A response to the austerity of the pandemic, Greek designer Nikos Koulis’s latest collection is bursting with optimism and whimsy.
These days, Nikos Koulis often has reason to visit the Greek island of Mykonos, where he has a boutique. It is the jewel of the Aegean Sea, a vacation playground for the rich and famous. It has a “light, energy and flair that cannot be found elsewhere,” says the designer, who opened a pop-up store on the island this summer to showcase his Feelings collection.
The space is based on a 2019 exhibition that saw Koulis collaborate with Greek-Cypriot artist Socratis Socratous. The earthy brown walls, dark mirrors and bronze floral sculptures of the installation contrast with the bright streets outside, but they take inspiration from Mykonos’s rugged countryside. “I don’t spend as much time on the island these days, but I always fall for its electric magnetism,” muses the Athens-based Koulis. “What inspires me is the clean Cycladic forms, the raw beauty of the Aegean Sea, [and] the power to make me dream and create.”
The Greek designer has carved out a name in the US since launching his brand in 2006. His bold creations have found homes at prestigious stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Saks. He has won the Couture Design Award four times, and received the GEM Award for Jewelry Design in January 2020.
That win should have been the start of a triumphant year, capitalizing on his success in the American market; his US rise seemed unstoppable. Then Covid-19 hit, and like the rest of the world, he was in lockdown. Rather than touring stores and preparing for his next Couture show, he spent his time in Athens cooking, running, arranging flowers and musing on what this all meant. Eighteen months later, he would return to New York to launch Together, a collection of jewels inspired by that time.
“[Together is] my reaction to Covid-19 – the pandemic, the lockdowns, the restrictions, the constant threat and the abrupt change of our lives,” he elaborates. It is a bold collection that brims with optimism. A running theme is the use of delicate gold chains — be it as slinky, bohemian fringes, or to create imposing cage-like silhouettes around scaled-up cuffs, chokers, bombé rings and statement earrings.
Together also sees Koulis play with a mixture of precious elements, including his first foray into opals, a gem he describes as “mood lifting, optimistic and bright.” The Australian stones feature heavily throughout the line, sitting next to diamonds, emeralds and carnelian in both white- and yellow-gold designs.
“In Together, I aimed to keep my aesthetic signature and try new things, get more whimsical and freer,” he says. “I used many materials and had various ideas to play with, so I wanted to intertwine them, to blend them in harmony. It was a more liberating design approach, with different stories comprising the whole collection.”
Playing with stones
Offbeat diamond shapes are also a key feature. Baguettes embellish fringing and run in strips along gold braids. In a compelling illusion, what appear to be large stones are actually jigsaw-like constructions of smaller ones.
“Trying to blend the different cuts can be an intriguing challenge, but the result is rewarding,” says Koulis, who adheres to strict ethical and quality standards when sourcing diamonds. “I would be bored if I had a pattern with only one or two cuts. The more unconventional, the more stimulating.”
Koulis hopes to continue in this experimental direction, introducing more gems and alternative materials in his one-of-a-kind designs. “Stones are enchanting: wonders of nature, coveted treasures that I use as my canvas to create,” says the jeweler.
He has studied not only gemology, but also glyptography — the art of stone carving. “My studies made me love and appreciate [gemstones] even more. I’m engaged in the everlasting quest for stones that will have something different, that will inspire me to create a unique piece, that will be exciting and desirable. Although I don’t apply glyptography in my work, it was invaluable knowledge. I cultivated my precision skills and my patience and better comprehended the artistic dimension of jewels.”
As for growing his business, Koulis is taking a measured approach, preferring to work with a few select retailers that will properly invest in his brand. He keeps his client list similarly exclusive.
“I was never interested in my designs being easy to digest and liked by everyone, but I wish for them to be sought after and to attract those who are looking for something original, cool and timeless, beyond the trends,” he says. “I’m grateful to do what I dream.”
Image: Nikos Koulis