Interview and text by Yannis Tzannis
Based in Athens, far from fashion’s more notorious capitals, garment engineer Eleftheria Arapoglou produces collections that steer away from current trends and instead focuses on providing the wearer with new and exciting options. These usually come in the form of intricate silhouettes that defy traditional tailoring through their uncompromising shape and strong gender-neutral character. Counting some twenty-two successful collections reflecting the designer’s insatiable need for creation, her label DIGITARIA has deservedly earned a certain standing amongst Greece’s fashion elite; all the while however, flying under the radar. In a rare opportunity, Yatzer sat down with Eleftheria to discuss creative choices, collaborations and aesthetics.
The beginning of the previous decade found you transitioning from a fashion graduate to a fashion editor before becoming the head-designer of your first label, LACQNE. However, your initial plan was to be involved in the field of tourism management. What changed your mind?
I was always looking for imaginative ways to make my days more creative. My family has been running a tourism oriented business for 40 years now, so my involvement in the field was almost inevitable. Fashion wasn’t a sudden decision that I had to make at some point in my life. It was always there. At first, it was an abstract need for escape that then went on to become a destination.
After a few successful seasons with LACQNE, you moved on to a new venture through the founding of DIGITARIA. What pushed you in that direction and how intimidating did you find the process of rebranding?
Back then, it felt like there was an integral need for a jump to another platform which was more extrovert and interactive. The transition was more challenging than threatening. After twenty-two DIGITARIA collections, I have come to realize that this transition was a kairotic moment for me, as that was when I reformed and developed myself as a designer.
Ever since its beginning, DIGITARIA has been strongly associated with an aesthetic that is highly architectural in nature. Where does this influence come from?
DIGITARIA is a fashion label that focuses on design. I have a different vision that I try to express with each collection. Influences may stem from an emotional situation at that moment in time, or a psychological or social point of view; it is an instantaneous motive power that activates the research for each season. We don’t work with trends. Creating a collection is a whole process of exploration for new forms, materials and techniques; all these arise through different approaches, and that is how the desired aesthetics of each collection is fleshed out.
In addition to the above, your approach to design has always been gender-neutral; a theme that is now becoming more and more popular in fashion, especially through street wear labels such as KTZ, Hood By Air and Boy London. Why - in your opinion - is there such a demand for unisex clothing, now more than ever?
I never believed that there have to be rules when it comes to design. Fashion is all about experimenting, exploring new forms, playing with proportions and erasing all limitations. Gender-neutral clothing is a trend, and something that in my opinion is very convenient/opportune for certain brands and retailers. Individuality and honesty are the key for any new aesthetic becoming a trend.
You have talked in the past about ‘true independence’ and to be more specific, the lack of it in an over-consuming society that endorses mass production and globalization. To what degree do you consider yourself ‘independent’ and how hard do you find it to remaining so during the recession?
I am opposed to all designers and brands that massively produce ephemeral and fast fashion, in turn ignoring ethics, the environment, consumers and even sometimes aesthetics. I believe in the slow fashion industry. I believe in slowing down the making, buying and disposing of fashion, although it can be hard for independent designers to find a place in the existing industry. Luckily, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of what that means, despite the recession we are going through at the moment.
Are there any upcoming designers that have caught your interest lately?
German, US based designer Melita Baumeister for the abstract role of color in her collections and for the way she digs into forms with subtle fabrics.
Photography seems to play an integral role in the way you wish to communicate your label’s ethos. Your recent collaboration with Kostis Fokas is yet another brilliant example of just how well fashion and the visual arts mix. What brought you two together and what was the idea behind this project?
Being familiar with the work of Kostis Fokas, I knew from day one of this collection that I wanted to collaborate with him. I was intrigued by his way of experimenting, capturing and sculpturing the human body – a way of working that was completely in contrast with my ‘Outer Skin’ collection’s clean and flawless lines.
Kostis’ idea for the collection was to use bodies as forms inside the garments in order to create quirky human sculptures which on the one hand are hidden behind the clothes, but on the other, are also as important as what is revealed in this provocative interplay of fashion and acrobatics.
With every collection, ideas associated with the nature of the human form seem to be 'woven' into the threads of your designs. What inspired you to expand on this theme, this time?
The human body and the clothing’s structure around it are what we have to explore in our work. We try to propose new ways of looking at certain issues. Designs are informed by a concentration on how the body functions within different layers, surfaces and proportions around it. The possibility of re-shaping the human silhouette and exploring new forms leads us towards a constant questioning of purpose and point of view.
Do you believe that clothes can communicate feelings?
Design is a form of expression in the same way that art and music are; not only does it communicate a message and touch people, it is also an integral part of the societies we live in, and contributes to the creation of cultural and social trends.
What should we expect in the near future from DIGITARIA?
At the end of March, we will present an exclusive viewing of the two collections – Outer Skin S/S 15 and My Horrible Below A/W 15-16 – presented as an exceptional performance with the involvement of great contributors, hosted by the ATOPOS Cultural and Visual Centre.