Where They've Been
Greece Is For Lovers in Athens

A disclaimer: Athens can be a beautiful city, with striking juxtapositions between ancient and modern architecture and sunshine on par with Los Angeles (check out this video for proof). But when seen through the eyes of the young design trio Greece Is For Lovers, who grew up there and now keep a studio at the foot of the Acropolis, the view isn’t quite so rosy. The idea behind their products — which invoke all manner of Athenian cliches, rendering Ionic columns as golden barbells and Hermes and Aphrodite as candles, in case “you wanna feel like King Nero and burn down some ancient stuff,” they say — is to reflect an outsider’s naive perspective on Greece, perpetuated by tourism campaigns like “Greece Is For Lovers” in the ’70s and “Build Your Myth” in recent years. On the other hand, when I asked member Christina Kotsilelou for an image to end this slideshow that reflected what the group truly loves about Athens, besides its ’80s shopping malls, she said I had them stumped. If they’re laughing at tourists, they’re also laughing along with them.

Either way, the following snapshots — taken by Kotsilelou, Vasso Damkou, and Thanos Karampatsos — do provide some insight into the trio’s work, which wallows in its own kitsch to delightful effect.

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trolley wires

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A view of Psyrri, an upscale shopping area in the center of Athens. "It used to be full of wholesale centers and metal, wood, and leather workshops. Then in the '90s a lot of artists and designers kept their lofts and studios there," Kotsilelou says. "Now it's super-decadent. This picture is a great example of typical Athens architecture where buildings are extended vertically, one on top of the other."

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"You have New York and Tokyo, and then you have Athens. Not much of an architectural wonder there! Cement and antennas make up the unique skyline of this densely built city," says Kotsilelou.

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The city's antennae inspired AATV, a series of limited-edition cocktail stirrers created by Greece Is For Lovers for a local design shop. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, whether sober or intoxicated," reads the project description. "How many cocktails would it take to appreciate the Athenian skyline?"

trolley wires

If antennas make up the view of Athens from above, a web of trolley wires dominates the view from below. The city has an excellent central subway system, but its network of trolleys dates back to 1948, so Athenians have had plenty of time to get used to this sight.

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Another common sight: olive stands, which populate the city's open-air markets. "If New York is the Big Apple, then Athens is surely the Big Olive," says Kotsilelou. "It's a popular joke amongst us to make fun of the obsession Greeks have with anything Greek—be it olives or philosophy."

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Of course, that includes mythology, too—the group's gold-plated letter openers are a riff on Zeus's lightning bolt. Paul Smith carried these for a spell, along with the Hermes and Aphrodite candles.

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Greece Is For Lovers has a thing for the small '80s-era shopping malls that populate the suburbs of Athens. "Gold mirrors, intricate tiling, and interior gardens make up the flashy architecture of these abandoned relics, which seem to be lost in a time loop," says Kotsilelou.

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"They're a great influence for G.I.F.L. and are evident in the details of a lot of our designs."

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Another of the group's architecturally inspired motifs is marble—and its earnest overuse. "If it's written in stone then it must be right," they quip in reference to this Demigod trivet.

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Like the Queen's guards or Canadian Mounties, ceremonial Tsoliades guards are another Greek cliché, "handsome twentysomething men handpicked among the soldiers and dressed up in a traditional Greek outfits dating back to the 1820s," says Kotsilelou. "They stand in front of the Parliament building between the pigeons and guard the democracy of Athens."

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Tsolias figurines are also sold at all the kitsch souvenir and toy shops in the city. "Think the Greek male version of Barbie," she says.

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You also can't walk through any tourist area without encountering a sea of kiosks selling leather gladiator sandals in every style imaginable, which inspired Tougher Than Leather, a one-off the group made for the Greek skateboard company Propaganda.