MILAN — Greek designer Sophia Kokosalaki, known for her pleated and draped Grecian-inspired silhouettes and bridal gowns, has died at age 47.
Based in London, Kokosalaki was born in Athens and was singled out early in her career to work with Italian leather manufacturer Ruffo on capsule collections for the firm’s experimental line Ruffo Research, which over the years collaborated with designers including Raf Simons, Veronique Branquinho and Haider Ackermann, to name a few.
Kokosalaki launched her signature collection in 1999 after graduating with a master’s degree in women’s wear design from Central Saint Martins, one of the wave of young designers coming out of London during the post-Cool Britannia era. The soft-spoken, warm Kokosalaki was both serious and passionate in describing designs, and meticulous in her craft, which often combined her Greek heritage with a bit of a London edge.
Yet, like many young London-based designers, Kokosalaki often struggled with finances and in 2007 she sold her company to Renzo Rosso’s Only the Brave. Under OTB, she expanded her brand to include accessories and costume jewelry, but in 2009 the designer bought back her namesake company with the goal of developing it on an independent basis. Kokosalaki continued to work with Rosso, designing the upscale Diesel Black Gold women’s collection from 2009 until 2012.
“I am speechless — truly very sad news,” Rosso said. “I had the pleasure of working with Sophia for many years, appreciating her unique talent, her positivity and her energy. At this moment my thoughts go in particular to her daughter. Sophia’s sparkly and smiling eyes will remain in my heart for ever.”
After parting ways with Diesel, in 2013 she worked on a new, 40-piece ready-to-wear collection, and later put an emphasis on bridal and bespoke pieces as well as jewelry.
Five years ago, she made her debut at New York International Bridal Week, with a black-and-white collection featuring couture techniques and materials such as French lace, caviar beading and 3-D hand embroidery.
She took a very practical approach to bridal, arguing that most of her clients intended to wear their dresses or outfits more than once. She also made exclusive bridal looks for Net-a-porter and her collections were carried at Kleinfeld Bridal, Isetan and Browns Bride.
One of the highlights of Kokosalaki’s career was designing the costumes for the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. She started showing in Paris that same year, and in 2006, was tapped to design Vionnet, which she did for less than a year.
“She was amazing with leather,” said Joy Yaffe, who spearheaded the Ruffo Research project with founder Giacomo Corsi and chose Kokosalaki.
“She was extremely talented, but not appreciated as much as she should have been. She had one of the most beautiful energies I’ve ever known and a wonderful creative mind.”
Yaffe, who is now working on the launch of her start-up in the wellness space, said Kokosalaki excelled in both men’s and women’s categories. “She was so industrious, she worked so hard, but she was funny and had a great sense of humor. And she had amazing hands — creating adornments she’d make with her own hands for the show, with such intricate details.”
Fellow Greek designer Mary Katrantzou spoke of Kokosalaki’s ability to translate Greek values on an international scale: “The news of Sophia’s passing is so shocking and devastating that I find myself at a loss for words. I am eternally grateful to Sophia for making us all feel proud to be Greek and for communicating the values of our culture far beyond our borders through her incredible talent and charisma. In the short time I had the privilege of knowing her she showed me, before I even knew myself, what real strength means and the razor-sharp focus that is needed in our industry. I have always been in awe of her determination and the values she lead her life with, always on her own terms. This is a very sad day for fashion and for Greece,” Katrantzou said.
Markus Lupfer, a longtime friend and neighbor of Kokosalaki’s in London, described the designer as “an amazing talent — and mother — with massive positive energy. She was hilariously funny, special and very inspiring, and an incredible friend. Sophia, we are all going to miss you.”
Caroline Rush, chief executive officer of the British Fashion Council, said: “We are deeply saddened to learn the news of Sophia Kokosalaki’s passing. As a London-based Greek fashion designer and graduate of Central Saint Martins, Sophia’s talent shone through her unique approach to her designs and is a great loss for our industry. As one of the first designers to win the New Gen award, she captured our hearts from the very beginning, and will be hugely missed by us all at the British Fashion Council. Our thoughts and sympathies are with her family, friends and all who knew her.”
Lucinda Chambers, the stylist and former fashion director of British Vogue, said she was “always struck by how strong, clear and focused Kokosalaki was. Her designs had a unique femininity reflecting that. She also had an incredible color sense. She was one of those designers, a little like Hussein [Chalayan], who drew upon their cultural heritage in a really interesting and idiosyncratic way, and made it their own.”
Sarah Mower, ambassador for emerging talent at the BFC, said Kokosalaki’s talent helped to put London’s fashion reputation on the map in the Aughts.
“I first knew Sophia when she graduated in 1998 from Central Saint Martins MA course as one of the first cohort of students who’d been honed by the creative boot camp that Professor Louise Wilson was only just establishing. Coming from Athens, she knew exactly who she was and what she wanted to do — a tall, blonde Greek new wave goddess in a black leather jacket who was determined to launch her fusion of feminist Greek draping and rock star cool on the world.”
The designer is survived by her husband, Anthony, and a daughter, Stelli.