euros at the Paris subway(!) with two dead birds adorn with crystals on her face and French people cursing and spiting at her with Colin Mc Dowell all frozen from fear... The way I loved this lady is the way I could only love a saint. Issy was drama, was passion, was tragedy, was hope. I never managed to say a proper goodbye but a Polaroid with her dedication, depicting her in Paris, lying on the bed, casually smoking a cigarette and being naked underneath is the best reminder of the best 2.5 years of my life ever. God rest her soul... I swear to Conquistador I never loved a woman the way I loved her.
Is creativity an antidote to financial crisis? What makes you move on when difficulties appear?
Creativity, historically speaking, was always the antidote to depression, war, financial problems. It is a recovery for the humans to redefine their existence... The problem is that when the economy is flourishing, the need for creativity feels dated, while now it is mandatory. It is the time that people need to believe and religion helps many to regain hope. I think we humans are greedy...We cannot stop at all. In the name of progress the worst crimes can happen. It is good to have all this technology with the press of a single button but we must face that the excitement is gone. Crisis happens only by choice, not by necessity. We want to have the crisis in order to refresh things up and find new grounds to grow. But now the system says stop. It is all over. We know everything about everyone real time. The western civilization as we once knew it is becoming a tyranny to the underprivileged. We need slaves? We make some. We do not like something? We destroy it. I do not want to sound like a new Messiah but, like the ancient Greeks were saying, there is always a limit. You pass the limit, you sign with the Devil.
I stopped watching the news as I feel that the majority of the newscasters are putting up a spooky horror performance show in order to scare and panic, to have bigger audiences and get paid fat checks. I prefer to read the news, in this way I am the only one to judge the seriousness of the problem. Generally speaking, I believe that chances still exist. Sometimes when you are unaware of the danger you dare much. Do it! I did it. And I will do it over and over again. A step at a time is better than running the stairs fast. This fall might be fatal...
Tell us something about your future plans.
I am planning to distribute Conquistador worldwide. I am lucky to work with Systeme D in Paris where our ideas for the label and the directions we will take are mutual. I would love the presentations to be as unique as the clothes: fresh, contemporary, new. I want the best artists to contribute. I want to explore more fabrics and design techniques, apply more historical references. I want to tattoo Conquistador on my arm so if I ever feel weak to look at it, get strength and move forward. I do not want to be a slave. I want to be partnered but I do not want to be owned. I want to continue living the life I always dreamed of. With the arrival of this baby the world already seems a much better place...
Video Courtesy of Conquistador
Conquistador is available for retail sales at Observatory Attitudes Concept Store in Athens, Greece (Solonos 9 Kolonaki) and for wholesale and press appointments in Greece at the Conquistador HQ 4, Michalakopoulou str, 3rd Floor, Athens 11528.
For International Press Relations please contact Systeme D, Paris.
Photography - Styling : Tassos Sofroniou
Art Direction : YOU&I
Concept : Andonis Foniadakis
Make-Up - Hair : Giannis Giannarides
Photography Assistant : Nikos Kousthenis
Styling Associates : Maria Afendaki - Evagelos Baos
Modeled by : Dimitris Alexandrou - Manos Vrontzakis - Yiorgos Kroukis -Mihail Xatzidiakos - Dimitris Nisiotis (With Compliments To VN Models Athens ), Manos Kollivas (X-Ray Models) - Panagiotis Mitsakos - Alexandros Tsolas - Steve Raider
Still Life Photography : Nikos Kousthenis - Apostolis Koukousas
Installation : Tempo Giorgos Argyropoulos